The Importance of Having Hobbies

Having hobbies when you are trying to adult you way through the the world can seem nigh on impossible at times. At the end of the working day, it can be hard to do anything else other than put on your pyjamas and watch Friends all evening. There are definitely some days, especially in the winter, when my first thought upon waking is “tonight I’m going to bed at 7pm”. But fitting in some ‘extra-curricular’ activities can actually be more beneficial for your state of mind, in the long run, than vegetating all night.

Hobbies can help you let off some stream (or relieve any work-induced stress, kickboxing anyone?), meet new friends, develop new skills or simply have some you-time. And it doesn’t have to get in the way of you crashing in front of Netflix – even one hour of doing something different in the evening can make you feel less like a hamster stuck in a wake-work-sleep-repeat cycle and more like a well-rounded, energetic bunny.

Struggling for ideas of what you could squeeze in to your evenings? Here are a few:

– exercise

– learn a new language

– take an art class

– go to a free talk

– go to the cinema

– go for a walk and listen to a podcast

– read a book/magazine

– have a bath

– hang out with friends/family

– have a date night

– work on a side hustle, if you have one

The possibilities are endless and don’t have to involve any money or new equipment. The idea is to do something different, change up your routine and feel more spontaneous as a result. Of course, let’s not be hasty and completely remove ‘crashing in front of the tv in your sweats’ as an option – sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to just chill out.

It’s Good To Talk: Dealing With Depression

According to the leading mental health charity in the UK, Mind, ‘approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year’. Note: this isn’t 1 in 4 people during someone’s lifetime, this is per year. That’s a lot of people with a lot of problems. Although there is so much good work being done to support people’s mental health, and people are more openly talking about it, there continues to be stigma and a massive lack of education on the subject. Put simply, there’s still a lot of work to do in this field, and people still don’t seem to understand the scariest fundamental truth about mental health: not talking about it could kill you.

I have always had a good life. I’m not saying I don’t have my fair share of problems, but I do have a loving and accepting family and wonderful friends. I went to a good school, a good University, got a decent grade and I never had to worry about money in any real way. Essentially, everything I needed or wanted I had – I had no ‘reason’ to be depressed.

However, something was wrong. Unlike some, I didn’t have a definitive event or moment when I became depressed and I can’t remember when or where it really started, but I do know that I ignored a bunch of signals.  I started having regular panic attacks, to the extent I woke up one morning in the midst of one.  It probably should’ve worried me when I had one whilst picking up my gown on graduation day; on what was meant to mark one of my greatest achievements to date, I felt like an imposter in my own life.

After graduation my mental health got worse, and I was in perpetual state of denial. The thing was, I felt I was just being dramatic. I wasn’t ‘sadder’ than everyone else; to think that would be self-involved and stupid, and why was I thinking about myself this much anyway? I needed to stop being so selfish and arrogant and focus on someone else for a change.

As these thoughts would circulate in my head daily, I was becoming more and more apathetic, hopeless and exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Feeling that kind of emptiness is hard to describe, but for me it was being constantly, utterly, and negatively overwhelmed, while simultaneously, not quite being able to care that I was feeling that way. Doing anything seemed both impossible and pointless; I did (and felt) nothing.

Depression is often cyclical and as my mental health started to deteriorate the unhelpful internal dialogue began to impact my external world. The simple things like taking care of myself – my eating, my sleeping, my exercise, my appearance, my relationships, my flat – became a daily battle; sometimes it’d take me half an hour to put on a pair of tights. It wasn’t until I was actively thinking about whether or not I could successfully hang myself with my laptop power cord, that I realised I had a problem. Even I knew that it was a red flag when I started having suicidal thoughts.

It was then I went to the doctor and I was incredibly lucky, because I found one who immediately believed me. This is really important – if you are going through these problems and you don’t have a doctor who 100% believes you, find another doctor. You’re not crazy and you need someone to help you. Fortunately for me, I had a positive experience and was given excellent advice.

I was put on the anti-depressant, anti-anxiety medication Citalopram and, although my mental state was on the way to improving I made some incredibly hard decisions to maintain my mental and emotional health. At the age of 24, I quit my stable job, moved back to my hometown to live with my parents and, consequently, ended my relationship of four years (a relationship that I was convinced was going to end in marriage, kids, the works).  If my life were a building, it had been systematically torn down until only the foundations were left.

Nevertheless, although this decimation was painful, and I felt I had to re-establish who I was, I began to learn what was good for me. I gained confidence about how I could battle through my toughest days and begin to hope that tomorrow might be better. It gave me perspective: I now know what I want and need to prioritise to make sure I’m as happy and healthy as I can be.

