Sunday, 23 September 2018

Life Lately: Finding Balance, Learning Not to Give a Shit, Making Plans

I've noticed a shift this summer in the way that I've been spending my time. No doubt the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I haven't written anything for you in a while (it's now autumn), and that I've taken a few breaks here and there from social media. It's been a bit of a revelation, to say the least.

The more time I spend offline, with friends (old and new) and family, the more I feel like my real self and the more I've let go of wanting to fit into a certain 'blogger girl' mould. I've been far less critical of myself, less concerned with trends, and much better at "self care". Living with anxiety is hard enough without the internet adding to my worries.

Being More 'Present'

I've spent so much time eating, drinking, socialising, taking road trips, throwing a frisbee around, chilling in the garden, and working towards a new qualification for my job, that I just don't have the time to give to mindlessly scrolling anymore.

I'm using apps like Instragram less, but with much more intent (more on this here). I spend time following the accounts that make me feel good, and the same goes for other social media too. I've made some great memories instead of aaaaalways having my eyes on my phone. I've just gotten back from a holiday where I only took TEN photos. Unheard of for me, but I was just enjoying the rare chance to relax and recharge.

Learning Resilience

Something I've also been working on is growing a thicker skin, and learning not to take everything to heart. It's definitely easier said than done. I'm happy to admit that I've always been a sensitive person, and that taking things personally is my default setting. I'm guessing I'm not alone here.

BUT I'm continually telling myself that the way someone speaks to me or the words they choose to use are always more of a reflection on themselves than an indication I've done something wrong. I think it's working?

Personal Development

I've also embarked on a new marketing qualification, which involves a lot of work outside of my usual working hours. My evenings and weekends have suddenly been consumed by it for the last few weeks, and it's really testing my knowledge and helping me to improve my skillset. 

With any luck we'll also finally be buying our first house soon, so there will be plenty to do when it comes to moving. The timing of the move and my assignment dates are about as clashy as it could get, but I'm also aware of how lucky I am and how hard I've worked to be able to do either of these things at 26. 

I'm telling myself that all will be fine and go smoothly (fingers crossed!), and looking forward to making some serious interiors plans for when I've got a set of keys in my hands and an assignment submission receipt in my inbox.

So really, life for me at the moment has been about prioritising the things that truly serve me and setting myself up for the future. Sadly that means that blog posts may continue to be sparse into the autumn months, but I still enjoy sitting down to post every now and again so just know that I won't forget about it completely! I could never give up this space that I spent so long creating.


Monday, 30 April 2018

How to (easily) cut down on your social media usage

If you ever feel like you spend too much time on social media, then know you're not alone. There have now been countless studies into the negative affects of social media on mental health, and it has even been classed as an addiction by psychologists. So how can you cut down without a) going completely cold turkey and b) making yourself feel guilty about it?

This time last year I went from a job in marketing to going full-on social media, and while it can be a lot of fun I began to feel like the lines were blurring between 'me time' and the amount of time I was spending scrolling various social media apps. It's not good for your mental health, with comparison and F.O.M.O. having serious negative affects. It's not good for your physical health either, with a rise in "text neck", repetitive strain and poor sleep all attributed to our growing dependency on social media.

Here's how I've managed to cut right down, while making sure I am spending the time I've saved wisely.

Get an Alarm Clock. Like, a Real One. 

Remember those? Head straight out to the nearest supermarket or Argos and grab yourself a basic electronic alarm clock. When you go to bed, set the alarm and put your phone on the other side of the room. That way when you wake up there’s no danger of being sucked into an Instagram vortex. If the loud buzzing isn't for you, you can even set them to wake you up with the radio - the wonders of ancient technology! You might even leave for work on time.

Download the Moment App

This app has been a huge help in reminding me just how much time I waste scrolling my social apps. Moment tracks your phone usage, pickups and more, and helps you train yourself to be more disciplined. The app allows you to set a daily time limit and will notify you when your time is up, and you can even set yourself extended challenges to help you cut down. It’s a little hard on your battery, but you won’t need that power for scrolling anyway so it’s a win-win. Since downloading Moment I've gone from spending up to five hours a day scrolling my phone aimlessly, to two and a half hours or less most days. The time limit means I'm more focused about what I do when the phone is in my hand.

Turn Off those Push Notifications. Right Now.

How many times have you been minding your own business, only to see a message pop up from twitter or Instagram? You can't help but tap it, and suddenly you’re down the rabbit hole, totally engrossed in your feed. You blink and a hour has passed, it’s getting dark and your stomach is rumbling. Since I switched off all push notifications bar actual messages and personal emails, I’ve probably halved the amount of unsolicited scroll-athons I’ve got myself caught up in each day. You can check your apps a couple of times a day when you really have the time to and it doesn’t encroach on your life quite so much.

