Tag Archives: stress

My Top Five Must-Haves for Writing

  1. Timer

This really does come first. I use a timer for motivation in all kinds of work, and it really does help. When I’m struggling to focus (i.e. cataloguing socks is suddenly looking ridiculously tempting), just setting a simple kitchen timer for 15 minutes, putting the phone away, turning wifi off and doing NOTHING ELSE for those 15 minutes will get me started. It’s great for busy days too – 15 minutes each on a handful of tasks moves me further in a morning than the faffing that I would do otherwise.

  1. Stamps

Not postage ones, but children’s brightly coloured stars, hearts, faces etc. Some people use stickers. This is exactly the same principle, but stamps are less consumable (and, I suppose, less varied). It’s a simple yet effective anti-procrastination motivational technique which becomes more powerful the more stamps/stickers you have lined up – once there are a few in a row,  it becomes more and more important (and easier) to keep going.

I use a set of Crayola pen stampers and assign different meanings to different designs, so 1 is for exercise, 1 for writing a blog, another for fiction writing and so on. When I’ve done the thing, I stamp the calendar day. It works really well to help build and maintain ‘streaks’ of good habits. Some people allocate a stamp/sticker to a certain number of words written or to pages edited etc or to time spent; I just credit for having done it at all (my standards are low, alright?).

  1. SCBWI membership

The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators is a fabulous organisation for those of us working in that area. A lot of what is offered is geared to fiction, but non-fiction writers are welcomed too. Membership is open to anyone interested in children’s books – you do not need to be published. The Society organises critique groups, a British Isles conference (which I went to for the first time this year, and loved) and many smaller events. I am drafting this on the train to a day workshop on writing series fiction for 5-8 yr olds taught by a successful author in that area, for example. There is a lot of skill-sharing, which is invaluable, and conducted with a generosity of spirit.

  1. Notebook and pencil

I write on computer, but all my planning and ideas generation is carried out by paper and pencil – or occasionally an array of coloured pens. I could not write anything without this stage.  Of course, when I say notebook, I really mean my trusty organiser from Cordwain Higgler. Isn’t she lovely? I’m going to do a post all about her one day.

  1. Scrivener

I am a relatively recent convert, but I have transferred all my novel plotting to Scrivener’s outline board and I love it. It allows for clear organisation of ideas; moving around (and insertion) of parts; separation into scenes/chapters/acts to clearly see turning points etc – fabulous for a structure junkie like me! You can alo have character notes, older drafts, research notes and anything else you like saved right in the file but not part of the word count of the story for easy viewing – so useful! (yes, yes, I know – I should have been using this years ago and no, I’m not on commission, and I know it would be even better if I were a Mac person, but there we are…).

What are your writing must-haves?

Review: Essence of Arcadia Essential Oil Sets

I’ve been using essential oils for over 20 years, so was very pleased to be recently asked to review this new distributor of oils. Essence of Arcadia sent me a 6-oil and 14-oil set to review, both of which I am happy to recommend to anyone looking to start out with aromatherapy at home, or boost an existing oil collection. Either set would also make a lovely gift, as they are very smartly packaged. Replacement and additional individual oils are readily available from the company’s website or from Amazon.

2015-11-15 11.09.05
Tightly-packed bottles, all beautifully and clearly labelled.

The 6 oil set contains:

Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Tea Tree, Peppermint, Frankincense and a card with a weblink for the company’s VIP club to get recipes and usage information.

The 14 oil set also contains:

Bergamot, Clary Sage, Grapefruit, Rosemary, Lemongrass, Ylang Ylang, Orange and their own Healing Blend, as well as a recipe booklet.

2015-11-15 11.03.50
Smart packaging complements the luxury feel of the products.

Each set is packaged in a high quality heavy duty black cardboard box, which will clearly work well for long term storage. The oils are all clearly labelled and presented in dark brown glass bottles with dropper caps, so they are protected from light and easy to use. I like that each oil has its own different colour label – my teen daughter and I have quickly learned which colours to reach for.