One of the imperative elements of this journey was me actually talking about how I felt, consciously and continuously. Partly to not let negative thoughts fester in my head, and partly to make sure there was no denial in how I felt about anything. It would be a lie to say that ‘the more I talked about it the better I felt’, but it was – and still is – good to share my story with people. Three things consistently surprise me when I do:

  1. You’re never as alone as you think you are.
  2. You’re definitely more loved than you think you are.
  3. Just by talking you can really help others, or be helped by them.

The Mental Health Foundation states that ‘women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders’. I think it’s important to remember, as women, that strength is not defined by soldiering on and pretending that nothing is wrong.  Instead, it should be defined by creating a dialogue, supporting and encouraging each other, and – when we’re ready – sharing our stories. This is how I believe we can move forward.

Written by Rachel Foster

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Don’t Have A Squad? You’re Not Alone

‘Loneliness is one of the most frightening certainties of the human experience. Very few people are immune, and those who claim never to have experienced it are most likely unwilling or unsure how to identify it.’

In her recent book, The Friendship Cure, Kate Leaver argues modern society is making us lonelier, putting stress on our mental health and separating us from real human connection. Moreover, we are ignoring our own loneliness. How could we possibly be lonely when global connectivity literally lies at our fingertips?

This is not a new line of argument; think pieces on the detrimental effect of social media on our health – somewhat ironically – manage to go viral more than almost any other topic. It is understandable, then, that in this climate of anxiety around loneliness we would want to combat being alone with having as many friendship connections as we can.

Female friendship groups have a long history. Modern slang and hashtags are simply new labels for an old phenomenon which can be traced back to the 17th Century; philosopher Mary Astell  wrote that connections between women were purer and more authentic than bonds between men because women were in general “less concern’d in the affairs of the World”. Wives, supposedly, formed friendships with neighbours to replace the bonds they had with mothers and sisters in the households of their childhood and adolescence.

In the late 20th and 21st centuries, modern female friendship is driven by image. Instagram snaps of club nights out are hash tagged with #squad and #tribe. These clichés arrive on t-shirts, making a commodity out of human connection. The iconic visual of Taylor Swift and her clique of supermodels helped to cement the image of the ideal squad – beautiful, badass girls who would walk, fashionably, through fire for each other – that is, until they fall out and go to war. What was that about building each other up?

Modern pop culture has been saturated by both good and bad representations of female friendship, although, disappointingly, these have all too often championed the lives of rich white women devoid of problems beyond extramarital affairs, sex and career progression. Almost every woman in their twenties has been asked which Sex and the City character they identify with and met with derision if they can’t identify themselves as either of the four. Younger millennials will perhaps be more familiar with inquiries into which character they are closest to out of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Broad City, Friends or Girls.

The problem with this is that it implies that a personality type of a fictional character can be easily mapped on to a woman in an attempt to understand her. Women, once again, are reduced to archetypes devoid of real complexity. I have been lonely in squads before simply because groups, whether they’re in fiction or the real world, often eschew individuality. In fact, if you’re a typical introvert, or like to keep things private from all but one or two close people, it’s often difficult to find yourself part of a tight-knit friendship group. This is particularly true if you come into a friendship group after it’s formed. As such, we might move between groups or stick to cultivating meaningful relationships with separate and unrelated people. Jilly Ganon of ELLE Magazine calls this person a ‘floater’ – never committing to a single group.

Social convention might label this behaviour as fickle or flighty, but, in reality, it can be healthy to diversify your friendship groups. In the same way that spending all your time with a partner and their friends can be limiting, it can be similarly limiting to spend your time with the same group of women. Your worldview narrows, you become closed off to making new friends and you can exclude other women from joining the group. It is the real-life version of an echo chamber.

Squads are, by nature, exclusive. Defined by inside jokes, shared experiences and old gossip, they’re not always easy to join, or indeed, be a part of. By nature, the terms ‘squad’ and ‘tribe’ imply an ‘us’ to a vague ‘them’. Squads are marketed as a place to simultaneously bitch about others while remaining ‘non-judgemental’ – a mindboggling contradiction plays into widely circulated stereotypes of womanhood. In reality, squads sometimes achieve little more than a friendship with one or two close friends, aside from cultivating an image of exclusivity.

This is not to attack female friendships which are, of course, incredibly important. There is perhaps nothing more cringe-worthy than hearing the claim “I’m only friends with guys because there’s less drama’ (a note to my past self). In a culture which so often tries to pit women against each other in terms of career success, image and dating, it is a triumph to see women supporting each other, building each other up, and offering comfort when things are hard. Where there are shared experiences of female life, it often feels necessary to talk to your female friends over wine, at the gym or during a cheeky visit to Five Guys.

