Friday, 30 August 2013

Anxiety Diaries | Tomorrow

At the beginning of the week everything went strangely pear-shaped. One evening it was as if a switch was flicked; I'd spent the day feeling gloriously happy and positive, only to very suddenly feel completely numb. There was no logical explanation, no immediate specific reason and it felt different to other times I've felt deflated over the past few months. I didn't feel anxious, or sad, or angry. I just felt numb. 

My body felt heavy and tired. I couldn't seem to feel any emotions at all. I didn't feel a need to cry, nor shout or pace the room or express myself in some way. I've never felt quite like it before and it was absolutely terrifying. Anxiety, I'm used to. Adrenaline rushes, a heightened alarm system, I'm used to. In fact, even though anxiety makes me feel sick and makes my head spin, it seems to heighten everything, meaning although I feel anxious in am amplified way I can also feel happy and excited in an amplified way. There's a fine line between anxious and excited and I find it easy at times to flit between the two, as exhausting as it eventually is. This felt very different. 

I didn't care about anything. I went through a check list of things that usually bring me joy: wedding planning, blogging, social media, writing, reading, watching Breaking Bad with my fiance, going out on adventures together. I felt... nothing. It was if all capability of experiencing emotions was gone, both the good and bad. Gone. Just like that, in the space of half an hour, out of the blue. I began to panic, although even that felt like I was trying to rouse myself into a panic and failing. I messaged Megan from Little Miss Average, my anxiety cheerleader, a jumbled string of sentences trying to make sense of how I was feeling. She did her best to calm me down, and I'm so grateful for that. It helps enormously to have an anxiety buddy to support you when you've hit a rough patch. Slowly, though, one emotion did begin to emerge. 


I've never experienced anything as frightening as feeling numb. It was frightening because even the good things, the things that make me smile and warm my heart, didn't seem to be 'working' anymore. If you can't experience joy, if joy is suddenly out of your reach, what do you have left? If even the very best things in your life fail to raise any emotion at all... I latched onto one thought: 'If someone can't experience the bliss of happiness, small moments of joy, then what is the point?' I wasn't feeling suicidal or anything like that; I wanted to live and feel alive. I was simply being rational in a way. Because without joy, everything seemed grey. And the thought of everything remaining grey forever felt awful. 

Megan, along with Chris, reassured me that this would not last forever. Who knows why it happened? I've learned through CBT that there usually is some sort of trigger for me when tipping into depression or anxiety, so I had a hard think about what might have set me off; but it isn't always clear cut and there simply isn't always a reason. I'd taken my anxiety medicine late for the past two days, and I'd seen some minor spats on Twitter between other people that had for some reason sparked some sort of fear. How I felt wasn't at all anyone else's 'fault'; I just for some reason felt very sensitive to all sorts of outside things and felt oddly paralysed. I told Megan I couldn't imagine tweeting or writing anything ever again, and the thought of composing a tweet literally made me feel sick. I was scared of how I would be perceived and of saying anything that would be judged or ridiculed. It was as if I was one step away from a panic attack, yet couldn't quite break through the blanket of numbness dulling my thoughts. 

What can you do when episodes like this occur? I've learned some self care techniques that help me steady myself when experiencing periods of low mood, and some of these strategies really helped me through the two bizarre days I had after this episode started. With anxiety you sometimes need to 'parent' yourself and so I took a break from blogging and refused to put pressure on myself to write. I started reading a book, watched silly TV programmes and tried my best to eat healthy meals. I made an effort to get some early nights as I hadn't been sleeping enough and suspected this might have contributed to how I was feeling. I spoke to Chris about how I was feeling and just having someone listen and reassure me helped calm me down. I became obsessed with the idea that if I tweeted or blogged, I would be judged and would be perceived as something I'm not. I don't fully understand why this suddenly became a fear but I reassured myself, using the Anxiety Cycle, that this most likely wouldn't be the case. And even if it was... who cares?