2015-11-22 13.45.30
My trusty wise hermit diffuser, protecting us with the Healing Blend.

The oils are described as ‘therapeutic grade’ and they are clearly high quality. I have used them in a standard tealight-powered diffuser and in a carrier oil, and they could also be used in a warm bath or foot soak, or in toiletry making. Just be careful about quantities, as these are potent little products – don’t be fooled into thinking that as natural items, they’re always safe. Some shouldn’t be used with children or animals, or in early pregnancy, but some usage information is available on the Essence of Arcadia website.

We particularly appreciated the healing blend, which incorporates anti-infection and cold-fighting oils and was a very welcome arrival in November! (It also smells considerably nicer than many other more commercial preparations wafting through the house, thanks to the sensible inclusion of Cinnamon and Ginger.)

Both sets include sufficient variety to treat common conditions and create different moods within the home, including the multi-functional Lavender and Tea Tree and the cornerstone of infection-busting, Eucalyptus. I was also really pleased to see Frankincense in both sets, as it’s so useful as a base note in relaxing blends: it has a regulatory effect on the breathing, which is perhaps why it’s been associated with ritual for centuries. The addition of the brilliant mood-buster Bergamot and other citrus oils in the larger set were also a really welcome sight. In terms of oil selection, I would suggest that Roman Chamomile would have been a good addition, but that may just be a personal preference – I do use it in a lot of my blends.

Overall, I would definitely recommend these sets if you are considering starting out with aromatherapy or gifting someone else with some oils to get them started.

The 6-oil set is £19.99 from the Essence of Arcadia website and £16.99 from Amazon at the time of writing.

The 14-oil set is £39.99 from the Essence of Arcadia website and £29.99 from Amazon at the time of writing.

Please note that I received oil sets for an honest review; this did not affect the opinions expressed here.

The True Face Curriculum by Siobhan Curham

true faceSiobhan Curham is on a mission to help teens find their true selves, with her fabulous book True Face, which came out last week. I’m so happy to have her guest posting here at the Hearthfire today.

I asked her what her dream curriculum would look like (and I so wish we could implement this in schools right now – it looks brilliant!).

One thing that baffles me about the education system is that it’s so geared towards preparing us for our adult lives: cramming our heads full of knowledge, training us to pass exams, providing us with qualifications, and yet no time, or very little, is spent looking at who we actually are. Instead of tailoring education to fit the unique needs and talents of the individual, we’re forced to squeeze ourselves into a ‘one size fits all’ system. Only it doesn’t fit all at all.

And when you combine this with the pressure from the media and society to look and act and think in a certain way, it’s all too easy to lose sight of our true selves before we’ve even left school. Then, when we do leave, we can end up in jobs and relationships and lives that make us feel unhappy and uncomfortable because they just don’t fit.

Losing sight of my true self when I was a teenager caused me to drop out of uni and end up in a job that I hated. It took me years before I regained the confidence and clarity to remember who I truly was and follow my true calling as a writer.

So, if I could give school curriculums a TRUE FACE make-over, here’s what I would do…

Finding Out Who You Truly Are

There would be regular sessions designed to help students identify who they truly are. They would frequently be asked questions such as: What are your passions? What are your talents? What are your strengths? so that their academic education could be adapted accordingly to ensure that they shine.

Feeling Good About Your True Self

Building on the findings from the previous section, I would help students feel good about their own unique talents and characteristics and strengths – even if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. Especially if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. The world desperately needs more free-thinking, free-spirited people. It does not need any more reality TV stars.

Having a Healthy Body Image

To counteract the air-brushed images we’re constantly being bombarded with by magazines and the media, students would be taught that true beauty exists within all of us. And that to live our best, most fulfilling lives, we need to eat for vitality, exercise for fun and revel in our so-called ‘imperfections’.