Yet, hashtag culture, and the pop culture that drives it, is dissociative. It embeds in us an image of what female friendship should look like but misses the complex reality of making friendship last. This matters because the most engaged female consumers of hashtags and trending pop culture tend to be teenagers and women in their early twenties who often follow examples of how to be successful adults through the images they consume of success and happiness. The idea that we might not have a squad can be troubling when it seems everybody else does. As such, we can feel left out, strange, and unsuccessful; these feelings drive down our confidence when really, any attempt to connect to another person is a worthy one. While we choose to try to fit the cultural ideal, we only make ourselves lonelier.

So perhaps the lesson is to diversify – meet new women in different circumstances, and don’t be afraid if they don’t hang out with the other people you know. Look outside your group of Carries and Samanthas. Look to celebrate your individuality. I promise: you don’t need a squad for success.

Written by Ellen Macpherson

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

3 Tips To Relax And Live In The Moment

It’s true. I definitely categorize myself as a planner. I’m one of those crazy, “Type A” people who loves to buy calendars and office supplies. You’ve probably figured out that being a planner can be a curse and a blessing. We’re always prepared, but sometimes it’s hard to let our hair down and just have fun.

Here are a few tips to help you embrace who you are, while also teaching yourself to let go and relax:

Tip #1: Start Meditating

I know meditation sounds like a weird hippy activity, but it’s actually quite useful for teaching you how to live in the moment. There’s a misconception that you’re either “good” or “bad” at meditation, but that’s not the case.

Meditation is a process of letting your thoughts pass and then bringing yourself back to the present. Some days your thoughts will be overwhelming and it will be hard to concentrate. Other days your mind will be quieter. Regardless, the point of meditation is not to get yourself to stop thinking. The purpose is to bring awareness to your thoughts and how you interact with them. This is important because, as control freaks, we have an especially hard time getting out of our heads. We obsess, stress, and worry because we believe that doing so will somehow protect us from the unknown. But, in reality, it’s ineffective and causes us to be more tense and anxious.

I encourage you to try meditating for just five minutes per day for one week. See if this helps you learn how to live in the moment. If you like it, you can keep it up and do it a few times a week or every day.

Bonus tip: I use this app for my morning meditation!

Tip #2: Strive for Presence Over Perfection

I admit that I stole this phrase from my favorite book, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Neiquist. I read it last year and it transformed the way I live my life, so I just have to share it with you.

Many of us who struggle to live in the moment also battle with an obsession for perfection.The problem is that perfection doesn’t exist. We can plan and organize all we want, but there will always be bad weather, late people, traffic, or other inconveniences that are out of our control. I’ve learned that rather than trying to stop these things from ruining my plans, it’s better to work with whatever comes my way.

The idea of presence over perfection means letting go of how you think things ought to be and embracing the way things are. (Meditation helps you adopt this mindset!)

So, the next time things don’t go as you expect them to, try to accept your new circumstances and move forward anyway. More importantly, rather than spending time worrying that things won’t go as you expect them to, trust that you are equipped with everything you need to handle whatever is thrown at you.

Tip #3: Journal Before Bed

I find that I do my best worrying right before bed. I obsess over something someone said to me at work. My mind runs through everything I need to get done tomorrow. I also become highly sensitive to the fact that there might be someone trying to break into my apartment. I’m tired all stinkin’ day, then when it’s actually time to fall asleep I can’t turn my mind off.

The other night, I was laying in bed feeling stressed because I had spent the past hour obsessing over what I needed to do the next day. Suddenly, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was sick of worrying about things that I had no control over, so I decided to grab my journal and make a list of everything that was giving me anxiety. Five minutes later, I was asleep.

Journaling is massively effective for emptying out your brain. It’s as if you free your mind from having to hold on to all of your worries and anxieties. I encourage you to journal whenever you feel yourself obsessing. Whether it’s before bed or in the middle of the day, writing down your feelings will prevent your thoughts from consuming you.

From one control freak to another, it’s so imperative that you learn to be present and enjoy your life for what it is right now. Remember that perfection is a myth. Planning and organizing are okay, but sometimes life can’t be perfectly calculated and things will happen that are out of your control.

Learn how to roll with the punches. You’re not going to change overnight, and you will never rid yourself of all of your planner tendencies (nor should you!). But, it is possible for you to learn to let go and relax when necessary.

Be patient with yourself, and understand that life is a process. But, it’s well worth it.

What are your tips for letting go and relaxing into life? Leave a comment below!

Written by Alana Chibas. This post was previously featured on Alana’s blog heyalana.com – check it out!