Coping without social media 

social media coping without

I’m back again, after my self-enforced social media vacuum – no social media for Lent.   This was a big deal for a once Facebook-obsessed meme-monster.  Lent is a good 6 weeks, not a piffling few days. A good time, then, for inner, personal reflection rather than outward “look what I’m doing now!” exhibition.   Or even, “look what I’m thinking now!” scaremongering (more of this, below).

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest – my otherwise constant daily and hourly (and minutely?) companions were duly deleted from my iPhone.   I welcomed the break, having experienced the weight of negative feelings which I was increasingly linking to my use of social media.  A break would help me to assess what was happening, how I use social media now and how I could perhaps get a more positive experience from it in the future.

It’s quite timely that I write this blog post today (although I’ve been jotting down some feelings throughout the Lent period), when the image I’m seeing a great deal on social media just today is this:

Crush the saboteurs I don’t read the Daily Mail, which is arguably the point! The front cover today has become a meme, ‘gone viral’. Luckily, with my newly developed social media ‘emotional resistance regime’, I can choose not to dwell on the demonic May poster and resulting comments and opinion.  But before I delve into the outcomes of my time in the wilderness, I’ll take a look at the reasons why I decided it was all getting a bit too much.

Reasons for leaving

  • Negativity, or even downright apocalyptic drama on social media

I’ve never been more switched on politically than right now.  We’re living in one of the most tumultuous political and social eras in recent history and no-one knows what’s going to happen.  What do you do when you’re uncertain about the future and happen to also live in a time when information is immediate? Some people might choose to switch off. If you’re like me, you might Google ten times a day and fervently scroll through Facebook and Twitter feeds. Someone out there must know what’s going to happen?

I personally became swept up in the drama of Brexit and Trump. The more I looked for information or reassurance, the more horrified and demoralised I became at the often vicious and aggressive commentary happening on social media.  At one low point, I found myself navigating to the Fox News Facebook page and reading comments to news posts – I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing this unless you’re particularly emotionally resistant to extreme racism, trolling and division!  My own actions were akin to forcing myself to look at the world’s worst slasher movie out of morbid curiosity, but the effect was to come away feeling slightly more downhearted.

  • ‘Notification anxiety’

I don’t know if anyone else has this feeling. It’s probably on the OCD scale, like I must know where all remote controls to TV and streaming devices are at all times and they must also be neatly lined up on the coffee table.  Similarly, if there are red notifications in the top right hand corner of my Facebook or Twitter app on the iPhone, I can’t stand it.  I have to clear them off or it niggles me.  Oh to be free of the niggle for 6 weeks…bliss.

  • Distraction from the most important things…

Obviously, a combination of notification and world affair anxiety was distracting me from the single most important thing in my life – my 2 beautiful daughters, aged 6 and 4.  Increasingly, I’d find I was looking a phone instead of responding to questions, or just not paying attention to what they’re telling me about their day.  I’m the one that complains of how they say “I can’t remember!” when asked about their day at school.  So why was I incessantly looking at social media when they try to talk to me?

  • Boredom

I think my final reason for taking a break was plain boredom and tiredness.  Too much of the same thing.  The same people, the same groups, the same kinds of photos, the same negativity I was increasingly being drawn to. My thumb was also getting sore from scrolling (is there a name for this? ‘Scroller’s thumb’ maybe!? ).  Added to this, it was the end of a rainy, dark February.

How did it go?  I’ve been assessing myself through the 6 week period, taking note of what I missed, if anything, and how I felt.

The positives of no social media

  • Less anxiety and more relaxation!

I was obviously ready for this as peace came quickly.  For the first 1 1/2 days, I did feel at times a little lost, akin to the feeling where you think you’ve forgotten something – a letter you were meant to post maybe, or a task or reminder you’ve forgotten to act upon.  After the first day or two, this feeling disappeared.  I did, over the course of the 6 weeks, miss a few things which I’ve set out below.  But these feelings were few and scarce.  I certainly wasn’t pining for any social media at all.

  • More time spent on other activities

… and of course this means I had more time for arguably more positive pursuits!  I have certainly listened to my children more and enjoyed observing their expressions, the way they speak and move.  We’ve done more cooking and baking than ever before in such a period of time.  They even helped me make Mary Berry’s self-saucing lemon pudding – quite technical for a 6 and 4-year-old.   I’ve also read a lot more – both fiction and non-fiction, online, via my kindle, and even – shocker – in print. I’ve also had far more time to cross off to do list items, which included some major changes in our household.