I woke up two days later feeling pretty much back to normal. The numbness didn't last forever and I no longer felt afraid. I was no longer worried that I couldn't experience joy anymore; I planned, I blogged, I went and viewed wedding cars, I scrap-booked wedding hair ideas. I felt happy. I felt more like me again. There were so many things to be joyful about, and I was celebrating them. It felt like such a relief! 

The point of this week's Anxiety Diaries is to reassure you that nothing lasts forever. As the saying goes, 'the bad news is, nothing lasts forever. The good news is, nothing lasts forever.' The good moments unfortunately don't always last but the flip side is that neither do the bad moments, thankfully. I may feel joy today, despair tomorrow, and joy the tomorrow after. I'm learning to accept that my emotions are fluid and that I don't need to freak out if I feel 'nothing' sometimes. I'm able to be my own parent and get a little strict with myself, taking steps to steady myself such as taking my medicine on time, working on positive Anxiety Cycles and generally taking it easy on myself when the shit suddenly hits the fan. It was a crappy experience but I'm glad I understand now that bad episodes like that don't last forever; there is a tomorrow. If it happens again, hopefully I'll feel a little more prepared and a little less afraid.

Today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow. One step at a time.
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Review | Bourjois Blush Exclusif

I had to write up my review of Bourjois Blush Exclusif (£7.99) ASAP as I'm head over heels in love with it! Although initially a little afraid of its self-adjusting 'technology' and promise of a 'unique, personalised pink' I'm relieved to report that it's a bit of a magical miracle worker! 

My first memories of Bourjois revolve around their clear and nude coloured Effet 3D lipglosses, which I applied regularly and liberally throughout my secondary school years. I've been a fan of Bourjois ever since, and I'm so impressed with their string of latest high quality releases. They've really hit the ball out of the park with products such as Rouge Edition lipsticks, Shine Edition balm sticks, Bronzing Primer and their 150th anniversary Poudre de Riz. When I spied the new Blush Exclusif in Superdrug I had to give it a go and see how it would work on my ultra pale skin. 

The idea behind Blush Exclusif is that it's a suits-all pink cream blush that self-adjusts according to your skin... type? Tone? To be honest I wasn't too sure at first as the little pot doesn't give much away, although I have my suspicions that the shade of pink might depend on the temperature of your skin as it looks a lot brighter and deeper on my warm fingertips than on my cooler wrist, for example. 

According to Superdrug's description of Blush Exclusif, 'its formula contains pH reactive pigments to transform your cheeks into a customised pink shade'. Now, I'm no science buff so I'm still a *little* uncertain about what this means... perhaps it's best I leave the science to one side and crack on with my review! *Ahem* (cries inwardly at memories of high school science education).

You can see in the photo above that on first appearance, Blush Exclusif is a very pale cream-pink shade, which in itself is really rather pretty. On my fingertips it immediately transforms into a darker fuchsia pink, whereas on my wrist and cheeks it's a medium toned baby pink with hints of lilac that looks absolutely beautiful. I loved watching it transform as I dabbed it on my cheeks... The surprise factor really reeled me in!

Swatches of Bourjois Blush Exclusif
Swatches of Bourjois Blush Exclusif

You can see in the middle pic a few faint fuchsia flushes of colour from where my fingers touched the product directly. I was hesitant to use a brush as I wasn't sure if doing so would affect the result on my skin, what with the colour being adjustable. However I'm keen to give it a try with a blusher brush to see if there is much of a difference... Like I said, my grasp on science is somewhat slack so forgive me if I'm wrong in my hypothesis here! 

I applied it using dabbing motions with my fingertips, which I found blended the product well without accidentally rubbing at my foundation beneath, a problem I've had when applying cream blush in the past. In terms of lasting power, I've been wearing it for four hours so far today and I wore it for around six hours yesterday without the colour fading, which is pretty darn good for a cream blusher I'd say. 

