It’s Not Self Care- It’s Self Preservation.

The phrase Self Care is incredibly popular within the media these days and as the number of people suffering from poor mental health, stress and exhaustion is growing year on year it is an important topic to be discussed.

Nevertheless, I personally believe this popular phrase should be rephrased. Self Care sounds a little woo-woo and airy fairy. Instagram images of face masks and soaking in lush bubble baths immediately springs to mind. Self Care should in fact be known as Self Preservation. Self Preservation is the act of doing several different activities which light you up and spark joy, in order to preserve your mental health.

As the saying goes you cannot pour from an empty cup. If you constantly give to your friends, family, job etc without taking time for yourself it will inevitably result in a burn out. Burn outs are not good for us or our mental health and can be avoided by implementing some simple techniques into our daily routine in order to look after ourselves. By filling yourself up with a little love and care you will be more effective at looking after those around you. You are less likely to snap at someone or lose your cool in an instant. You are less likely to feel drained and exhausted at the end of each day and you are more likely to feel empowered and fulfilled within yourself. Anxiety and stress can not coexist alongside relaxation.

Take A Minute To Breathe

A common excuse people use for not looking after themselves is “but I don’t have time.” What that insidiously really means is it is not a priority to them. Self preservation should be a priority- especially when it can take as little as a minute of your time a few times per day.

When you feel pressure and stress mounting and taking control then I recommend using the following breathing technique to calm the mind and take charge of your feelings and emotions.

1. Stop whatever you’re doing and either lower your gaze or close your eyes completely.

2. Place your softly hands on your lower abdomen.

3. Take a cleansing deep inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.

4. Adopt the box breathing technique. Breathe in the nose for the count of four; hold the breath at the top for four; exhale for four and hold for four.

5. Repeat this pattern 3/4 times

This is an incredibly simple breathing technique which calms the central nervous system and stops your fight or flight instinct from kicking in. Simple breathing brings you back into the present moment and gives you something to focus or rather than getting caught up in the mind chatter.

Make A Commitment To Yourself

In the past when I was feeling outta whack I would make a ridged schedule and put so much pressure on myself to stick to it. “I must practice an hour of yoga every day,” I would tell myself, and when I didn’t manage I would feel shame, guilt and failure. The polar opposite of looking after myself and taking positive steps to feel good.

Nowadays, I don’t make strict schedules anymore. I try and tap into my intuition and listen to what my body needs each day. Some mornings that involves taking to my mat and stretching out my body through a yoga flow. Other days it involves hitting the snooze button my alarm and savouring an extra half an hour in bed. By listening to exactly what your body, mind and soul needs you are more likely to finish the day feeling like you’ve achieved some form of balance within yourself and less defeated by not meeting an unrealistic target.

Get Moving

Countless scientific studies explain that moving the body through exercise aids positive mental health and helps maintain a healthy body and mind. It is important to get the heart rate up and the blood pumping!

Some of my favourite ways to get moving are to walk back to work on my lunch hour; go climbing with my boyfriend; take a pole dancing class; head over to YouTube and take an online yoga class; throw on a podcast and head out for a run. The list is endless really. Try different activities and see what you enjoy and makes you feel good!

Eat Well

Finally, take time to cook something bright, colourful and tasty. We don’t just use our tastebuds when we eat. Your brain is also stimulated by a variety of smells, colours and textures. I often notice that when I’ve been eating poorly and neglecting my body by feeding it a poor diet I feel sluggish, lethargic and more irritable than usual. I also understand that if you are cooking for one it can feel difficult to put in the effort and cook a proper meal for yourself- I often struggle with this mentality. My solution for this is to invite a friend or my boyfriend over and cook for them too! This gives me more accountability and pride to do a good job so the other person gets to enjoy a healthy, wholesome meal too. I also ensure that I make a meal plan for the week and keep it visible in the kitchen to remind myself of all the tasty treats I have to look forward to each day.

These are a few of the most basic techniques that I will always come back to when I need to take care of myself better. Self preservation takes time and a level of discipline in order to form strong habits. It’s easy to forget these skills and techniques when life feels good and we don’t think we need them. However, it is important to maintain them in daily life in order to look after our mental, physical and spiritual selves. I hope these are beneficial to you and you pass them on to friends and family as new tools to add to their mental health toolkit.