Find a Reaaaally Good Netflix Show

I’m not talking about binge watching old episodes of Friends here. Find something you’ve never watched before that reeeeally interests you and makes you think. For me at the moment that’s The Alienist. It's got crime, gore and psychological thrills aplenty. It’s also kind of intense and complicated, so if I look away for too long I suddenly have no idea what’s going on. And that means that I have no choice but to put my phone down and pay attention. I'm not mad about it.

Reorganise Your Home Screen

This one is kind of simple, but it will probably have a big impact on your behaviour. I moved a couple of my most used apps (I’m looking at you Facebook, aka time-sponge) to the last 'page' of my homescreen, put more productive ones at the front, and now I hardly ever open the ones I've moved out of temptation's way.

Listen to Podcasts

This time last year I hadn’t listened to an entire podcast before, and now it’s pretty much all I do! Depending on what I choose to listen to I can keep up with current affairs and social trends, or simply be entertained. The best thing about this is that I can be very hands off and just leave it to play. Whether I’m doing housework or just relaxing, it’s great to be preoccupied without feeling like I’m vegetating in front of my phone. I love My Favourite Murder for some light serial killer entertainment (are you sensing a theme in my tastes here?) and Happy Place with Fearne Cotton to relax and unwind.

Get an iPod for the Gym

I head to the gym to unwind, get a bit of a sweat on and move my body, but I was finding that taking my phone with me for music was leading to me getting distracted by Instagram and Twitter rather than giving my brain a break. Try switching to an iPod, preferably without a screen, and see what difference it'll make to leave your phone at home or in your locker for an hour.

These are just some of the ways that I've managed to make big changes to my social media habits. Every day is different, so go easy on yourself and find what works for you - it's all about having a healthier relationship with your phone and the internet. Good luck!


Sunday, 4 March 2018

Who I am When I'm Not on the Internet

If the internet disappeared tomorrow, the entire world would descend into meltdown. We rely so heavily on online communication and social media. If it was suddenly taken away, we would all feel so lost. So much of our identity these days is tied to our online selves. We all create these internet versions of ourselves, but with that taken away, do any of us know who we really are? Would anyone really know who I was? 

Think about everyone you follow on Instagram and subscribe to on YouTube, too. When you take away the glossy filters and careful editing, do you really know anything about these people at all? The answer is probably no, and yet we all tie so much of our self-esteem and confidence to the validation we receive online.

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be a certain way, or with keeping some of your life back from the internet, as long as you're being true to yourself while doing that. None of us should feel like we have to hide who we are or what we like just to fit in, yet I find myself doing it all the time. It's not good for me.

I'm spending less and less time scrolling these days, and more time being myself and pursuing interests away from my phone or laptop screen. In part, this has come from not really feeling like I 'fit' into the blogging world anymore. It's also down to the way I've grown increasingly aware of how much I (and others) scrutinize myself against what I see online. I often feel like I have to change or come across in a certain way in order to get Instagram likes or Twitter shout outs. 

It's given me more time to think about who I am without the internet, and to become more comfortable with the quirks and faults within myself that I don't always show openly online. It's done so much for my confidence and self-worth.

It's also led to me reading and writing about subjects that I hadn't felt at ease discussing in a blog post or Instagram caption before. It's helped me feel less of the conflicting duality that comes with a life lived online, and to embrace who I actually am rather than who I want to be seen as.

So, here's who I am without the internet:

I'd rather play hours of complicated board games on a Saturday than go down the pub. I'm not a big drinker and I love to chill out with a geeky game or two. Give me Terraforming Mars or Risk 2210 A.D. over a piss up any day. Next stop, D and D.

I'm a recovering people pleaser. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect, and the thought of upsetting someone or inconveniencing them is totally at odds with that. I used to have a really hard time saying "no" to anything, but placing more value on downtime and learning to juggle life and work more efficiently means that I'll happily tell someone I've got too much on, I would rather eat somewhere else, etc. It's meant that I'm a lot happier with my friendships and how I spend my time these days.

I have a dark sense of humour and will probably curse around your kids. That does mean I can hold my own when it comes to savage banter. I guess having a big group of guy mates that always have their filters off will do that to you!

I'm an impatient person. I often want things done 5 minutes ago and long-winded tasks frustrate me. It does however mean that I'm pretty good at cutting to the chase. I'll ask the real burning question rather than letting someone skirt around an issue.

Human behaviour absolutely fascinates me. If I hadn't studied English and gone into marketing, I definitely would have pursued psychology. I spend more time reading disturbing case studies about the human mind than I do reading Victorian novels. Perhaps one day in the very distant future I'll make the leap, but for now I enjoy feeding my weird interests with articles.