I have to admit that the urge to fiddle on the phone didn’t get the better of me entirely.  My ASOS shopping app got a fair battering, as did the Met Weather app, weirdly.   I did avoid news apps however, for obvious reasons, my thinking being that if WW3 is about to start, surely someone will just tell me?

At one point, I got addicted to reading answers to questions on Quora, until my husband reminded me that, technically, this is also social media.  However, look up ‘mysteries’ on there if you’re looking for a wacky read.

What did I miss?

This is important as it reflects how I’m going to be using social media differently going forward and my new ‘emotional resistance regime’.

  • Twitter

I missed Twitter, but for one reason only –  connectivity with my local community.  Is my yoga class on, this evening? What events are happening in the local area this weekend? When is that new bar opening?  There are a couple of local Facebook groups that I perhaps missed a little for a similar reason; however these do also tend to get bogged down with negative comments, for example “oh that’s just what we need – another wanky bar in the area”.  So I conclude Twitter is best for local community information.  

And that’s basically it.  I didn’t miss Facebook at all, or Instagram or Pinterest.  However it did give me time to think about how I might use these apps differently.

My reflection took me back to the emergence of social media and how we could connect more easily and immediately than ever before.  This is still valid, but these connections can be used more positively.  What do I need them for?  What’s important to me and how can I use them for the betterment of myself rather than to feed negative emotion?

It’s a work in progress, but my main points are this:

  • I’ve switched off notifications.
  • I’ll look at Facebook, but once a day. There are key friends and groups I’ll navigate to.  I can’t avoid the memes and news stories of the day, but I won’t be drawn into reading more about them, particularly the commentary.
  • I have lists set up on my Twitter account, one of which is for local community groups and accounts of local interest. This is the one I’ll browse, and again maybe once a day.  I do have a separate account for work (I work in cancer care) – it’s informative  and helpful to look at this feed so I’ll glance at this, too.
  • No Fox News or the like, on either Facebook or Twitter!
  • I have also defriended a few people (obvious Trump supporters – I’m not apologising for that, either. I just don’t want to read their sh*t. Not so bothered about Brexit supporters as long as I feel they had reasoned arguments rather than a snap response to divisive issues.)
  • Instagram, Pinterest. Well, I’ve recently, given my age (40, no less) become interested in gardening and household improvement, for which these apps can be useful.  My new regime includes taking a look at these apps perhaps more frequently, but to research practical issues that are positive for my family.

It’s a basic ethos: social media can be positive, but only if I utilise it as positively as I can.  In addition, less is more and I need to put the phone down.

My new outlook on social media comes at a testing time, with a snap general election on the way on June 8th!  I’m aware of the negativity that’s begun already, but I think one day in to the announcement, I’ve done a decent job of not dragging myself down with it.  A more relaxed and refreshed me, with a less sore thumb!

 

Me time: Volair Spa, Knowsley

It’s hard to find time to relax as a parent of young children.  Even those times when you do have a few moments to yourself, you can find that your mind goes into overdrive with a mental list of tasks you ought to be either doing or thinking about.

As Mum to nearly-6 and 4 year old girls, I was delighted to be invited to the Volair Spa in Knowlsey this week for a pampering spa day.  A whole day just for me? Doing lovely, relaxing things? Unheard of!

Volair Spa Knowsley
I set out to Knowsley this Tuesday with my fellow blogger HodgePodgeDays anticipating some serious Zen time and we got just that – and more. 

The spa is set within a multi-million pound leisure complex so we had a nosey around there first as we approached the spa. There’s a huge swimming pool for example, coffee shop and welcoming sculpture and art work.

In the spa, we were greeted by the lovely Hayley and her team, who I must thank as they looked after our every need all day.  Hayley showed us to the spa’s relaxation room which was so inviting- full of cosy chairs, squishy beanbags, fleecy throws with dimmed lighting and chill out music.  Every spa should have one of these. 

We had a welcome drink (I chose a fiery rhubarb and ginger tea) and pastries and Hayley explained that our group would be split into two, experiencing the thermal suite and cleansing/facial interactive demonstrations in turn.

Volair Spa Knowsley
HodgePodge and I experienced the thermal spa first, which consists of jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.  But first, a member of Hayley’s team gave us some beautiful-smelling body scrubs to try.  These were by Lycon and I tried the lavender and chamomile scent which made my skin feel so soft and exfoliated – great to do before a sauna/steam.  