By talking to one another about mental health we can help improve the overall mood of this country and look after one another. Communities who share skills, knowledge and information with one another will thrive and grow.

Don’t Look Back. Keep Moving Forward.

Your twenties are a very fickle time and it often feels difficult to know if you’re ‘doing it right’- so to speak.

At school I was taught the age old strategy; work hard at school, work even harder at university to get the honours degree, land the dream job, find yourself a partner, buy a house, get married and have children. Then make sure the same cycle is instilled into them. That seemed pretty straight forward to me when I was 13, young, naive and easily led. Damn, at that age I thought you were a fully fledged grown up at 18. Oh how wrong I was.

Fast forward to my twenties and I’m lying in bed writing this post with two cats napping on my chest wondering if I’m doing it right? On one hand I have a group of friends still at uni, drinking and living it up at all hours in clubs several times a week. Then on the other hand I have a group of friends, much like me, who are in the early stages of their careers, working the 9-5 and settling into adulthood. Then somewhere in the middle are my nomad pals who I couldn’t even tell you where in the world they are this week- probably some beach in South East Asia using the hashtag #travellerlife. We’re all the same age, living completely different lives.

You might have even noticed this trend yourself. More and more people on your Facebook feeds announcing their engagements, job promotions, new sprog and you’re sat there wondering where you fit into all of this! I am constantly comparing myself to others around me wondering if I’m on the right path doing the right thing. To be honest, I’ve had to get really firm recently when I catch myself in these moments and try to snap out of it because it’s detrimental to my mental health.

I’ve also realised that you can’t plan life. I’m a massive over-planner by nature. I wish I could be a carefree, gypsy yogi without a worry or fear in sight but that’s just not me. I like to know what’s going on all the time; know exactly how others are feeling and what I’m doing next. I think that’s why I enjoyed university so much. There was always a plan or a deadline to be achieved.

However, when you leave the walls of academia and head into the big, bad world you literally have your whole life ahead of you and that can be daunting especially when everyone is navigating it so differently.

The only way I’ve learnt to deal with the twists and turns of my twenties is to keep moving forward.

Life will most certainly throw you some curveballs when you’re not expecting them- and boy did the universe serve me one lately. But rather than curl up in a ball and sit with misery I pushed onwards and moved forward. The event in question taught me that there’s an awful lot in life we have no control over but we do have full control of how we handle it. We have the tools to adapt and grow from these events we are experiencing and use them to help others who will inevitably go through a similar situation in the future.

I’m trying not to focus all my attention on the big 5/10 year plans and live week to week. I’m striving to enjoy the freedom I can have in my twenties and not take life too seriously. I don’t have to have my shit together yet *repeat 3 times*

I’m not entirely sure where I am going with this but if like me, you’re a twenty-something lying in bed feeling overwhelmed by your friends newsfeeds and Instagram stories this week then I hope if nothing else this post shows you are not alone.

I think very few of us know exactly what we’re doing or if it’s the right thing for us. Nonetheless, I do truly believe there is a plan much bigger than you can imagine and you are exactly where you need to be right now. Your path will undoubtably twist and turn but if you keep moving forward with as little resistance as possible all will become clear and you’ll wonder why you sat comparing your life to someone else’s in the first place. Remember if Britney can make it through 2008 you can navigate these confusing times too!

You can do hard things

“You can do hard things”- @Adrienne_ldn.

As many of my family and friends know, I am a goal setter. I am a creature of habit who needs structure and routine in her life. Goal setting allows me to have the routine that I crave as well as work through the year achieving micro and macro goals. It allows me to look back at the end of each year and remind myself of how much I managed to accomplish. But don’t get me wrong that makes it sound easy. Goal setting is the easy bit, the hard work comes next.

At the end of 2018 I set myself the goal of running a half marathon. I don’t run- well I didn’t run then. I decided to go one Saturday morning to my local ParkRun and have a bash at it. I was unfit and out of shape. I managed to limp to the finish line in 36 minutes, cursing every step of the way. I tell you this because I think it’s important for you to know how difficult I find running and it’s not something I am naturally strong in.

