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Something Old, Something New!

I have been tinkering with this blog for almost 3 years now.  It has become a dear friend and trusted confidant.  Over the years it has allowed me to express myself in ways I hadn’t known possible.  A little while ago, I entered a blogging competition and honestly had zero expectations.  I am shocked, amazed and humbled beyond belief to have made it to the final in the health and wellness category.  Thank you to everyone who has visited the blog since it started.  You guys are awesome.

I can’t help but remember back to when it was just an idea.  I had thought about it for so long.  Hmming and hawing, second guessing and procrastinating.  I worried so much about how it would be received.  What would people say?  What would they think?  I can’t speak to what they might be thinking, but as of yet I have not received any negative feedback.  I was prepared for trolls, but they have remained under their bridges up till now anyway!

Recently, my sister and I started a Podcast.  As always when I take on a new project, I was filled with trepidation and fear.  Imagining every eventuality and doing a fair amount of catastrophizing.  As I write this, we have two episodes aired.  A new episode will drop every Monday.  Naturally we have experienced some teething problems and are learning A LOT.  The learning curve is a steep one, but not insurmountable.  Astonishingly, nothing catastrophic has befallen us so far.  I am usually a solo flier, and it has been so nice to have my sister on this adventure with me.  My brother is producing the show for us, so it’s pretty much a family affair.

The Podcast is in a similar vein to the blog.  We talk about health, fitness and lifestyle and try to get to the truth behind some of the myths.  We also talk about food a lot, and anything else we stumble across.  It is all done with the honesty you have come to expect from me.  We are on all the major platforms.  I would love you to check it out, Fitty and Fatty

That’s enough of the shameless self promotion.

What I really wanted to say in this post is that incredible things do happen.  If you put yourself out there and take a chance.  Opportunity does knock, but only if you leave the porch light on.  If there’s something you have been wanting to do for ages, please go and do it.  If it doesn’t work out, so what?  If it does, who knows where it could take you!  And if you end up being up for an award, please let me know.  Be well xxx

PS.  For anyone looking for an update on Scroll Free September.  It has been going well.  I am not struggling at all really.  This blog automagically uploads to the Facebook page, so I promise I haven’t been cheating.

 

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7 Days Done!

So here we are at the end of week 1 of the Social Media Blackout experiment. Honestly it has been so eye opening. I have not missed scrolling a fraction as much as I thought I would. Far from feeling disconnected, I actually feel more in touch with what is going on around me.

At the beginning of this challenge I was extremely nervous. I was afraid I would be bored and I had a serious case of FOMO! It is a pleasant surprise that so far neither of those things have happened. I haven’t had a chance to get bored and I don’t think I have missed out on anything, but if I have, I can catch up on October 1st.

Let me know how you are getting on. Be well xxx

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Scroll Free September!

Tomorrow I will be starting what may prove to be my most difficult challenge to date, Scroll Free September. For 30 days I will be staying off Social Media. I will be logging off my personal Facebook and Instagram Accounts (I don’t understand Twitter, so I don’t use it much anyway.)

I sure this is going to be extremely challenging for me, as I spend an inordinate amount of time mindlessly scrolling through these sites. I am excited to see how I feel after the first few days of digital DTs have passed. I am also interested to see if I find myself with more time for things I actually enjoy, like reading!

I will still update my Zumba With Arwen page with class times etc. Luckily I don’t have to log in to my personal page in order to do that. My blog automatically posts to Facebook so that will still be happening too, but other than that I will be going cold turkey.

Many of you may not need or want to take on this challenge for a whole month, but I would encourage everyone to try to get even a small amount of unplugged time. As well as that, if anyone in your social media feed creates any sort of negative feelings for you (regardless of how rational these feelings may seem) just unfollow them!

I will let you know how I am getting on! Wish me luck and be well xxx

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100 Days of Headspace

I first discovered the Headspace app back in February of last year.  I can’t remember what was going on at the time, but a friend of mine recommended it over coffee one day, so I thought I would give it try.  I immediately loved it.  It is guided meditation, and Andy’s voice is so soothing, he could probably relieve someone’s stress by reading the phone book to them!  I kept it up for a few days and could feel the benefit, however, like with a lot of things, I missed a day or two and before long I had kinda forgotten about it.