As you can see from the above, we spent a lot of time in the jacuzzi! The thermal area is really nice, with beds you can also relax on as you move from room to room, detoxifying.

Volair  Spa  Knowsley
We had to shift ourselves out of the tub however and move to our buffet lunch, followed by the demonstrations.

Here Hayley talked us through how to cleanse and take off makeup effectively – with a real handy hints and using AromaWorks products.  We tried their cleanser, toner and facial oil range.  I do like to use a facial oil on some evenings of the week as I find my skin can get quite dry.  The AromaWorks oils smelt gorgeous, with lots of essential oils to treat the skin.  

Hayley explained that it’s best to cleanse twice, particularly in the evening as the first cleanse will loosen the grime and pollution of the day and the second will then take away any final traces and allow any oils to penetrate the skin. Also, using a wet cotton pad to apply toner means you will use less product each time.  Finally, tapping the skin lightly with your fingertips as you apply moisturiser will ensure the cream is applied evenly and also help the circulation, helping the moisturiser to sink in. 

Our group then watched Hodgepodge have a CrystalClear microdermabrasion facial.  Fascinating! This used an electric tool which gently exfoliated the skin using very fine crystals.  The result was very good- take a look at HodgePodge’s site to see the results.

We felt really looked after at Volair Spa.  I’d certainly go back there (already booked in, in fact).  It’s a lovely, small spa with a personal feel to it.  If you’re in the area and have time for a pamper- give it a go.

Disclosure: We were invited to Volair Spa, Knowsley free of charge.  All opinions expressed are my own. 

How to fit a week’s worth of activities into one day

This probably seems like a silly title; who wants to fit a week’s worth of activities into one day?  Me, seemingly.  I’ve been finding it very difficult to unwind recently.  I’m always doing stuff – my life is a timetable of events and activity from washing and meal planning to remembering birthday parties and putting the school library book in the book bag on time.  It’s fun because I have two beautiful daughters; I’m doing this for them and I’m blessed to be able to spend this time with them. But it’s a mad and chaotic type of fun.

I was wondering why I was feeling like this one day recently, and that evening I happened to be at a friend’s house.  She asked me how my day had been so I reeled off what I’d done, after which she said “wow, that’s like a week’s worth of activity in one day!”

This is how that day went:

– Get up, get everyone ready and breakfasted for the school run.

– Do the school run.

– Take the littlest one, not yet of school age, with you for a coffee with a friend (phew- a sit down!).

– Finish coffee, take littlest one to her playgroup.

– Leave the playgroup to collect 4 1/2 year old from school at lunchtime.

– Remember with a slight panic that you need to go shopping and have left yourself very little time to do this in your schedule.  Decide to go shopping that minute, before lunch.

– Go shopping, two children in tow.

– Go home for lunch.

– Panic that it’s actually sunny and the children ought to be outdoors.

– Make a picnic lunch for them to eat in the garden.

– Panic that it’s a ‘good drying day’ and you need to get the washing on the line.

– Put washing on line and put more washing in the washer.

– Panic about an email you sent at work the other day.

– Check work emails.

– Get stuff together to take 4 1/2 year old for her swimming lesson.

– Take them both to the lesson. Sit watching, holding onto 2 1/2 year old while 4 1/2 year old swims.

– Bring them home.

– Make tea for them.

– Bring washing in off the line.

– Get the children in the bath.

– Put the washing away.

– Husband returns home; disappear to bath, shut the door firmly in everyone’s face and put earplugs in.

I did actually bore myself rather a lot writing that list.  I almost gave up in the middle to start writing about egg painting (another story).

We had a good time together that day, but it’s not surprising that after such exhaustive activity (I think I used the word ‘panic’ three times there?) my brain finds it difficult to switch off, regardless of earplugs and firm door-shutting.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m looking for ways to become ‘calm parent’ rather than ‘frazzled parent’.  Do I put myself under too much pressure to have everything ‘just so’?

I’ve been reflecting recently on ways to wind down and I’ll be writing another post about this shortly.  In the meantime, here’s a photo of my escape room: every night, around 7:30pm you’ll find me in here.

 

bathroom roll top bath purple lighting
The sodding toddler step still made it into my haven of tranquility, didn’t it?!

 

Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil (review)

Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil

We tend to cook most things from scratch here in the Expression Confession household (cheese strings aside) and that means cooking with oils, which we use for frying, braising, roasting or dressing.