'Where's the photo of your face?', I hear you cry! Unfortunately, try as I might, I couldn't snap a good enough shot and to be honest I'm having a seriously bad skin day (week? Month? Year? Gah! It's never ending!) so I don't feel very comfortable posting close-ups of my face at the moment. Never fear, though, as the colour swatched on my pale wrist is identical to how the colour shows up on my pale cheeks; a light pink flush with hints of lilac that really brightens my skin and makes me look well rested! The demi matte finish retains a touch of shine that reflects the light beautifully, acting as a blusher and highlighter combined. 

I'm thinking that Blush Exclusif will be a great winter blush to compliment my ultra fair skin; I tend to suit pinker shades of blusher as opposed to berry shades, so this little gem is perfect. I'd love to know how it appears on different skin tones and skin types, so if you've given it a go do let me know! I might not be totally sure about how it works, but thankfully it does work and I'm hooked! 

Browse Bourjois here

Baci e abbracci, 
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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Autumn haul | Makeup

I have a theory that Superdrug pumps out some sort of pheromone throughout the store that attracts me to new releases and makes me buy things. Lots and lots of wonderful, beautiful things. What other explanation can there be?! I am so excited about every single one of these gorgeous makeup goodies! I felt it was time for a makeup bag overhaul now that we're transitioning into Autumn, and there are some truly fabulous makeup releases on Superdrug shelves at the moment. 

Maxfactor Whipped Creme Foundation 'Light Ivory', on offer for £7.99 (usually £9.99)

This smells suspiciously like Maybelline's Dream Matte Mousse and the packaging is identical to CoverGirl's Whipped Clean foundation (which isn't really a surprise as CoverGirl and Maxfactor are owned by the same company!) I thought I'd give a mousse foundation a go as I love a matte base and it has a lovely velvet texture that melted easily on my wrist when I swatched a sample. Whipped Creme delivers a 'demi matte finish' which sounds promising for Autumn/Winter. I can't wait to give this a go and see how it fares.

Bourjois Pourdre de Riz (Java Rice Powder), £9.99

How absolutely adorable is this little lime green powder pot?! The vintage detailing sold it to me on appearance (I know, I know, shallow!) I couldn't resist, it just looks so pretty. Re-released to commemorate Bourjois' 150th anniversary, their original best-selling 1879 Poudre de Riz provides 'an ultra fine, velvety texture, for a smooth, and radiant complexion'. It comes in a suits-all translucent shade. I can't get enough of how wonderful the design is, and I'm hoping the powder is just as good! I will be reporting back soon!

Bourjois Blush Exclusif, £7.99

Another Bourjouis product that caught my eye, Blush Exclusif cream blush promises to adapt to your individual skin tone, creating a personalised foolproof flush of colour. Admittedly I'm a little wary of these types of products, as the lip ones in particular always seem to develop into really strange shades on me! But I was intrigued by the idea of a colour adapting cream blush and I'm looking forward to giving this a go. Appearance wise, it's very much like Bourjois' line of cream blushers released earlier this year, and in the pot it's a very pale baby pink colour. 

Sleek Matte Me Ultra Smooth Matte Lip Cream 'Petal' £4.99

Sleek have released two new lip collections, Gloss Me and Matte Me. I only spied Matte Me in Superdrug and went for 'Petal' as I am obsessed with matte pink lips! This feels very light on the lips and dries almost instantly to a budge-proof matte finish. I'd love to get my paws on a Gloss Me shimmer gloss and give that a go as well, to have all my lip needs covered!

Collection Lasting Perfection Concealer 'Fair' on offer for £3.69 (usually £4.19)

This is my absolute favourite concealer. It beats Benefit, MAC and every drugstore concealer I've used in the past. I love the liquid-cream texture which makes it quite thick and easy to blend on problem areas without it slipping or sliding. 'Fair' is the perfect super pale shade for my skin tone and this wonder concealer wand covers EVERYTHING. Spots, scars, redness; you name it, this miracle worker covers it. I know Collection Lasting Perfection is raved about by many a blogger, and I'm sure it also has it's haters, but for me it's absolutely perfect in terms of formula and finish. The only slight downside is that the writing on the packaging wears off within days, and I have found that the tube starts to dry out a little after a month or so, making it harder to scoop out the last few dregs of concealer. But for under a fiver I really don't care!