So, rather than throw in the towel after hobbling through my first run and tell myself I was just not cut out for it I chose to see the potential room for improvement. I signed up for the Edinburgh Half Marathon in aid of Mental Health Aberdeen.

I remember phoning my dad after signing up and all he said was, “did you not think of starting off with a 10km Meg? 13 miles is a long way.” He is not wrong this challenge is probably the biggest fitness and endurance goal I have ever set myself- but I chose to run a half marathon because I believe it’s important to do hard things.

I can’t say I spring out of bed ready for a run every morning and some runs are much more successful than others. But there is so much magic in running. I began to realise that it was so much more than physical and actually my biggest hurdles have been battling with the negative self talk while running and getting into a meditative zone where my pace and breathing almost become one.

Running has become far more than a form of physical exercise to me, it has opened me up to a world I had never experienced.

The running community is incredibly accepting both on and offline. When you go to your local ParkRun- seriously go to one they are amazing- you see a whole host of people. Different ages, shapes, sizes, and abilities all running, jogging and walking together.

The people who attend my local ParkRun in Ellon are such kind and caring individuals who actually make running fun. They high five you on route, they help you up the hill at the end when you feel like your legs have nothing left to give and they really want to see you achieve a PB or make you feel good in yourself.

In the online world I began following an incredible influencer @adrienne_ldn who inspired this post. She is a fitness influencer who has a passion for running. She hosts The Power Hour podcast which I love listening to when I’m pounding the pavements and her happy, motivational outlook on life pushes me forward when running feels too difficult. She made me realise that it’s important to do hard things and to push myself out my comfort zone. By staying in the comfort zone you never grow or change.

This started out as a way to raise money for Mental Health Aberdeen which is a local mental health service that I personally benefitted from in 2017 and want to give back to. In an increasingly uncertain world we are becoming more anxious and depressed than ever before and we need these charities to continue to get funding in order for them to continue the amazing work that they do for those in their care. I’ll link my Just Giving page below and if you feel inclined to support me at the end of May then I will be extremely grateful.

Run for your life. Run for your soul. Run when it feels easy and when it feels hard because remember- you can do hard things!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/megan-keith1

The post uni blues no one talks about

Graduation was the best day of my life- hands down. I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement that day that all the hard work and graft I had put in over four years was being recognised and had paid off. I was surrounded by my caring and supportive family who were all equally as proud of me as I was and it was such a special day I hold very close to my heart.

Graduating is an amazing time; a time for prosperity, new beginnings and new adventure. However, when summer is over and a new University year begins you all of a sudden begin to feel very left out. You’re not going back there when a lot of your friends are. Going out drinking mid week isn’t as acceptable now you’re no longer a student either. For the last four years you have had this student label attached to you and if you’re unemployed or working any job you can just to pay the bills you begin to feel like you have lost a community and a sense of belonging.

I also moved home after finishing my studies because I wanted to be able to save money and have the flexibility to move for a job in an instant. I found moving home incredibly difficult. I had lost a sense of freedom. I didn’t like having to report to my parents and let them know what I was up to. I struggled to slot back into the home family environment and really resented the fact I had to do it. I also lived quite some distance away from my friends so popping out the door and walking down the street to grab a coffee and have a catch up was no longer an option meaning I began to feel very lonely too.

Then there’s the job applications. The dreaded job applications. I couldn’t tell you the number of jobs I applied to, the number of enquiries I made and the amount of unpaid work I did to try and get myself a job. It seemed never ending and it seemed like I was failing. I couldn’t understand it; I had done everything right. I had worked hard at school to get the grades for uni, I then continued to work hard in order to graduate with a 2:1 and had worked for several different companies whilst doing so to gain the work experience. I had been on several uni sports teams and committees and volunteered too. All CV boosting skills I had been told. But they weren’t enough and I wasn’t enough. My confidence hit rock bottom. I was embarrassed because my cohorts from university were all getting jobs or travelling the world while all I felt was stuck. Stuck with no way out.

No one tells you how lonely graduating is and how getting a foot in the door in a graduate job is increasingly difficult. I don’t think people appreciate how difficult the transition from student to graduate is and so many of us suffer in silence thinking we’re going through it alone.