Turning Wounds into Wisdom

Students would also be given the tools to turn any painful experiences into lessons to live their life by. Turning wounds into wisdom is one of the most freeing things you can do in life and absolutely vital for happiness during the teenage years.

Overcoming Your Inner Voice of Doom

During the school years you can often become plagued by your ‘inner voice of doom’ – the voice in your head that tells you that you’re just not good enough, popular enough, attractive enough, clever enough. I would provide students with simple techniques to counteract this inner voice and encourage them to create an inner voice that is way more supportive.

Making and Being True Friends

There are few things more depressing than reading the statistics about bullying in schools, so a substantial part of the True Face Curriculum would be focused on creating a culture of encouragement and support. There would be regular Random Acts of Kindness days and mentorship schemes.

Mindfulness Techniques

With anxiety, self-harming and depression amongst young people all massively on the rise, there would be regular lessons in basic mindfulness techniques so that students would have the tools to help themselves when life gets tough.

Studies are showing that meditation has a transformative effect in the classroom and on students’ lives, so I would make this a daily practice.

Finding Your True Calling

Lots of time would be spent studying inspirational women and girls from all walks of life and all different professions. So that when teenage girls are surveyed about what they want to do when they leave school 70% don’t reply ‘be famous’ (as they did in a recent poll). My goal would be to have 100% answer that they want to in some way create, adventure, pioneer and explore.

Although I might not be in charge of the curriculum (and writing this post has made me really wish that I was!) all of these subjects are covered in TRUE FACE and my talks and workshops for schools.

You can find out more over at the TRUE FACE website.

See what I mean? How much more meaningful could school be with Siobhan in charge? Thank you so much, Siobhan, for visiting the Hearthfire today. If you have or are a teen and like the sound of these ideas, I would strongly recommend grabbing a copy of True Face.

#100HappyDays – challenging my anxious nature

I’m probably the last to the party here, but I’ve recently been noticing the #100happydays tag on Twitter and Facebook. Eventually, I became curious enough to investigate and discovered that it’s a simple record of highlights captured in photographic form over 100 days. The ideas is that it gets you into the habit of noticing the little things that make you happy. 100 days is certainly more than enough to establish a habit so it does seem like a good idea and I’m starting today, having signed up at the challenge website.

I’m not sure I’ve really mentioned it here before as such, but I suffer from anxiety and have had a relatively difficult time over the last two years or so. Anxiety has been an issue for me since school and it’s something that seems to rear its ugly head every so often. I’d always explained it away by reference to my circumstances before – you know, from “It’s my GCSE year, of course I’m stressed” to “Have you seen all this marking?” but recently I’ve had to accept that I’m the common denominator and recognise that I still feel anxious when everything’s fine. So I’m hoping that taking the #100happydays challenge might just be a useful habit to cultivate. (Obviously, I realise I need more than just this to sort me out, but it can’t hurt, right?)

I’m not going to blog my pictures daily – I’ll use more ephemeral social media for that – as I think that would clog the blog up too much. I’m thinking (at the moment – and this could of course change) that I’ll post a weekly update here with a couple of highlights. I think this could be a nice way to vary my blog posts a bit and make it more personal, but we’ll see how it goes. If it’s dull beyond words, I’ll try to notice and stop 🙂

Anyone else doing the #100happydays? How many days in are you?

Knowing When to Let Go

… is definitely half of the battle. I have not been a good blogger (or reader) lately, having just got too bogged down in other things (arguably, other things which are more important).

