April's Happy Things

Well here we are... it's May. The past two months seemed to have lasted about a year in themselves so boy am I glad to welcome May into the lockdown party. Not only is it my birth month, it's also typically the sign that Summer is well and truly on the way.

But before we give May all the attention, I want to look back on the month just gone and reflect.

I decided to start doing month in review posts again a little while back but it's all gone tits up, quite frankly, as I don't know how I can really make 'today I stayed at home... and today I stayed at home again... and today you guessed it I stayed at home' exciting enough for a read-worthy blog post. So I've decided to do my monthly review posts a little differently for the time being and focus on sharing the things that have been keeping me entertained this past month. A glimpse into my lock-down life, if you will.

So, without further ado, are some of the things which have kept me busy and fueled my happy in April:

During the lock down I've tried to smash out my ever growing to-read list and it's going rather well, if I do say so myself. I've been loving historical fiction lately and really enjoyed Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein and One Day In Oradour by Helen Watts. As always, I'm also a sucker for a bit of YA fiction and have just finished Birthday by Meredith Russo. Boy is that book incredible! Next on my to-read list is Call Me Evie by J.P Pomare. It's been sat on my to-read pile for a little while now and I can't wait to sink my teeth into it.

Boy have I watched a lot of telly during this lockdown! It's been a great opportunity to get through some of the programs I've been wanting to watch for a while. 

Killing Eve is back with a vengeance and I'm loving it; although not loving having to wait a week between episodes! April also play host to the last ever episodes of Criminal Minds. Although I needed a good few days to process saying goodbye to the BAU, I've now settled in to watching it again from the very beginning. There's nothing like a bit of Agent Derek Morgan to cure the lockdown blues! I also loved the latest series of Our Girl. I was initially unsure about the new series - and still a firm member of the #WeMissElvis club - but by this point I'm loving it.

This month I've also been loving re-watching some of my favourite examples of classic British telly. I've introduced Johnny to the Vicar of Dibley and Four In A Bed and have been watching Outnumbered on Netflix. We've also been watching Doctor Who (surprise surprise) and thoroughly enjoying the #SubwaveNetwork goings on on twitter. If you're not clued up, people are watching past doctor who episodes at the same time across the globe and live tweeting them. They've also had cast and crew members (including David Tennant, Matt Smith and some of their best companions) sharing their thoughts/feelings/memories live on twitter as they watch along too. Totally geeky but totally fantastic!

Listening To
I've found lockdown to be the perfect time to catch up on all of the podcasts I've been missing. I'm subscribed to so many fantastic ones but find I rarely have the time to properly sit down and give them the attention they deserve so now is perfect. My current go-to is the Off Menu podcast, hosted by the briliantly funny James Acaster and Ed Gamble. If you're not clued up on the setup, each episode they welcome in a guest (often a fellow comedian or 'celeb' but there are also sometimes people from the food industry) into a 'dream restaurant' where they can choose their dream meal (we're talking starter, main, side dish, dessert and drink - the whole shebang). It's such an easy listen that always has me giggling away so it's become the perfect bedtime companion for me.

We've been trying to make the most of our slow cooker whilst we've been at home. A personal favourite was the slow cooked pork in apple juice I cooked over Easter weekend. Simply threw in a pork joint, some chopped apple, carrots, chopped onions and then a hefty amount of apple juice. Served with mash and veg, it was truly delicious. If anyone has any personal favourite slow cooker recipes, I'd love to hear them!

To get cracking with my last two university assignments! There's something about being stuck at home all day everyday that is just making it difficult to settle down and put my 'productive student' hat on. I normally like to do lots of my work sat within my uni buildings or in a coffee shop so adjusting to getting it all done at home has proven tricky. I'm starting to get there though! I've set up a nice desk space and have started to get into a good daily routine. I find that having 'slow' mornings (filled with lie ins, hot drinks, yummy breakfasts, reading and yoga) help me to get my head into the right mind-space to have a truly productive afternoon.