Recently the lovely folks at Candiasoil sent me a lovely tub of Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil to trial.

What’s different about their oils is that they’re produced from one single variety of olive from individual farms (in Crete, I believe – great holiday destination) which gives them a more distinguished flavour and character. Most oils we see in the shops are blends of a range of olive varieties as this is more economical.

They also carry something called PDO- ‘protected designation of origin’ which means the olives have been picked out for their high quality.

I tried Oi1 Peza from Koroneiki olives from Peza in central Crete – billed as smooth and slightly fruity and good with red meat, vegetables and homemade dressings. It’s also genuine extra virgin – which means it’s produced from a genuine mechanical pressing process rather than adding chemicals.

Due to its extra virgin qualities, we didn’t want to use this as ordinary frying oil. We tried it firstly as part of a marinade for some lovely lamb chops (I say lovely – I’m vegetarian so these were for husband/children), using the remaining marinade to create a sauce. We also used it mixed with lemon and balsamic vinegar as a dressing for an accompanying salad.

We would definitely agree that the oil is a lot more flavoursome than the oils I usually buy. Much like buying a bottle of wine with different grape varieties, you can certainly tell the difference in character from the single grape variety used.

Also unique is the tin the oil is provided in (rather than a bottle) – this prevents sunlight reaching the oil and breaking down some of its natural beneficial chemicals.

Cost: The oil is £6.50 for 500ml bottle (available in Tesco stores) which I think is reasonable for an extra virgin oil (we use normal olive oil for cooking and extra virgin for marinades and salads).

I think we would definitely purchase this again and keep it as the ‘special’ oil – reserved for dressings and marinades so we can appreciate the flavour!

Disclosure: I was sent a run of Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil to review, free of charge. All opinions expressed are my own.

The Primal Kitchen Paleo Bars (review)

The Primal Kitchen (review)I’m always looking for healthy snacks to eat when I’m out and about, both for myself and my children, aged 2 and 4. That’s not always easy, as they tend yell for cheese strings, biscuits and chocolate.

We love cereal bars, but more often than not they tend to have a higher refined sugar content than I’d like. I also often grab one in the morning – when I’m getting the girls ready for school and then setting off to work, I rarely get the chance to eat a decent breakfast. Quite a few varieties of cereal bar contain chocolate? I mean really – I don’t fancy having chocolate for breakfast!

I was intrigued to try The Primal Kitchen Paleo Bars. I didn’t have a clue what a Paleo bar is, but according to their website, it’s all about the Paleo lifestyle – that is food that tastes good but with real food ingredients and no added junk. Food we were ‘born to eat’.

The Primal Kitchen was founded by nutritionist Suzie Walker. She makes bars that don’t use dried fruit that contains vegetable oils, sugar or sulphites as is apparently commonly found in other snack products (alongside chocolate!). Each bar is made with 4-5 Real Food ingredients, is hand made and cold pressed rather than heated. They are also gluten, grain, refined sugar, soya, dairy, GMO and vegetable oil free.
Paleo
Both my husband and I tried the Almond and Cashew, Brazil Nut and Cherry and Hazelnut and Cocoa varieties. We both really enjoyed them! I’ve tried many health food bars previously and think they can taste bland, but the Paleo bars are really tasty.

Plus, they retail at around £1.49 each which I think is reasonable – it’s certainly on a par with a certain brand of children’s bars that I’ve been buying a lot of recently. I think I could add a few of these to my weekly shop – as they taste so good and are healthy I find them good value.

My girls didn’t get a look in at trying these as we snaffled the lot, but I think they would enjoy them as an occasional snack (not too much – teeth issues and fruit sugars and all that!).

I also think these would give a good energy boost before exercise, should I be a champion marathon runner (actually I have been doing a lot of Ashtanga Yoga recently and try not to eat dinner until after the class, so one of these would be perfect).

Try them if you’re looking for a healthy snack – we enjoyed them.

Disclaimer: I received some Primal Kitchen Paleo Bars in return for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

10 things that make winter better than summer

A couple of weeks ago we resigned ourselves to putting the clocks back on a Saturday evening, bracing ourselves for the long, dark nights ahead – plus quite a few mornings of being woken early by young children who are still on British Summertime in their heads and rejoice in bounding into the bedroom like wildebeest gone 5:30am.