Over the next year and a half, whenever life got hectic, as it invariably does, I would dip back into Headspace.  I would come away from each short session feeling better and the cumulative effect was brilliant.  However, it always ended up the same way.  After a few days I would give up, and often not return to it for several months.

At the beginning of the summer, I knew that there were going to be big changes happening.  I was about to start a new job and I was well aware of the stress that would cause me.  Even if everything was working out perfectly, the upheaval would still create anxiety for someone who struggles with change as much as I do.  I decided to revisit Headspace again, but this time I committed to it fully.  I made a promise to myself that no matter what happened, I would complete 100 days in a row.  I announced this publicly to help me stay accountable.

Initially, I did find it difficult.  I found myself saying things like “I have to go do my meditation now.”  I had to make a concerted effort to find the 15 minute window of peace in the day in which to get it done.  This alone speaks volumes as to how frenetic I had allowed my life to become, but that’s a post in itself.  As the days and weeks went by, I began to get into it.  I loved how grounded and peaceful I felt after each session.  I found myself hiding in empty offices during the day to sneak in an extra mini session, especially if the day was really crazy.  I was amazed that no matter how stressed and even panicked I felt going into that room, I left feeling ready for anything.

During the past 100 days there have been so many times when in the middle of the meditation I have thought to myself “this isn’t working,” or “I’m not doing it right,” or even “I’m not getting anything out of this.”  Regardless of how often these negative thoughts popped up during the session, at the end of it, when the guide told me to pause and reflect on how I felt, I always felt better than I had at the start.  Magic!

I am not good at homework.  The app often recommends little exercises to do throughout the day so that you get more bang for your buck as it were.  90% of the time I completely forget.  They always sound like great ideas, but the only way I am going to remember to do it is if I write it down or set a reminder.  I might try to be better at that for the next 100 days!  In spite of my lack of conscientiousness, I am convinced that this experiment has had a lasting effect on me.  I am certain that I would not have been able to survive all the drama in my professional life as well as I have without meditation.  In fact, I think I would have become a complete basket case.

The effects seem to be noticeable to others as well.  A couple of weeks ago I was out for a meal with some girlfriends I hadn’t seen in forever.  I was giving one of them a lift home when, unprompted, she said to me “Arwen, you seem very chill!”  What you need to understand is that this is definitely not how people would usually describe me.  Uptight, highly strung, control freak, anxious, would all be closer to the mark.  The thing is, I feel very chill.  For the first time in my life I feel in control.  Not in control of my life or anything going on around me, in control of myself.

Being educated in a Catholic school, spirituality was spoken about daily and meditation would often come up as part of that.  As such, I have been aware of it and it’s advantages for as long as I can remember.  Certainly long before it started being mentioned in the same articles as kale and goji berries.  I never really thought of meditation as a way to improve health or increase productivity.  When you think about it, these very modern concerns were not around when meditation was first recorded.  The Taoists and Buddhists weren’t overly concerned with “personal effectiveness.”

I always thought of meditation as promoting stillness and awareness, and having committed to a daily practice for a mere 100 days, I am beginning to understand what that really means.  I feel grounded and centered and like nothing can rock me.  I cannot recommend mediation highly enough and with so many apps available bringing it right into the palm of your hand, it has never been more accessible.  My advice to anyone, whether you feel stressed or not, is to give it a try.  Most apps offer a free trial period, some are free forever.  Commit to it for a period of time, even just a week and see how much better you will feel.  Be well xxx

 

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Everybody Fails!

Three months ago, I started a new job.  I was full of excitement and eagerly anticipated the challenge.  Last week, I handed in my notice.  The role wasn’t what I expected it to be, and the practices were hitting off my triggers.  For lots of other reasons, which are too dull to go in to, I decided it wasn’t for me.  This was an impossibly difficult decision to make.  I hate walking away from anything, especially when I don’t feel like I have given it a proper try.  Even though I know it’s irrational, and though I am fairly sure I am doing the right thing, I still feel like I have failed.

In all honestly, the last 12 months or so have been pretty disastrous work wise.  It started going down hill this time last year, when a promotion I was promised fell through.  The promotion involved spending a lot of time in the UK, so getting mentally geared up for it had been tough.  But once it was decided on, I was committed to giving it my all.  When it didn’t work out, I felt completely heartbroken.  It was as though the rug had been pulled out from underneath me.  I knew that the change of plan was just that, a business decision which had nothing to do with me personally.  Nor was it a reflection of my work or my ability.  Still the experience left me destabilised and unsettled.  A change was needed.