Maybelline Color Tattoo 24hr 'Metallic Pomegranate' £4.99

I'm determined to break out of my neutral eyeshadow rut this Autumn, and this pomegranate cream shadow is just what I've been looking for. I've seen a few bloggers rocking cranberry shades and figured this slightly darker, smokier pomegranate colour would be a great way to introduce a little colour to my eye makeup routine. I love how easy the Color Tattoo shadows are to use; they blend well and are perfect for someone like me who hasn't quite got to grips with using eye makeup tools! I can't wait to give this a go, and I'll be sure to report back with my thoughts!

Maybelline Browdrama Sculpting Brow Mascara 'Medium Brown' £4.99

My beloved Benefit Brow Zings kit is coming to an end, and I'm reluctant to use it all up before I can afford to replace it. It has lasted me a good two years and I'm so attached to it that I doubt any other brow product will satisfy me! However, when I spotted Maybelline Browdrama Brow Mascara I thought I'd give it a go and see if it was any good. I like the thought of using this when I'm having a 'casual' (aka 'lazy') day! 'Medium Brown' seemed like the best fit for me, although it's also available in a blonde shade and in a darker brown shade. I'm very fair skinned with naturally dark blonde hair, but I've found blonde eyebrow products look really, really strange on me, hence going for a medium shade! I like a bit of noticeable definition; not quite a Scouse brow but definitely some colour and shape! 

Maybelline The Rocket Volum' Express 'Black' £7.99

For the life of me I cannot seem to find a mascara I'm happy with, and it's starting to really grate on my nerves! Recent tries have included Revlon Lash Potion (too wet and clumpy), Makeup Academy Every Lash (too dry and stumpy) and Seventeen Doll'd Up (it's supposed to curl but really doesn't, although it does lengthen!). The Rocket was the tube that caught my eye on Superdrug's Maybelline stand, so I chucked it in my basket and bought it without giving it too much thought. The best way to figure out the perfect mascara, right?! Chuck it in the basket and cross your fingers! When I opened it at home I immediately noticed it's got teeny tiny bristles rather than big bristles... I'm not sure how I feel about this! I've loved big bristles in the past but then Revlon Lash Potion had big bristles and I near blinded myself with it, so maybe smaller is a good thing?! I'm dying to try this out and see if it delivers. Fingers and toes crossed!

Real Techniques Shading Brush £6.99

My obsession with Real Techniques continues! I've been using the Expert Face Brush and Blusher Brush daily since purchasing a few weeks ago and I am completely obsessed! Brilliant quality and excellent results. I picked up the eye Shading Brush as I really want to practice defining my eyes properly with eyeshadow, and I've got a gorgeous new Revlon palette that I'd like to create some looks with (take a peek here). I can't wait to report back and tell of my eyeshadow application tales. Hopefully there will be a success story! 

Et voila, the first installment of my Autumn haul. Next up will be a skincare/bodycare haul, having recently popped into Lush and treated myself to a few beautiful smelling bits and bobs. Be sure to find me on Bloglovin' so you don't miss it! And feel free to comment below with your Autumn makeup faves and must haves. A girl can never chit chat about beauty too much!

Baci e abbracci, 

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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Life | No More Bullshit

Recently I've been thinking about the ways in which other peoples' opinions affect our paths in life. I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years soaking up opinions and molding myself to fit accordingly. I didn't automatically stop doing this once I become an adult, either.