Obsessed With
Animal TikToks! I'll admit that I'm slightly uncool when it comes to TikTok and don't quite 'get' the obsession with all of the little dances people do but boy am I here for all of the quality animal content we've been blessed with. My personal favourites are @OliviaVanFoxFace, @_mochafrappe_, @SealRescueIreland and @HollyandHazelnut.

What have you been loving this past month?

Why It's Ok If You're Not Being 'Productive' During The Lockdown

There has been so much talk about things you can do during the lockdown. Articles on ‘Ways to keep productive’ and ‘10 things you can do to keep busy’ have been flying off the virtual shelves. But this creates this immense pressure that we need to be keeping constantly busy. Social media has made us believe that we need to be baking from scratch, spring cleaning our entire homes, starting 6 online courses and crafting a whole jewellery collection, and all before 1pm. And boy, if I had a pound for the number of tweets about banana bread I've seen in the past fortnight, I would be laughing.

And for some people this is great. If you are one of those people who thrives when keeping busy then brilliant. Enjoy your baking, crafting, cleaning and home workouts. If that’s what keeps you content and sane during this uncertain times, do it. In such a new and challenging time we need to find a lifestyle which works well for us as individuals and run with it. If you’re a bit of a ‘Keep Busy Karen’ (as I’ve named them - how creative of me), keep doing what you’re doing and it all looks fantastic.

But I want to write an ode to those of us who have taken on more of a ‘Relaxed Rachel’ lifestyle in recent weeks. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been remotely productive recently. I’ve kept myself occupied with lie-ins, reading, TV binge watching and more bubble baths than my water bill will appreciate. I have written a daily to-do list to add structure to my day but it’s mainly consisted of self care tasks and the necessary uni and blogging odd jobs that needed doing. And do you know what? This approach to life at the moment is ok too. If you’re going to feel better during this time taking a calmer approach and spending most of your time relaxing, do it. You’re not being ‘lazy’, you are looking after yourself in the way that suits you best. And that’s what we should all be doing right now.

Ultimately, it’s just so important to just listen to what your mind and body are telling you they need right now. Don’t feel the need to replicate the ways other people are coping with isolation, you are under no pressure to do or ‘achieve’ anything at the moment.

We find ourselves in a situation we’ve never been in before. It’s new, it’s uncertain, it’s challenging and it’s honestly terrifying, so we are all handling it in different ways. Some people like to keep busy and find that it keeps their mind at ease, whilst others prefer being calm. And wherever you find yourself on this scale, it’s ok.

The only thing that truly needs to be on our to-do lists at this time is to keep healthy and safe; that is the one thing we all need to achieve and that is why the lockdown is in place. Stay safe and look after yourself and one another.
Disclaimer - I feel the need to make a note that these photos were taken a year ago so no lock-down rules were breached, don't you worry. The 'Busy Doing Nothing' jumper just seemed ever so fitting.

20 Spring Self Care Ideas

Well here are, reunited with my good friend Spring. I love the spring months and all they bring; they are a welcome sight after the dark months of winter.

The beginning of a new season is the perfect time to change up your self care routine. This is especially the case with Spring, as it is a season which embodies the ideas of new beginnings and growth. If you're not clued up with what I mean by self care, it is simply the things you do as part of your lifestyle to maintain and improve your mental health and wellbeing; the ways you take care of yourself.

Here are twenty ideas for self care practices you can add to your routine in Spring:

1. Create a playlist of upbeat music to motivate you through the season.

2. Take yourself out for a walk in nature. You could take photos of some of the beautiful spring flowers or just use the walk as a chance to think deeply.

3. Change your bed sheets for something clean, light and spring-themed. I'm a sucker for a good floral duvet cover!

4. Make a fresh fruit smoothie or juice.

5. Book in a yoga session.

6. Write a gratitude list. The regular practise of gratitude can foster positivity in your life. I share my weekly Wednesday gratitude lists on my instagram (yourschloex) if you fancy a peek.