The thing was, I didn’t hate my job.  In fact, I quite liked it.  I had genuine affection for my colleagues, so I wasn’t going to take just any old job.  It had to be the “right move.”  After a fairly drawn out job hunt, I found a position which seemed to tick all the boxes.  It was a step up, more money, not too much of a commute and in a growing company so there would be plenty to challenge me and hold my interest.  Sounds perfect, right?  I thought so.  I was wrong.

So what?  I tried something, it didn’t work out and I moved on.  No big deal.  I have a new job lined up and having been completely honest with them about the reasons this one hasn’t worked out, I am hopeful not to experience the same issues.  This job is even closer to home.  I will have the shortest travel time I have ever had, which in itself is a reason to be happy.  The role has a lot going for it and I know I should be ecstatic.  99% of me is, in fact, delighted.  But the other 1% is loud, obnoxious and impossible to ignore.

It keeps reminding me that I thought I was making the right move before and I was DEAD WRONG.  It whispers to me that I FAILED.  It prompts me to wonder if this career path is really for me.  It waits in the dark to ask me “what if the problem isn’t them, what if it’s YOUR FAULT?”  No amount of rational thinking, meditation or mindfulness can quieten these fears.  The inconvenient truth is that the experiences of the last year have left me doubting my own instincts.  I have spent so long not knowing what to do, that it has become the default.  I can’t stop thinking, what if I start in the new job and it’s even worse?  Is it a case of better the devil you know?

I recognise that uncertainty and anxiety are completely normal during times of change.  I understand that even though they might not admit it, everyone experiences the same range of emotions.  I also know that everybody fails.  The reality is, if you have never failed, you haven’t tried hard enough.  If you always stay within your comfort zone and never stretch yourself, you eliminate the risk of failure.  But, you also eliminate the potential for growth.

Fail_Chart_1800x

So, once more into the breach I go.  Come Monday I will be taking another step into the unknown.  Scared as I am, I will try my hardest to walk in there with an open mind and an open heart.  To do anything less is to cheat myself.  It is the same when we start a new relationship, make a new friend, or start trying to lose weight for what feels like the 219th time.  Letting go of past “failures” is the most important, and often most difficult, first step to take.

I cannot tell you how excited and nervous I am.  Even as I write this, I am painfully aware of how flaky and changeable I must seem.  I desperately want this to work out.  I need to feel settled again.  So much of my identity and self worth is tied up with my professional life.  It is the corner piece of my jigsaw, without it being in place I find myself unable to work on anything else.  Routine is vitally important to me and in its absence it I struggle to keep my fitness, nutrition or pretty much anything else on track.  Wish me luck, and be well xxx

 

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Mindful Eating – An Experiment

I have just done an exercise in Mindful Eating as prescribed by #headspace
I sequestered myself in the boardroom at work. I brought my lunch and water bottle with me and NOTHING ELSE. I ate slowly. I had no phone, music, reading material or any other distraction. I was able to fully engage with my food and the experience of eating.
Here is what happened:
*It felt a little odd, but not “lonely or boring” as I was expecting
*I tasted my food so much more than usual
*I enjoyed my food
*I experienced feelings of getting full BEFORE I had over eaten
*I came away from the meal feeling satisfied and with an awareness that I had refuelled my body (not just shovelled food into me)
I am going to make an effort to eat at least one meal a day in this way going forward. Go on, give it a try

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In Praise of Uni-tasking!

Has this ever happened to you?  You go to unload the washing machine, only to discover that although you loaded it and put in the powder, you neglected to actually switch it on?  It happens to me with frightening regularity and always when I have an overflowing hamper and can ill afford the time to wash clothes, I thought had already been washed!  Unfortunately this isn’t limited to the washing machine.  I routinely leave tasks half done, because I had become distracted by some other, seemingly more pressing thing.

