Tag Archives: anxiety

How To Be Happy In A Global Pandemic

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It is normal if you don’t feel right. It is normal if you feel angry, frustrated, out of control, teary and anxious. We are in the midst of a global pandemic which has turned our world upside down. We, the generation who haven’t lived through war, are in the middle of a mass trauma event of our own. And while “blitz spirit” and the band playing on as the Titanic sank are romantic notions, it is also normal to go fucking bonkers from time to time. 

Let’s break this down a little. Politically, we have never seen such turbulent times. A populist nationalism that claims black is white, to be isolated is patriotic, and that anyone who doesn’t agree is the enemy. We are addicted to social media, sucking up our time with mindless scrolling and a clickbait culture that fuels envy of curated lives, and promotes extremist opinions. And then Covid hit. Daily death tolls, images of anonymous lifeless bodies on their stomachs, our freedoms curtailed and our livelihoods thrown into doubt.

Do not underestimate how traumatic this is for all of us. To face the possibility of your loved ones dying because of an invisible enemy is terrifying. Mass unemployment is terrifying. And quite frankly homeschooling an unwilling child is more than most of us could reasonably take. 

So what is the effect of this on us all? I don’t think we’ll know for years to come, but if you look around you can see the beginnings of it bubbling up. Fear has turned into anger – against the system, against facts and science, and against that neighbour at number 32 who definitely had more than 6 people at her garden party. 

In an attempt to meet this growing mental health crisis, more money has been pumped into mental health services, and there is a growing online wellbeing industry on social media offering content to help soothe your mind and soul. I’ve certainly benefitted from the latter. I’ve been following a growing army of wellbeing experts and have dipped my toe into their suggested toolkits, including daily journaling, meditation and physical trauma release. 

But I worry that sometimes the amount of wellbeing information coming our way can also be overwhelming, and before we’ve fully mastered one solution, we’re bombarded with another. 

So I have found, as I always have, that going back to the Happiness Project Rules is really helpful. They are simple, easy to remember, and almost every wellbeing tool that I’ve come across recently fits into its remit. But I would say that it’s a good idea to only introduce one new rule at a time. Work on it, master it, take it slowly, before moving on to the next. And sometimes you will wobble and go back to the start again, and that’s OK. Slow and steady is what it’s all about. 

Here they are then – the HPL rules for happiness, adapted for a post-Covid world:  

  1. BE ACTIVE 

Everyone agrees on the importance of this. Listen to your body and follow what it wants to do – sometimes it needs a slow walk or a restorative yoga class, sometimes your cortisol wants a run or some ashtanga yoga. Your phone needs to be OFF although the NHS Couch to 5K app is miraculous, and I found it helped to listen to a podcast or book while running. I’m also enjoying the back-to-nature wellbeing movement on social media and their references to animals shaking off trauma, literally. Dancing round the kitchen seems to help. 

2. CONNECT

Thank god the days of the Zoom quiz now appear to be over, and while video calls did allow connection to some extent, it’s not the same as a proper human connection. During the first lockdown I missed most of all the simple banter of a shop transaction or the school gate. Now, I try to have a long phone call with a good friend or with family every couple of weeks, and talk incessantly to the postman. 

3. GIVE 

All this self-help stuff can make you self-centred sometimes and that’s why this rule is here. To make you look outward – to see what other people are going through and try to help. It puts your own worries in perspective and empathy is good for the soul. Lockdown seems to have promoted this in communities – foodbank donations and dropping round groceries to your neighbour for example. There are myriad local Facebook groups offering volunteering and donation options, or just ask your neighbours if you need anything. Even if you’re at your lowest it will make you feel better.

4. NURTURE 

The obvious way to do this – and one that has been much trumpeted during lockdown –is gardening. And I can whole-heartedly confirm having built a veggie patch during lockdown that getting your fingers in the soil and growing something you can eat from seed is wonderfully calming and satisfying. Or another great thing to do is buy a few bird feeders and some bird seed and watch as birds crowd round them for their winter feeds. However, given we’re in a global pandemic and we should take as much pressure off ourselves and achievements right now, how about we nurture ourselves, oxygen mask on first style. Meditation, baths, negronis. Whatever you need right now, nurture yourself.