7. Sit outside and do some mindfulness colouring.

8. Give your home a little spring clean. A clean space is a clean mind.

9. Unplug and have a digital detox day.

10. Buy yourself some flowers or a new plant to brighten up your living space.

11. Cook a nourishing meal from scratch.

12. Do something creative. Craft projects can work wonderfully at calming the mind.

13. Wake up early and let yourself have a slow morning.

14. Drink lots of water. It's a simplistic practise but an important one.

15. Diffuse some essential oils. Lavender and citrus aromas such as lemon and grapefruit are perfect for the spring months.

16. Listen to a new self-development or wellness podcast. I shared five of my current favourites in a post back in November, you can read it here.

17. Create a vision board.

18. Read a book, be it an old favourite or something from your to-read list. I love a good romance novel in the spring months.

19. Sit outside for a while, listen to the birdsong and practise some deep breathing. 

20. Open up your windows and air out your home.

Let Spring be the month you truly look after yourself and let yourself bloom.

How do you practise self care in the spring months?

5 Apps I Use To Support My Mental Health

We are a society all-consumed by technology; our screens barely leave our side. There are countless articles damning this over use of technology, calling for a return to a more 'switched off' lifestyle and noting all the potential harmful effects, but with the way society is evolving this seems unlikely to come any time soon.

Rather than 'switching off' completely I think it is important to alter how we use technology; to start to use technology in a positive way and harness our screen time to make our lives better.

We're lucky enough to have some pretty fantastic mental health and wellness resources in the palm of our hands - quite literally. There are apps which encourage healthy habits, support self-care, encourage productivity and just generally nurture your mental wellbeing. Although no app can fully replace genuine therapy and medication, they can support treatment and nurture you mental wellbeing on a day to day basis.

Today I thought I'd share just five of the apps I use on a regular basis to look after my mind, in the hope that you find something which you can download to support you and your mental wellbeing.

Headspace is a meditation and mindfulness app which has become my new best friend as of late. It can provide a fantastic introduction to the world of meditation, if you're new to the meditation game, guiding you through the process and getting you used to clearing your mind and taking a few minutes out of the hustle and bustle of life.

They have a whole range of meditation courses available to you, starting with an introduction into medication and then branching out into lots of different categories of meditation focus such as  personal growth, student life, productivity and parenting. You can choose if you want your meditation to be lead by a female voice or a male voice and they also have a whole section dedicated to 'sleepcasts' which are fantastic if you're someone who struggles to fall asleep because they're mind is working overtime.

I was a little unsure of whether or not the cost of the subscription (£9.99 a month) would be worth it but I've been using Headspace daily and the benefits it has had on my mental wellbeing are worth way more than a tenner. I've also done by research and found out that if you have Spotify premium you can nab the Headspace subscription for half price!

Smiling Mind
Smiling Mind is another guided meditation app run by a non-for-profit organisation which aims to make mindfulness meditation accessible for all.

The app actually asks you how you feel (in terms of happiness, contentedness and alertness) before you start your guided meditation and after you finish it, which is a real positive element that I haven't seen before in guided meditation apps as it allows you to see how the meditation effects your mood in the moment.

My Water
My Water is a fantastic app for logging your water intake throughout the day. Whilst this may not seem like the most obvious mental-health app, I find that drinking lots of water is a really good self-care practise for me personally. Tracking my water in-take in this way helps to encourage me to drink water regularly as the app sends your phone regular notifications to encourage and remind you. I also like to use calming natural 'rescue remedy' drops in my water on particularly anxious days and logging my water helps me to make sure that I'm using these drops to their full potential.

MyTherapy is a brilliant tool which is designed to remind you to take any daily medication you're on. I'm prescribed a couple of different medications to support my mental health and I won't lie I'm quote prone to forgetting whether or not I've taken my tablet for the day. This can turn into an unnecessary anxiety trigger so I like to have an app in which I can track when I have or haven't taken my tablets.

You can set the app to remind you at a set time each day to take your medication and you can then 'tick' it off when you've taken it. MyTherapy also allows you to log when you start a new packet of tablets so it can let you know when you're running low and need a new prescription.  