But is winter really so bad?  For some it is.  According to mental health charity MIND, up to 10% of us suffer from the debilitating effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, such as fatigue, anxiety and depression and linked by researchers to lack of light during the winter months.

Luckily we don’t all suffer enough for this to affect our quality of life, but most of us will experience feeling low at some point as summer ends and winter begins.

Last week, I was discussing with a close friend how we both really enjoy winter and feel that we’re in the minority. I began to list out the reasons why I feel I love winter. Ok, so most of them involve having an excuse to wrap myself up warm, switch all the lights on and generally be quite lazy, but they still demonstrate the unique quality of winter in allowing me to rediscover things about myself that I don’t really experience in spring and summer.

1. Being cosy in bed and hearing the wind and rain bashing the windows.  Add in a great horror film on the TV and I’m in winter heaven.   The feeling of being warm, safe and protected from the elements is so comforting. Maybe one day Mr Expression will allow me to go even further and purchase the much-coveted electric blanket…
Leaf collecting in Autumn2. Leaf collecting. Okay this is an autumn one but it’s been so cold on and off it’s practically winter in autumn anyway. Sort of.  My little ones love going to the park and will spend a good half an hour hysterically throwing leaves up into the air and cackling.  Leaf craft is also another winner – sticking the leaves onto paper, drawing round them, tracing the veins with pencil.
3. Bonfire night.  Last year, I wrote about a great bonfire night we attended nearby. Bonfire night is a fab family event which involves wrapping up, watching a huge, blazing bonfire and the best fireworks display you can find. Add toffee apples, candy floss and BBQ sausages for ultimate family excitement.
4. Christmas. We did so many things last Christmas and New Year that I can’t wait to see what this season brings. I’ve already purchased some new decorations and started my geeky ‘Ultimate Christmas Planning Spreadsheet’ and I’m looking forward to making new decorations with my two girls. Christmas is a family event which develops its own ‘life’ each year with trials and tribulations along the way – I love the whole experience.
5. Generally having an excuse to be lazy and drive everywhere.  Speaks for itself really.  I mean, no point walking with the pram if it’s windy and rainy is there?  This is where my tiny Yaris comes into its own – a Mary Poppins-esque car that at times has been known to contain a double buggy, many, many shopping bags, two small children and myself.
6. Feeling really cold…and then feeling really warm again. The contrast is just amazing.  Going for a walk to the shop in the freezing cold weather, feeling your face turning red with the cold and your fingers practically hurting inside your gloves…then coming inside again.  It’s like a free Swedish sauna – just no torturous ice bucket.
7. Snow and its endless opportunities for child (and grown up) entertainment.  Snow produces such unrestrained glee for everyone.  Building a snowman, throwing snow balls, making footprints in the snow, feeling snowflakes on your face – it’s just fun!
8. Sponge puddings.  I do love a mean sponge pudding with custard and it just doesn’t feel right to eat them during summertime (although you may occasionally find me scoffing a spotted dick on a night in on my own in front of a good horror film, even at the height of summer).  My favourites are: jam roly poly (actually a suet pudding I guess), spotted dick and treacle sponge.
9. An excuse to lie in bed at about 8pm.  If it’s cold, what better excuse than to get in bed at 8pm complaining that you can no longer move as your toes don’t work, and instructing your husband/partner/better half to fetch you dinner (and maybe even wine) in bed?  It’s an excuse to slow down and do nothing.
10. Making pies and stews. After all, we need to carb up in winter, burning off all that energy by taking the car everywhere and lying in bed…ahem.  Today I saw a great recipe for a meat and potato pie which I intend to use for favours impress husband with.  It was actually called a Humongous Meat and Potato Pie. I’ve also already given the slow cooker an airing and made a couple of beef stews.

So winter isn’t so bad, surely? I intend to wrap up, make a few stews, eat pudding and enjoy some family time.

Wedding preparations and Revive Active

Revive Active Health Supplement

It’s two and a half weeks from our wedding day…eeek!!! We’ve reached a stage where everything is hand and all the planning is done and dusted.

It’s countdown time. There are some nerves flying around – typical things: “will everything go to plan on the day?”, “will everyone enjoy it?” and of course most importantly “will there be enough cheese to go around from the cheese tower?”

Cheese anxiety aside, one of the most important issues which must affect any bride is health and wellbeing. No-one wants a horrible cold or virus on their wedding day. A bride (and groom!) wishes to feel at their best.