5. LEARN

Are you one of the ones who made your own sourdough bread? If so, hats off to you. I learned how to make a great G&T. Learning doesn’t have to have an achievement at the end or an instagrammable conclusion. On our theme of being kind to ourselves, how about this – learn to listen to your body, learn about your cycle, learn what your body, your energy, your soul really needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as a good cry or a hug.  

6. BE CURIOUS 

There is a similarity to learning here, but this is different. Being curious is something I think we’ve got better at during lockdown, if only by the number of sunsets posted on my IG feed. With only one allocated walk a day we do seem to appreciate nature more. And that’s it for this rule, its simple. Look up, look around, and be grateful. Sunset pics optional. 

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UPDATE: I feel slightly phoney writing for The Happiness Project London because in August 2019 we left London for the East Devon/West Dorset border where we are setting up a cookery school, feast venue and glamping site. In January 2021, I am beginning a two year course in psychotherapy and counselling to qualify as a BACP registered counsellor. My plan is to host wellbeing talks and retreats, as well as having my own patients and therapy business in due course. I will update you with the website and social media details when I’m ready. In the meantime I’m so incredibly grateful to the HPL, and everyone who has commented and followed it since 2007 for starting me on this incredible journey which has brought me to this point 13 years later. 

A post for mental health awareness week

There’s a wonderful spotlight being shone on mental health right now thanks to Bryony Gordon and the royals’ Heads Together charity. Having lived through the grief of losing a parent and multiple miscarriages, as well as having suffered with rampant insecurities and anxieties since I was little, here are some things I’ve learned about mental health.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, if not more so. If left untreated, it can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and anger; and physical ramifications like headaches and heart attacks, back problems and thyroid issues. You pay monthly to go to the gym so why don’t you also pay to talk to someone?

It is not weak to be vulnerable. It is not pathetic to say you’re struggling or anxious or insecure.  You don’t have to express your mental health issues in a way that makes you feel like a failure – in fact, humour and cynicism and swearing like a sailor are fantastic tools for expressing the fact that you’re having a shit time. If you think about it, the people that open up enough to admit their vulnerabilities are often the most courageous.

You are not lessened by having mental health issues. It is easy to think the confident person next door is simply better than you, because that’s just how you’re wired to think. But being old enough to have accepted myself now, I realise that being insecure or a bit angry or unable to shake off that feeling that you’re not quite good enough, does not make you worse than other people. My friends are made up of these people, most historical heroes too. Show me someone with vices like this, I’ll show you someone fascinating, who is built up of layers of intricately woven issues and ideas, who can surprise and entertain and amaze you. To love someone like this can be frustrating at times, but it can also be unbelievably rewarding, deeply passionate and interesting.

Allowing yourself to ask for help and to show your vulnerabilities is the key to being able to cope. Allow yourself to be loved.

Going through any sort of trauma allows you to empathise with others going through heartache. Your friend who went through that divorce or that cancer scare or that miscarriage will, in time, be the best most understanding listener there is. Damaged people often make the best friends.

Motherhood is not the #blessed picture many make it out to be on social media. Much of the time it’s anxiety-inducing, insecurity-building, lonely and depressing, as well as being fucking boring. It’s easy to find an Instagram-friendly photo of family life to show the world, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if we could be honest about it?

In 2013, the leading cause of death for both men and women in ages 20-34 was suicide. For men, that’s the leading cause of death in 35-49 year olds too. Doesn’t this show the importance of dealing with the disappointments and anxieties that life throws at us. If this means meeting up with someone once a month to drink a bottle of wine and talk about feelings, if only for a little bit, then it’s worth it. Crying is good. Being vulnerable is good. We are only human after all.