I went to a Catholic Secondary School.  Not because my family are particularly religious, but because there was little choice in Ireland in the nineties!  I remember having a religion teacher who was a nun.  Her mantra, which she recited daily, was “you can’t do two things at once.”  She would go on to say that you can of course try to multitask but that everything will suffer.  In essence you can’t do anything properly unless you give it your undivided attention.  I spent 5 years in that school and remarkably, that lesson is one of only a handful of things which has stuck with me.

Of course, at the time I gave her wisdom little merit.  I was a typical teenager who assumed I knew better.  I did not credit this woman, who must have been in her seventies, with any life experience, and so twenty years later I am learning her lesson the hard way.

We live our 21st centuries lives at a breakneck pace.  We boast about how busy we are, how little spare time we have and how frazzled we feel.  We read books like “The 4 Hour Workweek” in an attempt to boost our productivity.  We are always striving to be able to fit even more in.  Lately I am beginning to ask myself is there a trade off between quantity and quality.  Is multitasking a myth?  Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we are achieving more, when in reality we are leaving a trail of half finished jobs in our wake, which will come back to bite us in the ass before long?

There are some things which I won’t even attempt to try to do simultaneously.  I cannot have two conversations at once (so if I am on the phone and you try to talk to me, don’t expect a polite reply!)  I also can’t text and talk.  Past attempts at this have resulted in my typing what I am saying or vice versa, neither of which ends well!  Similarly if I am driving and need to concentrate, I have to turn the radio down.  Whatever way my brain is wired, auditory stimulation overrides anything else.  Happily as we get older, we usually learn to recognise these limitations in ourselves and work around them.

Those of you who follow me on social media will know that I have been getting into meditation lately.  It started off as a challenge.  I wanted to see if I could commit to daily meditation for 100 days.  (As I write this I have clocked up 74)  However, as the days tick by, I am noticing just how much it is helping me.  I fully intend to make it a part of my daily life, for the foreseeable future.  As well as helping me to combat the stresses of modern existence, the meditation is helping me to understand the importance of being mindful in everything we do.  Being fully engaged and present in our activities, not just going through the motions like deranged zombies.

When you start to take notice of it, you will be amazed at how many things you do on complete autopilot.  For instance, have you ever driven somewhere and when you arrive at your destination you have little recollection of how you actually got there?  I have, and it is scary as hell!  Surely something as potentially perilous as driving should be given our undivided attention.  But we don’t do it.  We might be chatting to our passenger.  Singing along to the radio.  Doing a detailed postmortem of the meeting we had with our boss, or planning a future conversation (yes, I actually do that!)  This is especially true on a familiar route.  We don’t need to actively concentrate and so the mind wanders.

I am reading a book at the moment called Thrive and in it Arianna Huffington recommends taking one task each day that we do routinely, such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower and doing it mindfully.  Actually pay attention to what you are doing, and be engaged.  I tried this while brushing my teeth a couple of times this week and I am telling you it is so much harder than you think.  I was thinking about pretty much everything apart from the task at hand.  It’s a simple exercise, but it really opened my eyes to how much I am not present in my life.  I am often times merely going through the motions.  Is that what I truly want.  To sort of half experience life.  I don’t think so.

In an age where multitasking is prized and we are measured on our productivity, being mindful and doing one thing at a time is not the easy option.  Added to this, we are surrounded by devices which constantly vie for our attention.  We feel like we need to react to them instantly, no matter what else is going on.  I am so guilty of this.  Sometimes my husband will come home and I will be in the middle of a text chat, or scrolling through Facebook and when he comes in I will distractedly ask how his day was.  Invariably, when I put the phone down a minute or two later, I will ask him the exact same question.  It drives him insane and I don’t blame him.

It is not going to be easy to break the habit of a lifetime, but my attempts at multitasking have been so disastrous lately that I am going to try to stop myself from doing it.  I am going to attempt to complete one task at a time.  If and when I catch myself starting something when I am in the middle of something else, I will gently guide myself back to the task at hand.  I am interested to see if this actually makes me more productive.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but I wonder if in starting less tasks, I might actually finish more.  I wonder if by uni-tasking and concentrating on what I am doing a little more, I might be able to get through it more quickly.  As well as that, I am pretty sure it will help me to combat the feelings of overwhelm and burn out, which I often experience.