Earlier this year I reviewed a health supplement called Revive Active at a time when I really needed it. It was the New Year, a time when I feel sluggish and when lots of bugs and viruses fly around and I was reliably informed that this supplement was full of lots of healthy vitamins, minerals and other ingredients.

The supplement is delivered in handy daily sachets, which I took in a glass of apple juice before breakfast in the morning. I had seven days worth to take and was looking forward to seeing some results, especially given the benefits listed on their website, as below:

  • Natural sustained energy. No caffeine or sugar, and meant to be good for burnout or fatigue. I had recently written a post on how I feel I suffer from burnout, so this is perfect for me.
  • Heart health. Contains CoQ10, L’Carnitine, Vitamin E and Magnesium, all beneficial to the cardiovascular system. Most of us are aware of the prevalence of cardiovascular disease in this country, so anything that helps can only be a good thing.
  • Rejuvenation. Well I need this, looking at my eye bags. Revive Active is rich in antioxidants including, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium. With all the sleep disturbance I suffer as a mum of two preschoolers, I have to admit I was particularly excited about this bit.
  • Mental clarity and focus. Yes please! I really needed this. I wrote that I had put a bag of rubbish in the fridge by mistake. Apparently, Vitamin C and Vitamin B12 in the supplement help to retain mental clarity.
  • Healthy Immune System. Yes, yes and yes. As I’m writing this, I realise I’ve written many blog posts lamenting most of these states. Mum of pre-schoolers = colds galore. The website tells us that Vitamins A, C, E and B help maintain a healthy immune system.

During my trial of the supplement I was really impressed by the benefits I felt: more clear-headed and more energy. I also noted that both my children had colds which I would normally catch just by glancing in their direction, but I didn’t.

It’s expensive: six months supply would set you back £49.95 per month, or £59.85 for one month.

However, I felt that it was worth it – for example if you’re recovering from some nasty bug or infection and are really struggling, if you suffer from heart problems, persistent tiredness or…have your wedding in the not too distant future!

So here I am again – avidly whisking up my supplement powder each morning.  I do feel much better already, as wedding planning has taken it’s toll this year and I was feeling so tired.

I’m not the only one who loves this supplement – check out 52 year old Linda Barker’s recent interview on her use of Revive, and these testimonials.

Visit the Revive Active website for more information, to order directly and view stockists.

Disclosure:  I received the Revive Active Supplement free of charge in return for writing this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Aviva Stress Less Challenge: Week 2

20140524-200942-72582441.jpgI’ve had a rough week – holed up with the flu and still feeling the effects. One of the difficulties of having pre school children is that you pick up every bug going! However, I’ve still found time to carry on trying out the tips I received for week 2 of the Aviva Stress Less challenge in association with the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel. The challenge was to choose a few tips I would stick to for life. To be honest, all the tips I received from Aviva’s experts were great and easy to carry out. But I’m picking three here that I know I’m going to stick to – and that will mean less stress! Do today lists I always keep to do lists, but they tend to become long and unwieldy, and make me feel stressed just looking at them. The tip was simply to look at my lists the night before and mark those that are urgent for tomorrow – ‘do today’ tasks. This then means my mind has the chance to switch off that evening. I’ve found this so effective that I’ll be sticking with it. Eating berries and more foods containing tryptophan I like eating berries, but I don’t do enough of it! It’s easy to forget my own diet when I’m concentrating so much on the children – as evidenced by the bugs I keep picking up. Paddy Anson’s diet tips for me included stocking up on foods known to reduce blood pressure and levels of stress chemical cortisol, such as oranges and berries. I’ve been eating loads of these over the past week and definitely feel better for it. It’s such a simple part of my diet to implement that I’ll be sticking to this, too. My diet tips also included tryptophan-containing foods such as tuna. I’ve been eating a lot of tuna at lunchtimes and enjoyed it, and now I know it helps lower stress levels, I’ll be doing this more often. Chamomile tea I’m an avid coffee drinker, as my readers will already know. I’ve been substituting the odd coffee for chamomile tea and had forgotten how much I like it. It’s refreshing and calming, and cheap to buy. I’ll definitely be incorporating this into my lifestyle full term. I admit I’ve yet to try out the fitness tips I received at the end of week 1 – my lurgy has meant that I haven’t done any running at all! Rest assured I’ll be trying those out as soon as I’m back to being fighting fit and ready for my exercise plans again. In fact I’ve learnt so much from the Aviva challenge that I feel I’ve still got a lot to put into practice and learn from. I’m looking forward to incorporating more omega-3 foods into my diet, for example. In possibly one of the most stressful years of my life during which I’m planning a wedding, working and organising two children under 4, these tips have been really welcome. Here’s to a new stress less me! I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

Aviva Stress Less Challenge: Week 1 update

20140524-200942-72582441.jpg

Last week I wrote about the tips I received as part of the Aviva Stress Less challenge in association with the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel.