But I promise it will get easier. A job will come around and it may not be your dream career (no one really loves their first job) but it will give you the tools and experience to later get into that dream job role you were always hoping for. Remember to step away from the computer and don’t frantically apply to anything and everything. I did so much of that and people can see right through it- they can tell you’re not the right fit for theming their business because your heart isn’t in it. Take time out to do the things you love and remember this is only temporary. It’s a challenge to be faced and it will make you a stronger person.

#Littlegirlsdeservebetter

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A warm welcome to today’s very special post from my smiling moon beam face! I woke up this morning and four words came to the front of my mind: Little Girls Deserve Better. For those who have been following my blog a while you will know I am a self love activist who wants young girls to grow up with more genuine and diverse role models in their lives. I want to be the change that I want to see on this planet! So, I decided to launch the campaign #littlegirlsdeservebetter.

I’ve not always liked my skin and I certainly did struggle with acne until my early twenties. It took a complete knock out of my confidence, I was bullied at school for my imperfect looks and for not quite fitting in with my peers. But this isn’t about me; you don’t need to hear my sob story because the past will not change the future.

Little girls growing up today deserve better than what we were sold when we were younger. They do not need to see very real and natural bodies being slated on the covers of magazines for having a tiny midriff or some cellulite hugging their thighs. They need to see REAL women standing up and sharing something that they want little girls to know.

I’ll start…

“Little girls deserve better. Magazines shouldn’t make them feel bad for having imperfect skin. Little girls should be running around and having fun with their friends and not worrying about the pimples that are on their faces. They should not have to beg their mothers to buy them make up to wear to school because others are being unkind towards their looks. You are beautiful. You do not need to cover your natural beauty. Spots are so normal! Yet we are told they are ugly and something that needs to be fixed. You are young. Go out into the world and be who you want to be regardless of your skin. Focus your energy reading books, studying hard at school, playing with your friends, baking cakes. Do whatever makes you happy and never stop doing it because of a few marks on your skin. You are a goddess and always worthy.”

Be the change that you want to see.

Today I urge other women and men to join me in this campaign. I want it to stretch the globe because little girls everywhere need to hear your message. I want little girls to love the skin they’re in. What do you want for them? What do you believe they deserve? It can be anything that resonates with you. It can be body positivity related; you might think they deserve a more eco friendly planet; you might want them to know their unique fashion sense is special and valued. You might want them to know that having a boyfriend doesn’t make them whole and their independence should be celebrated! Whatever it may be, post a picture and share with the #littlegirlsdeservebetter then tag three friends to send the message out further.

I can’t wait to read all your wonderful stories. I want this to make a difference and even make one young girl proud of herself because she is beautiful on the inside and out.

It’s time to accept the early bedtime- I’ve become everything eight year old me hated

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Let’s go back to when I was eight years old; my sister and I HATED bedtime with a passion. We would be caught sneaking through to each other’s bedrooms to continue playing games and having fun; we would run up and down the stairs complaining to my parents of ailments and illnesses or that we just couldn’t get to sleep! My poor parents didn’t get a night to themselves without one of us kicking up a fuss about the dreaded bedtime routine.

Fast forward 10 years- I was 18 and in my second year of university and still hated sleep. I would go out clubbing four or five times a week whilst studying and working. Sleep was not a priority then either. “Go hard or go home” was the slogan on my 18th birthday sash gifted to me by my good friends. This behaviour continued until I graduated from university and began working a job in a supermarket where I would start as early as 5am and finish as late as 10pm. When I wasn’t prioritising sleep I was getting sick; two rounds of tonsillitis in 6 weeks, and forever run down with a cough or cold. I actually started to think it was normal that my eyes hurt every time I closed them! I knew that something had to change. However, I had never really considered the importance of sleep until my boyfriend suggested I listen to Joe Rogan’s podcast featuring Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist and director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at The University of California, and he had some really insightful things to say on the topic.

So, today’s post was actually suggested by my better half and is aimed at those of you who think you can survive on six hours of sleep or less and still be productive in your daily lives. This is an opportunity to look at sleep as a way of enhancing performance and not a sign of weakness. I have done lots of research from different avenues and I will link all their references below for you to check out yourselves if you wish.