As I write this, I have been tempted to check my phone about 27 times.  Which brings me on to my next challenge.  Scroll Free September.  That’s right.  For the month of September, I will be logging off Facebook and Instagram (I don’t use Twitter because it confuses me too much.)  My blog posts automatically upload to Facebook, so when you see that happening, don’t think I am cheating.  I am not under any illusion that this is going to be easy.  I am a social media junkie, but I think a digital detox will be good for my overall well-being.  Oh dear, FOMO is setting in already!  I will let you know how everything is going.  Wish me luck and be well xxx

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Dear Millennial…

Typically each generation will lament that the one coming up behind them “don’t know how easy they have it.”  We will talk about walking to school in the rain, five miles, up hill in both directions, and what it was like to know the value of money.  My own generation is no different.  The technological advances I have seen between my teens and my thirties are nothing short of astonishing.  Even having to stand at a bus stop and just wait, hoping the bus might arrive at some stage, is a thing of the past.  We have unlimited information and entertainment at our fingertips now, but has it come at too high a price?

My generation may have been the last mugs to have to stand, shivering at the mercy of public transport, but we were also the last to enjoy certain freedoms.  I made plenty of mistakes and poor decisions in my younger days (I am still making them now) but my indiscretions were contained.  My transgressions were not captured on film and disseminated to the masses within seconds.  Any teenager doing a stupid thing back then would have had to face the shame of school on Monday morning, but would have been safe in the knowledge that it would have been blown over before the bell sounded on Friday afternoon.  Not so now.

Young people now are afforded no such reprieve.  Their every move is documented and subjected to the judgement of not just their inner circle, but to pretty much everyone.  I can’t imagine how stressful that must be.  Especially at that age, when everything feels so big and your peer group is all important.  When I was growing up, if you had a falling out with your pals, as inevitably happened, no matter how nasty it got, you could go home, close your front door and if not forget about it, certainly escape it.  Again, not so now.  Thanks to social media, bullies and begrudgers have access to their prey 24/7.

Even more sinister, dangerous and potentially devastating are two phenomenons my peer group definitely did not have to deal with.  “Revenge porn” and “slut shaming.”  In the digital era, everything is on demand.  Instant gratification is what it’s all about.  A quick selfie sent to a partner or potential love interest can come back to haunt you.  A lot of us have been there.  You get caught up in the moment and it seems like a good idea at the time.  However, as soon as you press send, that image is no longer within your control.

It is not only young people who are falling victim to this.  I am hearing stories with increasing regularity of men and women of all ages falling victim.  Often times these images, sent during times of intimacy or even love, can be used to blackmail and control victims.  The difference between teenagers and older victims, is that usually older people have developed better coping mechanisms.  They have had past experiences which have taught them that there is life after this.  Not matter how unbearable it may seem, you can and will get through it.

There is so much advice I want to try to pass on to those coming up behind me.  The truth however, is that I am probably ill equipped.  I haven’t had to deal with the challenges that face you.  From the outside looking in, however, I will offer you these words.

You are not your social media profile.  Please do not allow your likes, follows, comments etc. to impact on your self worth.  You have been put on this earth for a reason, one which may not become clear to you for many years, but I promise it is almost certainly not to become an “influencer.”

You are beautiful.  Your 18 year old body does not need surgical enhancement, your gorgeous face does not need to be filled.  Your uniqueness is the key to your beauty.  Nothing makes me quite as sad as seeing you all trying to look the same.  The ironic thing about our beauty is that we often don’t appreciate it until  years later.  You will have to trust me on that!

You will make mistakes.  Your life will be messy and sometimes your shame will be on display for everyone.  You will feel like you can’t possibly survive it.  I promise you, you can.  Hold your head high and keep going.  People have short attention spans and the focus will be on someone else before long.  You might even laugh about it someday.

Be safe.  When I was in my teens and early twenties I took so many risks.  I was depressed and although I never contemplated suicide, I wasn’t doing a whole lot to ensure I stayed safe and alive!  Looking back on that time, I think someone must have been watching out for me because nothing terrible happened.  I rolled the dice and miraculously escaped relatively unscathed.  Don’t be like me.  Don’t take chances with your life and your health.  Even if they mean little to you now, someday they will be everything.

