Science Has Proved Self Care Has Its Benefits

self-care

The term ‘self care’ might have some people rolling their eyes and complaining about the snowflake millennial generation, but this week science has come out in defense of being kind to yourself. While previous research has emphasised that those who show self compassion tend to have higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health, the latest study by Exeter University goes further to explain why.  

The study split 135 people into five groups and each group had to listen to an 11 minute audio. Two of the groups listened to recordings that encouraged them to be more self-compassionate. Whereas the remaining groups listened to recordings designed to induce a critical inner voice; encouraging them to be positive but competitive and an emotionally neutral shopping scenario.

Unsurprisingly the former were deemed to be happier, more relaxed and had lower heart and sweat rates. The group that listened to the audio promoting a positive but competitive approach did show some signs of relaxation, in terms of heart and sweat rate, but it wasn’t to the same degree.

“These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing,” says Dr Hans Kirschner, co-author of the study. So, how can you up your self care game and switch off your threat response? Here are some tips…

Take a bath…

It’s advice we’ve all heard over and over again, but a long, hot soak in the tub can help you switch off both mentally and physically, especially if you add a sprinkling of Soapsmith Lavender Hill Bath Soak. For tips on how to up your bathing game, read How To Take The Perfect Bath.

Brush your teeth…

If the meditation app on your phone works you up into more of a fury and thought of a 75 minute yoga class feels you with dread, then it might be worth taking a more practical approach to ‘being present’. When you brush your teeth this evening, rather than mentally checking off your to-do list or mulling over the stresses of the day, focus on each and every tooth you’re brushing. It’s not nearly as glamorous as visualising the waves softly hitting golden sands, but when your two minutes is up you’ll feel equally as satisfied and your mind will have calmed.

Take 15 minutes out…

This month, Carolyn Asome wrote about The Utter Joy And Transformative Effect Of Listening To Music and highlighted that listening to just 15 minutes of music a day can help relax you. Whether it’s on your commute or the quarter of an hour before you go to sleep, it’s worth downloading Soul Medicine’s 432 track

Have your cake…

Because denying yourself the simple pleasures in life can be just as frustrating as a huge to-do list. And life is too short.

How To Follow A Social Media Diet

Book leafs in a heart shape

I’ve always been fairly convinced that nobody would go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter. But I don’t mind admitting that over the past year, my addiction to Instagram reached a level where I knew that action was required. When the first thing you do is roll over in bed in the morning, reach for your phone and scroll through photos of friends’ kids/pets/gardens, or swoon over inspirational houses or holiday destinations – well, by any measure, you’ve got a problem.

My Instagram ‘rock bottom’ happened one day just before Christmas, when my alarm went off at the usual time – and when I looked up, I realised I’d just spent an hour and a half on Instagram. I’d been suckered by their clever algorithm into frittering away 90 minutes of my life – and for what…? I wasn’t chatting to my husband, tucked up in bed beside me. I wasn’t reading a newspaper. (Not that I think there’s anything WRONG with not reading newspapers, BTW.) I wasn’t looking up from my screen to take in the beautiful view that I’m blessed with of our ACTUAL garden, out of the ACTUAL bedroom window. I was looking at pretty pictures.

Notwithstanding the fact that I’d implemented ScreenTime on my iPhone – which tells me when I’ve hit a self-imposed limit of a certain number of minutes – I was habitually over-riding the warning by hitting the button that says ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ – or (more likely) the one that says ‘Ignore Limit For Today’. (Initially, I’d gone for a 15-minute limit overall until I realised that was over in the blink of an eye. But I’d been hitting the ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ button four, five times in a day…)

The thing is, I don’t even have a particularly addictive personality. But this was bad – and I remembered a bumper sticker that my late father-in-law had on his car (he was American; bumper stickers are allowed). It read: ‘Turn off TV, turn on life.’ So I decided to adopt a similar philosophy, with Instagram. Living my life, not reading about other people’s – while also dealing with the challenge that I can’t go completely cold turkey on Instagram, because I actually have to use it professionally (@theperfumesociety and @beautybibleofficial). So: here’s how you can do the same, whether your problem is Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (or all of them).

Move your social media apps off your main screen

When you have to search for them, or even swipe for them, it gives you pause for thought. (It’s the social media diet equivalent of putting the biscuit tin in the cupboard.)