A lack of sleep impacts decision making or creates what I like to describe as brain fog, where you cannot think straight and simple tasks become unmanageable. Alongside Matthew Walker I have read works by Caroline Webb, a researcher in behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience. She believes that to function effectively in the workplace you need to carry out three core daily practices- sleep well, practice mindfulness and remember to exercise. Sleep is hugely important because when we don’t get enough of it less blood flows to the prefrontal cortex where our deliberate system is. This means that without enough sleep it is difficult for us to be creative, create intelligent solutions to problems or act quickly and smartly on our feet when we are placed under pressure. She discusses that sleep deprivation differs from one person to another however generally speaking people need between seven and nine hours to function at their best the next day.

Charles Czeisler, a Harvard professor of sleep also explained that through recent studies we have discovered that those who go a week sleeping between four to five hours a night become mentally impaired the equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. This means that not sleeping enough is like turning up to work drunk the next day. Can we stop and think about that for a second. Those of us who care about producing high quality work would never dream of turning up to an important meeting drunk but we would argue that we HAD to stay up all night preparing for said meeting. Which in reality is as bad as being intoxicated by alcohol.

Matthew Walker explains that a lack of sleep affects every part of our biology and we have to recognise as a society that sleep is fundamental and should be taken more seriously by businesses, the NHS, and the government. But why has sleep deprivation become such a massive issue over the last 75 years? It is largely down to our lifestyles, the technology we use late at night lights up our brains and keeps us stimulated for longer. We are expected to be fully flexible in our jobs and work longer hours in order to succeed or get that promotion that is on offer. Then once people have finished working for the day and driven their commute home they feel guilty for staying late at the office and not spending that time with their family so in order to make that quality time available they sacrifice sleep instead. Nowadays, we have all the connection we could have ever imagined yet we are lonelier and more depressed. Caffeine and alcohol are stimulants which are more widely available to us and they all impair our quality of sleep.

We also view sleep negatively in western society. We look at those who sleep in as lazy and unproductive. We believe that in order to be successful we must be busy and active. This one is very personal to me because when I was at my lowest point all I ever wanted to do was sleep however I felt guilty doing so because I didn’t want my family or friends to think less of me for not getting work done around the house or missing a social engagement because I was tired.

So, the research shows us that sleep is imperative to making smarter more thoughtful decisions and we should be aiming for between seven to nine hours a night in order to unleash our full potential. This week I challenge you to go old school and set yourself a bed time, get into bed earlier than normal; put the phone on aeroplane mode and read a good old fashioned book. Aim for those recommended number of hours sleep and see the difference it can make to your energy levels, your productivity levels and your emotional and mental wellbeing.

References:

Caroline Webb- How to have a good day: The essential toolkit for a productive day at work and beyond

Matthew Walker: Why we sleep

Czeisler, C. & Fryer B. (2006) A Conversation with Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business Review.

Forever moving forward

Things are changing all around me right now. I’m away to start a new job, friends are moving away to begin their own careers, university courses, or moving in with their partners and growing their lives together. We’re all growing up and adulting pretty well if I do say so myself. I myself am moving to Leeds to begin a graduate job with a nation wide supermarket as a digital marketing trainee which is really exciting as it was one of my favourite topics at university.

However, it’s easy in these transition periods to worry a lot about what the future holds. I’ve never sat with change well, it takes me a little while to accept it and move with the flow. I worry a lot about the ‘what ifs’ and really stress myself out over things that haven’t even happened yet.

Change challenges us to think differently; work with new people in new places, doing new things. It allows us to learn what is really important to us and forces us to find a way to make things work even though sometimes it seems tricky. Everything is manageable if you want it to be. Moving away from home to a new city with no friends can seem daunting but this pushes you out your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll take up that new hobby you’ve always thought about and meet likeminded people there or it’s the kick up the backside you needed to appreciate your current friends and keep in touch with them more regularly. It’s different for everyone.

But change doesn’t have to be scary when I begin to panic about the ‘what ifs’ I am trying to turn it around and think of all the great things I can learn from this experience. Change is what you make of it and often it’s the push you unknowingly needed to personally grow and develop from.

Seasons change and people change. Buds don’t turn into flowers and bloom all year round so we can’t be expected to either. Sometimes change gets us down but we recover and bloom once more.

Have any of you had big life changes happen to you this year? How did you handle it? I would love to start a conversation.

Until Next Time,

XO