Lastly, smile.  Don’t take life too seriously.  In reality, most of us are just winging it.  99% of the decisions you make now will not have a catastrophic impact on your life.  Adopt the rule of 5.  If you are not going to care about something in 5 years time, don’t spend more that 5 minutes worrying about it.  Take the time to smell the roses and appreciate not being stranded at the bus stop.  Be well xxx

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We’ve Been Sent Good Weather!

Wow!  How about that sunshine!  It has been glorious for days and it looks set to continue.  I joked to my husband that only in Ireland would “it’s a sunny day” make the 9 o’clock news.  As the heat wave stretches on, the temperature is the topic on everyone’s lips.  As a nation, we love chatting about the weather, and the last few months have given us plenty to talk about.  Between Hurricane Ophelia, The Beast from the East and now the highest temperatures for a generation, we have had one “extreme” weather event after the other.  We Irish are more used to a moderate climate and we find it a struggle to cope with anything outside the usual range.

Nowhere is this struggle more obvious than in our clothing!  Typically transitioning to a summer wardrobe requires nothing more than ditching the winter coat and putting the boots in storage.  Not so this year.  Most of us are finding ourselves rooting through the holiday clothes to find something half suitable for work.  (What do you mean I can’t just wear a bikini and a sarong?)  We Irish never expect to encounter 30 degree heat without a drink in hand and a pool in close proximity.  We aren’t used to having to actually function in it.  We “can’t cope!”

Despite this, it has been fantastic, especially after the snow in the early part of the year.  It is just what the country needed to give us a lift, and help us to forget that Ireland are not appearing in the World Cup.  People are smiling and having fun.  Everything (apart from sitting in the car) is easier and more enjoyable.  We are truly getting a taste of how the other half live!

One thing that I have noticed both in myself and in others is that we are letting go of our inhibitions.  I am wearing things to work that I wouldn’t have dreamed of in the past.  I live in dresses as I am too short to get trousers to fit, and before now tights would have been considered a must.  This hot spell has allowed me to dispense with that rule and bare my pasty legs.  Staying cool and comfortable, or at least trying to, is winning out over modesty!  I don’t know if part of this is because as I get older, I seem to care less about these things, but the weather definitely has a role to play.

As our dress codes have relaxed, so too have our attitudes.  The vast majority of people seem determined to make the most of the sunshine, even if that means leaving chores undone.  Annual leave has been rescheduled and even the busiest and most conscientious among us are sneaking out of the office as early as possible.  I find myself wondering if maybe it takes something extraordinary to help us appreciate the ordinary?  Are we all so busy trying to make a living, that we need to be reminded to make a life?

I am also noticing that I am a lot less self conscious at the moment.  We are all in the same boat and this sense of collective experience seems to have softened our approach to each other.  People seem less judgmental of each other, at least where fashion is concerned.  As well as this, I am a lot less regimental about everything, which has been a refreshing change.  Even little things like stopping in for a 99 while out walking with Annie have made a huge difference.  It has underlined to me the need to let go.  I don’t need to hold on to the reins so tightly all the damn time.  If and when I loosen my grip, nothing bad will happen.

Suffice is to say, getting back on track with my weight has been postponed for another while.  It is just too heavenly to be adding unnecessary stress.  I am not going completely crazy with my eating, but I am not in the right frame of mind for tracking and counting right now.  I am teaching a couple of classes a week and I have found a cool yoga place around the corner from my new job.  If offers one lunchtime yoga class and one Pilates class per week.  I have been doing both classes pretty much since I started here.  So, my activity level is high enough.  I do want to get a little of this extra padding off, or my jeans won’t fit me when it gets cool enough to wear them.  I know what needs to be done and how to do it.  It will involve cutting down on alcohol and eating less!  Easy!  But the truth is, I want to enjoy this beautiful summer for as long as it lasts.  There will be time enough for cutting when the rain is back.

My advice to anyone out there who might be in the same situation, is just relax, for now.  There is a season for everything after all.  Enjoy the good weather, be sun safe and stay hydrated.  Get out for a walk in the cool of the evening.  Absorb all the Vitamin D you can.  But most importantly, be sure that in years to come when people talk about the “great summer of 2018” you will be able to honestly say you enjoyed it.  Don’t waste a second feeling self-conscious or guilty.

I will be starting a 100 day MyFitnessPal challenge very soon, and I would love if you would join me in doing it.  More on this to follow.  Until then, be well xxx