One of my favourite features of the MyTherapy app is the wellbeing tracker. You can set the app to ask you how you're feeling at certain intervals throughout the day and each time it'll ask you to rank your mood out of 5. This is then logged and it's a handy tool for recording 'bad days', especially if you want something to help you show the patterns in your mental health to a professional such a doctor.

Pixel Thoughts
Pixel Thoughts is one of my new favourite apps as it's just perfect for calming incessant mind chatter and persistent negative thoughts. You simply type your thoughts into a star, send it off and watch it slowly get smaller and smaller until it disappears completely into the night sky. This process takes place whilst calming music is played (you have a choice of five tracks, each with a different calming vibe) and you're encouraged to breathe deeply as you watch your worries melt away and read some supportive lines which help you feel calmer and more connected.

Do you have any apps you use to support your mental health?

How To Bring Self Care Into University Life

As we're now well into the new uni semester I thought it would be a good idea to reaffirm the importance of self care for students. Uni can be a really stressful time, especially when you reach your last year (anyone else in this joyous club?) and it's so vitally important that you look after yourself.

Whilst I'm writing this post with students in mind, I don't wish to alienate from the post anyone who isn't currently a student. Self care is of course important for all, no matter what you're currently doing in your life, and all of these practices can be translated into the lives of working people also.

Bring Your Home Comforts To Uni
Student accommodation has a tendency for be very plain; very beige, bare and boring. And I don't know about you, but to me that kind of environment makes me feel quite on edge and uncomfortable. Moving away from home can be a really difficult experience, so it's important to create an environment that makes you feel calm and comforted. One key way to do this is to bring some home touches to personalise your uni room. We're talking photos, trinkets, pillows, blankets; anything that will make you feel at home.

Get Enough Sleep
Sleep and students are a bit of an iffy mix. We either find ourselves getting far too much sleep (ah what blasphemy; surely too much sleep is a myth) or resembling someone from the walking-dead on the way to 9am lectures. Our anxieties seem to have an ability to notice a moment of weakness in us (such as a lack of sleep) and that's when the bad mental health moments pounce, so getting enough shut eye to keep your body in tip-top condition is so important.

Create A Positive, Inspiring and Clutter-Free Work Space
The nature of uni life means you spend an awful lot of time behind a desk, so it's important to make this desk a lovely and positive place to be. Keep it organised (yes this is an excuse to go out and buy trays and magazine files galore) as a clutter-free space helps to create a clutter-free and focused mind. You can also decorate the wall-space around the desk area with motivational quotes and pictures, to keep you going when you reach a mental block.

Learn That It's Ok To Say No
As a university student there's an unspoken pressure to 'live your best life'; to always be out partying, experiencing new things and meeting new people. But this isn't realistic and succumbing to this pressure can do more harm than good. Don't feel like you have to scream yes at every invitation or be at the heart of every social circle going. And don't feel you need to agree to drinking if it isn't something you feel happy with. It's ok to say no; to have a day off. Be it because you just need a break, because it's a situation you don't feel comfortable with or just because you don't fancy it; it's ok. I don't mean this just in terms of not always feeling under pressure to join in with the drinking culture at uni, it applies in all aspects of life. You can expect yourself to be on top form all the time and sometimes we just need to recognise that our body needs a break and a bit of 'me time'. So it's ok to say no, nobody is going to think badly of you.

Schedule In Relaxation Time
Uni can bring a whole heap of academic pressure you have never experienced before and boy can that be a stressful experience. It's nothing to fear, as it simply takes time to adjust to degree level work just like it would have taken time to adjust to starting your GCSEs or A Levels. But this new stress and anxiety means it's especially important for you to schedule in me time; time to relax and de-stress. The kinds of activity which will bring you to a calmer state of being are going to specific to you and it's important to find something which suits you as a person. For me, it's reading, swimming and long bubble baths, so I try to schedule time for these activities every week. Try to find a physical activity which relaxes you, such as yoga, pilates or jogging, as this exercise will also work to support your physical and emotional health.

Have you got any self care advice for university students?