 

A London girl’s guide to getting hitched

So, The Chef and I got hitched just over a month ago – hurrah – and, while I slowly sink back to earth, catch up on sleep, and enjoy being able to EAT and DRINK again, I thought I’d write down some stuff I learned along the way *:

1. The dress – there’s nothing like wedding dress shopping to drop a giant big turd on your “special day”. They tell you you need 6 months to order your dress, then say they haven’t got any free appointments for 2 months, and sometimes even say you have to pay £20 for the privilege. Some make you take off your shoes at the door, wear gloves and rush you to be in and out in an hour. Importantly, there is far too little champers handed out (big up to Mirror Mirror and Teokath for bucking this trend). Fact is, unless you get it made, buy it second hand or go vintage, you’ll pay an average of £2,000 for your dress and the alteration process is a nightmare that goes on for hours. The upside is that if you pick the right one, you’ll feel incredible on the day, and its a great lesson in what suits you so I found my wardrobe also improved. These are the dress shops that I think are worth going to:

  • Teokath in Wimbledon – where I got my lovely Lusan Mandongus dress. They have a great selection of dresses, are friendly, have a lovely dress fitter who will patentiently address all your concerns (pull it in! more! shit I can’t breathe!), and you can also buy jewellery there.
  • Jenny Packham in Pimlico – hard to get an appointment, but gorgeous beaded 1920s Great Gatsby style dresses. Best suited to tall skinny people though.
  • Mirror Mirror and Morgan Davies in Islington for great selection of dresses, although at Morgan Davies you have to pay £20 for appointments.
  • Alice Temperley in Notting Hill – amazingly different, electic dresses, perfect for the actresses and extroverts amongst you. Lovely room to try on stuff and great to try something different.
  • Suzanne Neville in Knightsbridge – lovely dresses and lovely staff although I was slightly put off by their posters of Danielle Lineker that adorn the walls.
  • While I’m at it, Bridal Rogue Gallery on Chiltern Street has an amazing selection of shoes and jewellery, and borrow the veil from a friend (sooo expensive).

2. Self-preservation, head fuckwittage and general wellbeing -while getting married was the happiest day of my life, and I am absolutely loving being a newlywed, I put my hands up and say not only it is bloody stressful, for me the pre-wedding preparations was a time when I needed to work at staying happy. I remember when I was single I got annoyed at my engaged friends moaning, thinking you should be happy – I’m having to go to Tiger Tiger this Saturday and you’re sticking me on the single table! And I too found that when I moaned about the pressure, I had people saying I should be happy and why was I sweating the small stuff, which I found pretty unhelpful.

But I now know (and sorry to my married freinds who I was unsympathetic to before!) that weddings bring to the fore issues of self-esteem, highlight family problems, make you miss people who can’t be there, shine the spotlight on friendships, showing who you can count on and who are always too busy.

And, more than that, the fact that you have now got what you’ve always wanted, have all this attention on you, is a little overwhelming and sometimes, there is a tiny little voice that says

why me? how could I be this lucky? I don’t deserve this happiness!

…and you have to organise lots, and think about things you don’t normally give a crap about like flowers and hairstyles and ribbons and napkins and garters.

And you suddenly feel bad about all your married friends who you were a bitch to when you were single and unhappy, acting with indifference to husbands and children, getting horrifically drunk at weddings and snogging the best man. It made me feel guilty that they were all so lovely to me and didn’t hold my previous bad behaviour and impatience against me (apart from one – who pointed out when I emailed accomodation details 4 months before that I RIPPED brides apart for doing this at previous weddings).

And you don’t sleep brilliantly and you are dieting, and you might get cold sores or excema, and start being a fucking bitch to your husband-to-be, and then you worry he might not marry you after all and then…. Argh!

After a recommendation from a friend,  who commented very kindly on how ragged I was looking, I became a walking pharmacy of things-that-help. This stuff calmed me down and zenned me out, so much so that I was surprisingly cool and calm on the big day:

  • A sleepy time dream pillow spray of lavender
  • Valerian herbal anti-anxiety tablets (I had one called Quiet Life that was amazing)
  • Herbal sleeping pills (I used Nytol)
  • Buy bottles of Bach Rescue remedy for work, in your handbag, in your car, at home. Use frequently, especially when he says “but there isn’t anything to do!“.
  • Vitamin B complex helps with stress and energy and cold sores.
  • I’m not ashamed to say that due to my erratic behaviour and feeling a bit overwhelmed I had a “maintenance” session with my amazing counsellor (email me for deets) – she made me realise what was upsetting me and why I was finding things difficult because I just didn’t t hink I deserved all this wonderful stuff happening to me. She made me realise I did deserve it – I’ve worked so hard on my faults, on my happiness, on this blog, on relationships and life and family. I’ve worked bloody hard and I do deserve it. I deserve The Chef – he’s my reward somehow. And I am lucky, I won’t forget that.