Set a timer

By all means use ScreenTime, if you use an iPhone. (It was in the most recent system update.) But pledge to obey it, OR – alternatively – set a timer on your phone that rings when your (personally allotted) time is up. I find that much, much more effective, actually; when you’ve got to leave an app to turn off an annoying alarm, you can’t ignore it – and you then have to make a conscious effort to reopen the app.

Don’t sleep with your phone by your bed

It’s probably emitting all sorts of hideous electro-magnetic radiation, anyway, which we shouldn’t have anywhere near our heads. In the early stage of my ‘diet’ I put my phone in a box on the other side of the bedroom. I’d have to get out of bed to get it (and frankly our bedroom’s so cold – I am married to someone half-Viking – I was reluctant to abandon my hot water bottle to do so). After a while I found this had helped get me out of the habit of rolling over and hitting the Instagram icon first thing, and I could safely return it to the bedside table. And beyond that, once I’d broken the habit of feeding my early morning Instagram addiction even before I’d fed my early morning caffeine addiction (which is of course an entirely different story!), it was much easier to put off my first foray into its photographic joys till later in the day because I wasn’t craving the next serotonin hit.

Make a list of your favourite accounts and restrict your ‘diet’ to these

That way you don’t have to miss out on a daughter’s smile, or your best friend’s latest baking triumph, or news from websites you really, really find valuable (like VH of course!) I’ve actually PRINTED the list of sites to check in with daily (or at least regularly) in order to ensure I’m not missing anything ‘important’, and I keep it handy. (In fact, actively visiting friends’ pages has kept me more in the loop with their lives than I was before – because the algorithm wasn’t showing them to me in my feed).

Give yourself a specific time when you’re allowed to binge

If someone keeps me waiting for an appointment or a meeting, I ‘allow’ myself to go to Instagram and gorge. Ditto: if I’m in the back of a taxi. Otherwise it’s like being told you can’t eat sugar: all you do is fantasise about cakes, sweets and ice cream. It’s easier to resist temptation if you know you’ll be allowed an occasional indulgence.

By all means post pictures – but don’t check on your ‘likes’

I still love taking photos for Instagram – it’s a real creative outlet (I’m a bit of an Annie Liebowitz manquée). And every day, pretty much, I still post something (@jofairley, if you’re interested!) But what I have weaned myself off is habitually checking who’s liked my posts or commented. I check in with that once a day (during that ‘timed’ session) – not every hour or so, as I had been. (To continue the diet analogy, this equates to a few squares of Green & Black’s at teatime, rather than a biscuit on the hour.)

It’s been quite a few weeks since I started this ‘social media diet’ – and it’s worked unbelievably well. I’m confident I’ve conquered that addiction and am not only up to speed on my magazine subscriptions – the media pile was a high avalanche risk, when I started this – but I’ve got through another pile that I’d hidden in a cupboard to stop me staring at them and feeling guilty about NOT reading them. I’ve finished several books (yes, BOOKS!) that I’d never have found time for. My Christmas ‘thank-yous’ were done and dusted in record time (I decided to write those first thing, in bed – and trust me, the feel-good factor exceeded that of Insta-scrolling, which never gave anyone a rosy glow of achievement). And I’ve had some remarkably sparkling conversations with my husband (although we can talk about his iPad Scrabble habit another time). You know what else (surprise, surprise!)? My overall concentration is vastly improved, because I am not constantly answering the tug on my attention from social media.

Let’s face it: social media isn’t going anywhere soon. But as I’ve found out, encouragingly, it is possible to control IT rather than have it control YOU – thereby avoiding a flood of regret on the day of reckoning that you’d frittered away so much time watching other people’s lives on a small screen, rather than enjoying real sunsets, real flowers and real conversations…

The Kitten, The Vet And The Pet That Made Our Family Happier

Stethescope

“So she’s … dead?”

The young Australian vet looked at me with red eyes. “I’ve never had this happen to me before,” he half whispered, as if reading my look of alarm.

A silence hung between us as we sat  facing each other on fake leather chairs. Only one question ran screaming round my brain: “What the hell am I going to tell the children?”