I’d filled out Aviva’s questionnaire about my stress levels and trouble sleeping, and received some very simple but hopefully effective tips from their stress experts.

I was to allow my mind to switch off by making and arranging my to do lists, marking off which tasks were ‘do today’ tasks the night before. To help aid sleep, I was to eat more foods containing tryptophan, such as tuna, dairy and chamomile tea.

Here’s a quick update on how I’m getting on – and written at quite a suitable time when I’m just trying to destress following the challenge of a shopping trip to choose a wedding gift list with two preschoolers in tow.

It wasn’t that bad – really. But maybe my reaction to it was better because I’m less stressed?

Do today
I have a running to do list as long as my arm. I tend to keep it on my iPhone, but I’ve actually just bought a new personalised planner so maybe I’ll switch to this. In any case, I’ve been making a big effort to look at it at night at the beginning of my wind down after the girls have gone to bed. I’ve chosen maybe 2 tasks which are urgent or which I’d like to achieve the next day.

So far I think this has been pretty effective. I have felt I can just ‘let go’ a bit more in the evenings knowing that there’s a clear sense of what I need to do the next day.

Tryptophan giving foods
I already eat loads of cheese and it’s probably not healthy to eat more! But I have eaten tuna at lunchtimes a few days this week and – now hold on to your seat – switched coffee for chamomile tea a few times. I’d forgotten that I actually like chamomile tea and I’ve been drinking it in the late afternoon rather than coffee. I have slept better this week and found it easier to drop off – but it’s difficult to determine whether the tea has contributed or not. I’ll keep it up as it can only be healthy to drink less coffee.

At the end of the challenge, I’ll be choosing those tips to stick to for life. To date, I’d say that making an evening effort to glance over my task list is a definite contender.

Week 2 tips
Yesterday, the tips for week 2 came winging their way into my inbox. Again they were from Dr Doug Wright, who has worked for Aviva for 15 years after full time GP practice, and Paddy Anson Head of Strength and Conditioning at Gloucester Rugby. In addition, England rugby players Billy Twelvetrees and Jonny May and former Captain Mike Tindall provided tips which was very exciting news!

Work-life balance from Dr Doug

“You may be finding big tasks daunting to progress but building upon creating lists from last week try adding even the smallest tasks to your list to help you get a sense of accomplishment and gain the momentum to tackle the bigger tasks. If you’ve got a big task ahead, break them down into smaller pieces so you can see exactly what needs to get done — even if you can’t tackle them yet”

Wellbeing from Dr Doug

“Surround yourself with your favourite scents and sounds. Our surroundings can affect our wellbeing. Why not play your favourite music and use scents from natural sources, essential oils or candles. By creating a positive atmosphere whilst you’re working in your home especially when you’re working through what you need to do for your wedding can help keep you in a positive and uplifting mood”.

Fitness from Mike, Billy and Jonny

“There are certain stretches that can be done before bed which promotes better sleep. A couple of these exercises are the ‘sleeping swan’ and ‘bridge’ or try your favourite yoga poses to help you feel more relaxed”.

“You are already quite active and it sounds like you already have quite a routine going on already. However to give you a bit more variety finish off your running sessions with a series of callisthenics exercises, e.g. press-ups, sit-ups and lunges. This will work other muscle groups but will also help tone the larger muscles in preparation for your wedding day”.

Diet from Paddy

“Relaxation can be very complex. Nowadays people find it difficult to ‘switch off’. Foods high in zinc, antioxidants (particularly vitamin C) and B vitamins have been shown to help various different parts of relaxation such as vasodilation, lowering blood pressure and lowering cortisol. Stock up on oranges, berries and things high in omega 3 & 6 such as avocados and nuts”.

Wow – there really are some great tips this week. I’m really impressed (quick- get them on my task list!).

I find the tip about scents and smells really interesting – I used to love my scented candles and oil burners but have stopped using them since having children. There’s no reason why I can’t use these after the children have gone to sleep.