3. Grooming. I found it stressful thinking I had to be the thinnest I’d ever been, the most beautiful. And what if you wake up with spots? Or excema? Or a cold sore? My friend pointed out that a bride’s beauty comes from within, from the fact that she is so happy she’s glowing, and on the day itself I was in this smiley bubble all day, but we all need a little help so here’s where I went:

  • Linda Meredith in Knightsbridge does amazing facials and oxygen facials where they push oxygen into your skin. Made me glow for about a week. Not cheap (£100 for a facial and £100 for the oxygen thing) but I got a voucher from Keynoir at half the price.
  • Lorraine at Expressions gave me a set of amazingly natural-looking eyelash extensions (to avoid the Sam from TOWIE look, just ask for a lash on every 2nd or 3rd lash and volume rather than length) which looked amazing on the big day and meant I didn’t have to wear any make-up for the week before and for almost 3 weeks afterwards so perfect for honeymoon. She works from her rather hard-to-find flat in Hammersmith but its well worth going.
  • Michael Becman who works at Space NK in Edinburgh did my hair and make-up – we kept it very light and natural, and as I was getting married outside in a garden, we put flowers and pearls in my hair. Mikee’s not only a great make-up artist, he is hilarious and kept us all laughing on the big day.

4. The cake. Oh my look at that beauty above. We utterly lucked out with the cake. I found cake shopping quite disappointing, the fact that a simple, boring-looking, traditional three-tiered cake costs minimum £300 and often didn’t taste or look that great. And then through twitter we met Lisa Brunton-Stocks (@harbourhussy), who is mad about cakes, and actually, pretty mad full stop. She drove all the way from Aberdeen to Edinburgh to let us taste her cakes which were incredible, and for the first time I got excited about what a wedding cake could be. She was amazingly inspired and creative and spent ages getting it perfect – sending me pictures of edible pearls and meringue to match my dress, matching the decoration to the lace on my dress and my bouquet. It was a jaw dropping cake and amazingly delicious. And on the way to honeymoon, I read this blog her friend wrote about the work that went into it: http://willtravelforcake.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/an-epic-wedding-cake/. If you can’t find your own Lisa, then I reckon M&S has some brilliant, unique cakes at good prices (check out this upside down white choc version).

5. The photographer. We used Paul Raeburn who took these amazing photos. We hated posed photos and interminable group shots that last for hours and he was perfect. Really artistic photos in a journalist style capturing amazing moments – The Chef kissing my forehead during the service, my sister crying and waving as she said goodbye before I walked down the aisle, my bridesmaid pouring her drink into my glass as I was “thirsty”. We wanted to spend the day enjoying ourselves and being with our friends so he was the perfect photographer.

6. The wedding. As neither of us is particularly religious, and we wanted to marry somewhere unusual and unique, and not particularly traditional, we had a Humanist ceremony undergiant redwood trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Being in Scotland, it rained a bit, but I loved the freedom of us all huddled together under these trees and we loved the Humanist ceremony where our celebrant talked about how we met, what we loved about each other, and about how much we loved our friends and family. We sang Happy Together by the Turtles, had a piper playing me down the aisle, and my friends read a poem they’d written. It was moving, emotional, funny and we loved it. We then ate haggis, neeps and tatties, ended with deep fried Mars Bar with an Irn-Bru chaser and ceilidhed the night away. Humanist ceremonies aren’t legal in England sadly but we’re hoping this will change as its a fantastic alternative to a registry office ceremony.

9. The extras that no-one really cares about but you bend over backwards to do anyway:

  • The Chef was right – favours are indeed largely ignored so don’t spend much money (we got married at Easter so we gave everyone little bags filled with Easter eggs).
  • One thing we did that everyone loved though was table names of our favourite restaurants and we told the story of the time we went there.
  • We didn’t have an order of service as the ceremony was so special we wanted people to be engaged and surprised all the way through, and stop people flicking through to see what was next and when they could get a drink. We did get amazing creative invitations through Nirvana CPH – we did the invite in the guise of a menu and they looked amazing.

* for another point of view, you might also want to read my thoughts on being single in London.