Eventually I asked to see her and we trooped downstairs to the operating theatre.  “Fluffy Offenbach” (don’t ask) was written on a marker board outside, among a list of operations that day. At six months, she was down to be spayed, a supposedly simple ten minute operation. Or not. She lay under an old blanket, with her head and paws poking out.  Like all the world’s deceased, she appeared shrunken.  I stroked her head like I’d done a hundred  times, the fur still soft but her body now cool. A post mortem by the Royal Veterinary College would later reveal, for a sum of £400, precisely nothing.  “Allergic to anaesthetic” was the only proffered explanation.

I was genuinely surprised how devastated I felt.

In my lifetime I’d lost both parents within ten days of each other and a close friend who was barely 40. That was it. And yet, this felt just as painful.

To explain, let me backtrack.

As a family, we didn’t really do pets. Growing up the Middle East I had a feral cat called Tiger who’d deposit mice on our pillows. When thoughts turned to fury friends on acquiring a family of my own, it turned out my husband was allergic to moggies. Dogs? Out of the question, as they needed as much looking after as a baby, three of which I already possessed.

The children were fobbed off with hamsters Monty and Roderick, followed by Rosie the budgie. All met a swift ending at the hands of said small people.

The clamour for a ‘proper pet’ began again when they were teens, and ended last summer with us knocking on the door of a terrace in Hounslow, where a Russian breeder presented a litter of six week old pedigree Siberian Forest kittens. The husband rolled around with them without a hint of a sneeze. We’d found the answer.

Another six weeks later and for an obscene amount of money (£900) our feline teen was welcomed into a household of both raging and dying hormones.

Marl grey, long-tailed, green-eyed and as soft as down, she set about stealing all our hearts.

At 6.30 am she was all mine, curling up on my lap as I drank tea and watched the dawn. At 4 pm, she ensured our 14 year old never came home to an empty house. On the weekends, she reposed, purring, on my husbands chest on the sofa. (“I want nothing to do with this cat” he had previously proclaimed. Now? Putty.) She became the perfect nocturnal plaything for the elder teens who hibernated in their rooms with friends doing heaven-knows-what. To lure them out, once a mammoth task of shouting up the stairs and unanswered texts, now all I had to do now was kidnap this ball of fur.

My sister, owner of Betty and Lily, explained: “The cats are the one thing we don’t argue about. They are like glue in a family – no-one dislikes them.’

And then the vet went and killed ours.

We packed up her toys, washed out her litter tray and cried many tears. The house appeared depleted.

To be honest I’d always found “cat person” a pejorative term, invariably applied to tricky women. But I totally get it now.

They are usually low maintenance providers of unconditional love,  affection and acceptance, with numerous studies proving they counter feelings of worry, distress and loneliness. Certainly the happiness index of our family had risen exponentially.

We needed a Fluffy doppelgänger and pronto.

Within two weeks I’d found another Siberian on the internet, inconveniently residing in Barcelona (they are not easy to find).  We FaceTimed the breeders, cooed over Sky the tabby kitten, paid even more obscene sums and the following Saturday waited in the back streets of Kings Cross for her and her blue EU pet passport to be delivered from the back of a black Mercedes Benz van.

Did I mention we’ve never had much luck with pets?

Within 36 hours our four month old kitten was at the vets (a different one) suffering from an upper respiratory infection. “Is she going to die?” I solemnly asked the elderly man with the rheumy eyes who’d cared for local pets for more than 40 years.  “No,” he said.  And he was right.

Sky very much lives, but who knew cats were such mercurial characters, even among their own breed? More catch-me-if-you-can than love-me-do, she isn’t quite the Fluffy replacement I’d imagined.

She remains, nevertheless, beguiling. We find her leonine stalking and pouncing around the garden as transfixing as any Attenborough wildlife programme. Her favourite game is to pull off a piece of ribbon I’ve draped over the apple tree and race back to me in the kitchen with it between her bared teeth. Like a dog. As I write she’s studiously trying to catch raindrops lashing the other side of the kitchen window. It’s like having an amusingly clever toddler in the house.

More importantly the teens adore her, mostly because she takes turns sleeping with them. If you catch her dozing and manage to pull her onto your lap, all that stroking and subsequent purring is positively meditative and distracts us all away from our pernicious screens.

It was the cat-loving French novelist Colette (whose life is currently depicted in a film out now starring Keira Knightly) who decreed: “Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

Agreed.

Six months on and two kittens later, I have transmogrified (lol) into a ‘cat person’. Although when it comes to famous cat quotes, I still aspire to this from Charles Dickens: “What greater gift than the love of a cat?”