Speaking of weird interests, I've also got an unhealthy addiction to the My Favourite Murder podcast. I can happily admit that I love an unsolved serial killer tale or two, but I swear I'm not picking up tips.

I like to go the extra mile for people. I'll send you a little something when you're sad, deliver a pep talk when you're feeling crap and will happily give a bit of my time up for some volunteering. It doesn't take much to help someone else feel even 1% better than they did before they met you. Every little helps.

I spend a lot of time feeling extremely anxious. I'm high functioning enough that I've learned not to outwardly freak out when I meet someone new or I'm in a situation that I'm not comfortable with, but I'm still working on what's actually going on inside my head. I always will be.

The work I've done on my anxiety so far has helped me to know myself a little better, and to speak more openly with others about my struggles. I was surprised by how many of my friends and colleagues have also gone through similar things, and it's made some of my relationships a lot stronger.

When I'm not feeling well, my go-to snack is a Marmite and salt and vinegar crisp sandwich. I can practically hear you all vomming at the thought but it just does it for me.

So, now I've got all of that out in the open, tell me a little something about yourself that you don't usually share on the internet!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

The Truth about CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

I've wanted to write this piece for a a long time, but I needed the dust to settle before I felt fully able to turn back and reflect on my own personal experiences with CBT. It stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and it's a kind of psychological therapy used to treat mental health problems, trauma, phobias and more.

I've found that, especially in the media, CBT and other therapies are misrepresented. Sometimes they are presented as clinical and sterile, and sometimes (particularly in print press) they are presented as woolly and fluffy solutions. I found the reality to be very different. My experiences of CBT have been positive, but the process itself is an emotional roller-coaster. I want to share with you a few realities, from someone that's been there more than once.

How does CBT actually work? 

Your therapist will work with you to question your thoughts and behaviour and the reasons behind them, and provide you with strategies to practice that are designed to change your thoughts and behaviour for the better. It's designed to break the negative cycle by encouraging you to interrupt those thoughts and behaviours one step at a time. Each week you will discuss how the previous week went, and get some 'homework' (for example mine included include practicing a new coping strategy and observing my thoughts in a particular situation and writing them down).

Every therapist will have different techniques but the idea is essentially the same. It's a proactive form of therapy that I found very empowering. It helped me to feel more in control of my mind and to stop dwelling on past experiences. You can access CBT in person with your therapist, and depending on the area you can also use an online service where you have a Facetime-style call with them. I've used both and can say there is little difference and that the online service has a shorter waiting list as well as a greater choice of therapists and appointment times.

CBT and me (a little disclaimer)

The first time I took a course of CBT was back in 2010 while at university. It stopped me from quitting and moving back home and I went on to do brilliantly in my studies. I've been back for more CBT since, but despite it being a huge part of my life I've never talked about it much online. Although I think we're much better at talking about this stuff now than we were back then, I know that many are still reluctant to share their own stories and that intense stigma still exists in some homes, workplaces and social circles.

Most of my close friends and family are aware that I've struggled with anxiety and at times depression since I was a teenager, but that doesn't mean I find it easy to talk about. I don't feel the need to go into all of the nitty gritty details of what goes on in my head in this post because a) no blog post in the world could ever be long enough and b) I firmly believe that you can be honest and open about your personal experiences without baring your entire soul and turning your skull inside out.

It's not for everyone

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (and other kinds of therapy that generally speaking involve sitting on a big, badly upholstered chair and crying a lot) requires you to be open enough and accepting enough of your current situation to want to change. CBT gives you the tools to understand your mental health and take steps to changing it for the better. It doesn't do all of the work for you. If you don't get on with it and feel like you're not ready, then that's OK. Other forms of therapy do exist, some of which are available through the NHS. Medication can also help - whether you use it short term to get over a bad patch or (like me) on a long term basis to keep your brain on an even keel there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so.

It's not a 'nice' experience

Therapy is incredibly cathartic and can be very empowering, but not in the way that a good wardrobe clear out will make you feel fresh and shiny and new. You're here to exorcise a few demons and put the foundations in place to actively bring about a change in your brain. It can be uncomfortable and emotionally exhausting. Although you will always work progressively towards your end goal, each step involves breaking down a rigid pattern of thoughts and behaviours that you may have been practicing your entire life. Every single session we would uncover some way in which I had been mentally sabotaging myself and set about creating ways for me to face up to my biggest fears and deepest denials. 

It's not a quick fix

The courses of CBT I've been on have been anywhere from 6-10 sessions. You can't undo years of anxiety in a 45 minute session. Expect set backs, expect tears, but above all take your homework seriously and you can also expect to make slow, postive progress towards getting better. Like me, you may end up finding yourself needing to go back into therapy at some point, or you may choose to see someone regularly long-term. That doesn't mean that you've failed. This is a process. This is a journey.