I think it’s time to accept that:

  • one post a week will have to be good enough for the time being for this little blog
  • I am behind on my Goodreads goal and am not going to make my target (but really, how important is that?)
  • my TBR pile/shelf is frightening, but staring at it paralysed in fear rather than picking a book to read is not the way forward 🙂
  • I have not updated my reading challenges (i.e. the British Books Challenge) in quite some time and, again, this is not a life-and-death thing – I’ll try again next year, perhaps

In my defence, I have been a very busy little bee and have been involved in three book projects over the last six months or so which will be publishing in January and February, all of which have been by turns a lot of fun and terrifying beyond belief. I have also spent far too much time in being anxious about all that I have to do, rather than simply doing it. Oh, for the luxury of a calm mind… But, I have (mostly) got it all done now and am promising myself an actual break over Christmas.

So I will be here, but only once a week until at least the New Year. If you do want to follow me here at the Hearthfire, I would suggest that you sign up with feedburner or by email (in the right sidebar), or follow me on Twitter to see when I have a new post up.

Stress and anxiety: my top five tips for coping

You may not want to take advice from someone who regularly struggles, but then again, I struggle and I’m still here so maybe I do know something about it 🙂

Here are my top five tips:

  • Don’t neglect yourself. You may be busy and annoyed with yourself for ‘wasting time’ by worrying, fretting or endlessly googling worst-case-scenarios (or maybe that’s just me…), but you still need the time to calm down and look after yourself. Clearly, in fact, you need that time more than when you’re not in an anxiety spiral. A walk, a jog, a hot bath – whatever does it for you, allow yourself that time. I would also recommend the positive to-do list, which we used last summer holidays to great effect. Basically, you make a list of things you want to do (kind of like a bucket list, or a before-a-certain-age list) to remind you when you’re at a loose end or have some spare time/cash to play with.
  • Complementary therapies. As mentioned here before, I love aromatherapy (I have citrus and spice oils on my pulse points to help me focus), but I have also benefited from nice calming herbal tea (chamomile and spiced apple is a favourite) and creative visualisation (pushing worries into a box which you then lock up can be helpful, as well as the old ‘happy place’).
  • Break down your to-do list. Yes, this will make it longer, but it also allows you to cross off a bit at a time of a big job. For example, with a recent writing job, I’ve made a massive grid listing the sub-topics I’m covering with columns for each labelled ‘planned’, ‘started’, ‘drafted’, ‘revised, ‘submitted’, ‘feedback received’ etc. Don’t snigger; it helps and it’s clearly not fully obsessive as it isn’t colour-coded 🙂
  • Use a timer. I generally work in 15 minute chunks, although often I’m resetting the timer for another 15 minutes once I’ve got going. Just committing to 15 minutes at a time really does work.
  • Try a gratitude practice. I know, I know, but it really is very encouraging to think about all the reasons you have to be grateful. I also use this basic positive statement idea to remind myself of past accomplishments when I’m busy freaking out that I can’t do what I’ve set out to do. (Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes an “I know I can do this because…” list is stuck up above my desk, including examples of things I’ve done and should be proud of and nice things people have said/emailed to me like positive comments on my work. I know, but sometimes I need these reminders.)

Writing Life: In Praise of Timers

I don’t think I would get anything done without a timer. When I’m struggling, when I’m in full rabbit-in-the-headlights, why-do-I-have-73-things-on-my-to-do-list mode, the timer is often the only way I can get started. I say to myself, I’ll spend 15 minutes on this job, then the next, and so on. Sometimes, some of my to-do-list jobs can be done in 15 minutes (usually to my complete surprise), but often not. This doesn’t matter. 15 minutes of that job done is 15 minutes more than I would have had done without the timer – not to mention 15 minutes less of “omg what am I going to do?” being quite good for my health.

Some days are ’15 minute days’. The timer goes off all day, as I switch from task to task, chipping away at them. And if I’m being good, some of those 15 minute blocks can be ‘me time’. It’s amazing, but 15 minutes reading time can be a real break. This is something I learnt when exam marking. Very little else has the power to refresh in so short a time.