Indeed.

Sky, listen up babe. I really appreciate your unifying effect on the family. But I’m still waiting for you to hop on my lap unprompted.

How To Cope With Anxiety Over Christmas

Festive Anxiety

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for at least a third of Brits the festive season can be tarred with high levels of stress and anxiety. It’s not just the stress of Christmas shopping and higher workloads that stresses people out, it’s also social anxiety over the endless festive get-togethers and parties. Read More…

2018: An Accidental Year Off

Clock face surrounded by light flares on blue background

Somehow, we are already at the point in the year where, like clockwork, it feels like December 31st is rushing towards us, yet we have no idea how we got here so quickly (at least I don’t). Most of this year has felt painfully long for me and now all of a sudden it’s almost over and I can’t quite believe it, largely because upon looking back, I see that I accidentally took most of it “off” and I don’t know how to feel about that.

As many of you will know by now from my previous articles (this one in particular), I have been as open as I can be about my struggles this year. One of the feelings that has weighed heavy on me with each passing month is the massive disappointment in myself for all the things I did not and could not do, despite wanting to and even saying I would. Looking back over the past twelve months has been tough because everywhere I look I see all the ways and times I failed myself and other people.

Until recently, I had always relished this time between December into January because I loved looking back at everything that I had accomplished and enjoyed setting new goals and plans for what I would do next. In my article for this year’s January newsletter, I had lots of big plans and ideas that got tossed out the window from the very first day, so this time I want to do things differently. Even though my eternal optimist is somehow still hanging in there (just), I want to go into the last month of this year and the first month of next year just relaxed and open.

I want to try and not judge myself so harshly for the way 2018 turned out and accept whatever may come in 2019. Of course, I have loosely held plans, goals, ideas and dreams, but I am also ready to go with the flow. I am doing this because I realised that the source of my disappointment was the pressure of not being able to live up to the high expectations I had set for myself and I know I’m not the only one that does this.

The social media and comparison obsessed culture we currently live in has made doing our best look and feel completely inadequate. Now it’s like if you don’t blog/vlog every day, constantly churn out “content”, or have multiple ventures and collaborations on the go (a podcast, jewellery/clothes line, book deal, speaking engagement) then you’re not living your best, most fulfilled life. Busyness is still being glorified, yet has anyone else noticed the number of “influencers” and just people who have felt compelled to speak out about much they have struggled this year? It’s all become so exhaustive and I personally cannot continue in this way.

Besides negatively contributing to how I feel about myself, this lifestyle has led me to be the least productive I think I have ever been and it’s mostly because many a time I have been so mentally paralyzed and emotionally overwhelmed with all the things I should and need to be doing that I simply can’t do any of it. My mental health issues this year has meant that instead of throwing myself in to every task until it’s completed like I normally would, I have basically walked away from most obligations and responsibilities in favour of hiding in the comfort of my bed, feeling awful and getting nothing done.

If you find yourself feeling anything like this (exhausted/dejected/overwhelmed etc) as the year comes to an end I can only say, don’t be too hard on yourself. I know so many people who feel like this in some way and we must be kinder to ourselves and each other. Things like taking a social media break, rediscovering my love of reading, taking long walks to clear my head and of course, binge-watching a show on Netflix or Amazon has been helpful this year. It’s all about self-care again (original article here) for me — being mindful, present and listening to my body.

And this is what I mean by accidentally taking the year off. In almost every single area of my life I just “checked out” and I didn’t mean to. Each new week and month I told myself today I would get back to it, but that never happened and now I have to accept that and stop dwelling on all that was not done. It feels massive when I think about it too much. A whole year. Twelve whole months where I didn’t participate in society like I “should” have, but at the same time, if I had, I don’t know what kind of state I would be in right now. Even though this time off was unexpected, it was definitely needed.

Sometimes it can be hard to give ourselves the time we need to be whole and doing things to support our mental and emotional health can seem indulgent and even silly, but I promise you it isn’t. In my time off this year I have done a great deal of thinking (and feeling) and while I have struggled a lot, I know I have gained so much important insight in to my past and who I am. This year has certainly been difficult in more ways than I can talk about at the moment, but I have also learned a great deal and while I’m not at all satisfied with how the year turned out, I managed to make it through and that has to be enough for now.