I’m looking forward to implementing the fitness tips – I’m familiar with the yoga poses so I’ll try those right away. There’s also no reason why I can’t add in a few of the additional exercises after my runs.

I’m a fan of berries, avocados and nuts but I don’t eat them enough – they’ll be on the shopping list this week.

I have yet to call Aviva’s Stress Angels on their helpline, which is ridiculous – I must make time for that and report back!

I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

Aviva Stress Less Challenge: Week 1

Aviva Stressless

This week is very exciting for me – I’m taking part in the Aviva Stress Less challenge in association with the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel.  The challenge will provide me with expert, tailored advice based on my current stress levels.  I’ll try these out over the next couple of weeks, with the aim to commit to at least one for a lifetime, as even one small change could mean long-term benefits that will help reduce my stress levels for good.  Sounds simple enough – and I could do with it right now!

So – the process is this: I fill out a questionnaire designed by Aviva’s experts, receive some top tips in week 1, try these out and see how I feel, receive even more tips in week 2, assess how I’m feeling and the overall effect my tailored stress-busting package is having.

I have high hopes, particularly given my recent problems with sleep deprivation.

The Questionnaire
I filled out the questionnaire, and quickly realised that perhaps I am more stressed than I think. When asked what I hoped to get out of the challenge, a flood of words poured out about how life is really hectic as I work after two pre-school children, I feel there are not enough hours in the day to ‘fit everything in’ and that on top of this I’m planning a wedding which will take place in August this year!

I went on to discuss how stressed I think I may be – and realised that I’m currently finding it hard to switch off in the evenings which in turn affects my ability to get to sleep. I hadn’t really thought much about this – the act of filling out the survey made me stop and assess how I’m feeling.

I stifled a chortle when asked if I’ve always felt this way – memories of lying in until 11am with nothing to worry about came flooding back. But actually, I’ve always been the type to pack a lot into my life. There have always been periods when I’ve found it difficult to unwind and let my mind rest.

So how do I unwind currently? I have a bath, I read with my kindle, watch TV in the evening over a glass of wine.

The most stressful time of my day? Mornings! Getting everyone ready for childminder or work and out of the door.

Finally, I was asked questions around my occupation, general lifestyle and diet. I probably don’t pay enough attention currently to what I eat. Apart from cheese – I always ensure there is plenty of cheese in the fridge. Can’t live without it.

The tips

I was eagerly anticipating this, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve been given a few, manageable and practical tips that I can put into practice this week. I can’t wait to get started.

The tips this week focus on work-life balance, wellbeing and diet.  Apparently next week it’s fitness. I’ve recently taken up running, so I’m looking forward to those.

The tips are prepared by Aviva’s Dr Doug Wright who has worked at Aviva for 15 years from full-time practice as a GP and Paddy Anson, Head of Strength and Conditioning at Gloucester Rugby who’s tasked with setting out the training and diet plans for the players (eek – hope he doesn’t prescribe a bit of Rugby!).

Work-life balance from Dr Doug

“2 children, work and a house are enough in themselves. Add in a wedding to plan and I’m not surprised you feel stressed. The fact that you recognise this is good. Having trouble sleeping is a clear sign that it’s affecting you. Try to get more of a sense of control back into your life. We often treat everything as important, in work and home. However you can’t do it all and everything is not equally important. Ensure that everything which is on your ‘urgent’ or ‘do today’ list is exactly that so you don’t put pressure on yourself to do everything at once”.

Wellbeing from Dr Doug

“Sleep is key to feel less stressed. If you can’t switch off because you’re thinking of things you need to do then in the evening write your to-do lists (wedding/home/shopping) in preparation for the next day so you can focus on getting to sleep”.

Diet from Paddy

“There’s a number of foods you could try to help you sleep. Foods rich in tryptophan will help as these help serotonin and melatonin, which are our brains ‘sleep chemicals’. For example dairy, tuna and certain herbs like chamomile will help”.

Onwards and upwards…

So that’s me for this week…I’ll be recognising that I can’t ‘do it all’ and giving myself a break, ensuring that I have ‘to do’ lists which state which tasks are ‘urgent’ so that I don’t feel overwhelmed.  If I can do this early in the evening for the next day, then hopefully my mind can chill out in preparation for sleep.  I’m fine on the dairy (cheese!), but I’ll be adding in some tuna and substituting chamomile tea for the usual coffee every so often.

I also have access to qualified stress counsellors – Aviva’s Stress Angels – which is an added bonus.

Watch this space for an update!

I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.