If this sounds helpful to you, and not like the confessions of a crazy person, you may like to check out the Flylady website, where I learnt the 15 minute rule. As a no-longer-Christian Brit reading her US Christian comments, there are times when I find her style a bit gushy and preachy, but at the same time, her advice is sound, and some of the sentimentality even rings true – for example, I think she’s right that getting your house in order (quite literally – she’s a housework life coach, first and foremost) is a way of loving yourself. I would not be as productive as I am today without having followed her system closely when I was first at home all day with a baby (argh! just realised that was almost fifteen years ago!) Anyway, startling realisations aside, I’ll leave you with the suggestion to give the 15 minute thing a go if you’re struggling to get going. As Flylady says, “you can stand anything for 15 minutes”.

Stress and Aromatherapy

Who doesn’t suffer from the effects of stress these days? Personally, I’ve had issues dealing with stress and anxiety since I was a student. Back at uni, I discovered that essential oils were one of the best ways to treat myself and try to bring back some balance, and they’re still something I reach for regularly to deal with lots of small day-to-day things too.

Personally, I tend to use the stimulant-type citrusy oils quite a lot, like Bergamot and Grapefruit. Both of these can be used with depression and anxiety, and I find the citrus scents uplifting. They’re great combined with a woody or resin base note like Frankincense (brilliant for stress, as it encourages you to regulate your breathing) or Sandalwood, or with a spice such as Ginger. This kind of blend works particularly well (for me) when I’m stressed/anxious but need to focus to get things done. I use these in traditional oil burners, evaporating off water with a tealight below (I have burners all over the house!), and also usually have a nice citrusy blends in a roll-on to apply to pulse points when I’m out and about.

When I need help winding down, or sleeping, Clary Sage or Marjoram are the ones I reach for, often combined with Vanilla for its warm and comforting smell. Again, this can be in a burner, but I’m just as likely to pop a few drops onto a tissue and slip it in my pillowcase.

If you’re interested in finding out more about aromatherapy, I’ve been using Valerie Ann Worwood’s books for years, and would highly recommend them. The Fragrant Pharmacy is where I started – that gives a great overview of essential oils for medicinal purposes. There is also The Fragrant Mind, which (unsurprisingly) focuses on “Aromatherapy for Personality, Mind, Mood and Emotion” and The Fragrant Heavens, about oils for spirituality.

Doing More Things: a happiness project of sorts

Lately, I’ve been trying to be more present, do more family things, that kind of stuff. It’s definitely working. I’m seeing the benefits in my own health (especially in terms of stress-related issues) as well as in that of the family. Here are some recent highlights:

Saturday mornings at the zoo

We joined Twycross Zoo‘s ‘Friends’ programme last summer and are now into our second year of membership. This month, they started a Junior Friends scheme where the kids spend two hours on activities with Education Officers, while we wander round the zoo for a bit (and sample the fabulous cooked breakfasts…). I think the kids’ highlight so far has been making papier mache pinatas to stuff with lemur treats. I’ve been really impressed with the activities and it’s a great start to the weekend.

Prioritising walks

With two lively dogs (a terrier and a lurcher), a day without walking is never possible, but I have in the past been guilty of letting dear hubby take them on his own so I could get some work done. I always knew, of course, that a good walk is a brilliant way of taking a break as it can recharge and refresh, but when you’re struggling to get everything done it can be hard. No more, though – me and my health first, then work. (And of course, work often improves too when you actually take care of yourself…)

A positive to-do list

This is an idea I got from the blogosphere somewhere (I’m really sorry I don’t recall where exactly), but it worked really well for us this summer. At the start of the summer holidays, we each made a list of things we wanted to do during the break. We pinned it up on the calendar board and used it for inspiration to avoid frittering away the summer. Not that we had no down time, or ran ourselves ragged! It’s all too easy to get to the end of the summer holidays and realise that you haven’t done anything special – this list helped us escape that feeling. Isn’t it ridiculous that we need reminding that we want to do fun things? But still, having recognised that, we were able to act on it. It’s definitely an approach I’d use again.