Not all therapists are created equal

Some people describe finding the right therapist as being a little like dating. You may need to talk to a few different therapists or counsellors to find one that you're comfortable opening up to and who you 'click' with. They are not there to be your friend or your shoulder to cry on, but you need to feel like you can talk to them about the deep, dark crap in your brain. It's also completely ok to specific whether or not you would like a male or female therapist/counseller - the person providing you with treatment should be someone you feel can understand and relate to your problems.

The outcome is worth it

It might seem like I've made CBT sound like a brutal process, but if you're at the point in your mental health journey where you want to change and start healing, it's also a very rewarding experience. If you're going through CBT or counselling of any kind then I would recommend keeping a journal or diary (or even just typing into the Notes app) to record your progress. You'll look back and be surprised at how far you've come and how much you've learnt about yourself.

A note on how to get CBT sessions in the UK

When at university I accessed CBT through my GP, who referred me to the student union's welfare service. They provided me with sessions for free and the waiting list was only a couple of weeks. If you're a student you should also be able to go directly to your student welfare service to access help with mental health problems.

As a proper "grown up" in the real world I accessed CBT for a second time through my GP when things got really bad. The reality is though that unless you're determined an immediate safety risk to yourself or others you will be either put onto a waiting list that is months long or directed to a local charity with a slightly shorter waiting list and very awkward appointment times. The UK government doesn't take mental health seriously, so if you can afford to access private counselling or CBT while you're waiting for a referral to come through then don't wait. I got worse and worse while I waited for an appointment letter and although I got my treatment in the end, it is crystal clear to me that our government doesn't see mental health as a priority.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

We've all heard tales of women using their bodies as weapons, but what if they really were deadly? What if Women were something to be feared? Naomi Alderman asks these questions and more in The Power.

It's not hard to see why this book has attracted so much attention. In an age that many are describing as a 'fourth wave' of feminism, The Power plays out an alternative scenario to modern history, one that tears down the patriarchal constructs we know all too well. It was awarded the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction last year and is by all accounts a critically acclaimed best seller.

So what's it all about?

The book centres around 4 main characters, switching perspectives every few chapters. Young girls are suddenly beginning to find that they can awaken an almost supernatural ability to inflict extreme pain on others using a kind of electrical current, generated from a previously undiscovered gland called a 'skein'. Men everywhere are terrified, and the power is beginning to spread across the globe.

The novel is presented as a historical account, book-ended by letters between its male author and his female editor. There are even diagrams of historical artifacts between chapters - read the descriptions, they're pretty clever. As each section of the book passes, we inch closer to a cataclysmic event (which I won't go into detail about for spoilers' sake). As the power provides women with the means to take control of society and governments attempt to regulate its use, underground religious movements spring up across the globe, a drug lord's daughter finds ways to take advantage of the new order, and a male journalist finds himself helplessly trapped in a country on the verge of collapse.

As much as it pains me to quote cheesy superhero films in a book review, "with great power comes great responsibility". As previously oppressed groups of women begin to realise they can easily manipulate, injure and kill the men that once kept them in chains, the tables are turned and things get out of hand. Thousands of years if sexism and misogyny are reversed in the course of only a few years, resulting in sheer chaos. After years of lying dormant, the power is difficult to contain.

The Power begins as a kind of feminist sci-fi/fantasy tale, but as the pace intensifies (and rarely lets up for more than a beat) things turn violent, and at times graphic. It morphs into a bold fable against the dangers of oppression. Let it shock you - it's meant to.

Naomi Alderman's writing is page-turning. It's action-packed enough to push the story along at lightning pace, but at times is also beautifully descriptive, slowing down occasionally to let the message sink in. It's also packed with humour and sarcasm, which balances out the seriousness and makes it a truly entertaining read. The perspectives used each have distinct personalities and voices, and Alderman uses them with finesse to imply powerful observations about human nature and, of course, gender.

Like most, I expected to read The Power and come away feeling empowered. I definitely enjoyed (in an almost sadistic way) seeing women take control in situations where they would otherwise have been powerless. But also felt as though Alderman was warning us that it will take difficult and by all accounts extraordinary events to truly chance the state of play. This is more than just a revenge story.

I urge you all (whether you're a woman or not) to read this book, if only so I can talk at length with more people about it. This is a book that forces you to hold a mirror up to the current state of play  and to question the unwritten rules of modern society. How acceptable would the atrocious acts of oppression committed against women every day in the present day be if the roles were suddenly reversed?
© kelly anne rist

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