'You'll never get a boyfriend if you don't learn how to swim properly'
'Good luck getting a job having graduated three summers ago'
'You won't get anywhere in life without a degree'
'You need to study something useful to get ahead in life'
'You just have to accept that no-one is happy at work'
'Depression is just an excuse for being self centred'
'Self harm is attention seeking'
'You're too pale, you look like a cancer patient'
'An engagement ring has to be a diamond'
'Cheryl Cole's tattoo makes her look like a tramp'
'Kim Kardashian looks rough since falling pregnant'
'You can't make the first move'
'Young love won't last'
'It's not normal to be single for so long'
'Dreadlocks are dirty'
'You're too indecisive'
'When will you ever make your mind up about what you want to do?'
'Tarot is evil/nonsense/scary/not to be 'tampered' with'
'Short skirts invite unwanted attention'

These are all examples of things I've been told or have heard at some stage in my life. I could go on. I'm sure you've got your own examples too; words and sentences and paragraphs full of ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT. 

I'm no angel, might I just add. I can be full of opinions and sometimes I don't think about what it is I'm really saying or advocating when I offer my thoughts freely. But lately I've had some sort of epiphany, or perhaps it's just a confidence boost that has come with facing my anxiety head on and making plans for the future that actually reflect my dreams and ambitions. People love to fire off their opinions freely, and that's fine- I do it too, we all do it, we all have a tendancy to give an opinion and put it out there. But what isn't OK is to live your life according to all of these other opinions at the expense of your own

If you've ever watched An Idiot Abroad with Karl Pilkington you'll be familiar with 'Bullshit Man'. Whenever Karl hears something completely ridiculous he envisions Bullshit Man swooping in, pointing directly at the person and shouting 'BULLSHIT!' I think we could all adopt some of Bullshit Man's 'cut the crap' attitude! In the tarot, the Queen of Swords is the ultimate No Bullshit woman. If people start giving her slices of unsolicited advice, she isn't afraid to hold up her sword, cut through the cacophony and call out a loud cry of 'BULLSHIT!' 

I've always had a tendancy to worry excessively about what people may or may not think about me and my choices. I put off leaving a university that clearly wasn't right for me for a whole year because I was too scared to tell my parents I wanted to quit. I used to nod along to everything certain dominant and aggressive adults told me and 'advised me' to do when I was younger because I couldn't handle the idea of standing up for myself and disagreeing in an assertive manner. 

When people have strong opinions, and when you generally value the opinions of these people because they're family/friends/a 'professional', you often believe their advice/opinion to be the 'right one'. I've fallen into this trap so many time. The truth is, you are always, ALWAYS, allowed to disagree or decide on a different path of action. Always. 

I'm tired of worrying about what other people think of my degree/job/career path/blog/writing/appearance/wedding plans/relationships etc etc. I'm twenty-four years old and by hook or by crook I'm ready to make my own decisions and stand up for what I believe in! 

I worked with children with additional needs as a Learning Support Assistant in a secondary school for four years and I was driven by the aim of giving a voice to those who found it harder than others to be heard. I fought for the students under my care and made it my absolute aim for them to have the space and opportunities needed to develop their own voice; their own thoughts, opinions and beliefs. It's about time I applied the same aim to my own life! 

This isn't about being a know-it-all, conceited, obnoxious asshole. It's not about being ignorant, refusing to listen to other peoples' opinions or advice. It's not about closing yourself off from outside influences and new experiences. It's about living life in an assertive way, listening and considering but being able to say 'no, thank you.' If someone's being a bully, saying 'No.' Refusing to adopt other peoples' beliefs and opinions unless you feel the same way in your own heart. Having the confidence to develop and stand by your own. Refusing to spend so much time worrying about how other people perceive us when really, it doesn't matter. It's essential to develop and nourish your own set of values and passions. 

Get to know yourself, turn down the dial on how other people think you should live, and live your truth. 

No more bullshit. 

I couldn't have put it better myself!

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Saturday, 24 August 2013

Favourite MAC products

Picture of MAC Sheertone Blush 'Peaches', Cremesheen lipstick 'Crosswires', Prep + Prime Transparent Finishing Powder

My first foray into the world of MAC cosmetics was when I was about ten years old. One of my Stepmum's America friends flew over to London to visit and we took a trip to the MAC store to pick me up my first ever 'proper' lipgloss. I was so excited! I thought I'd want the ever-so-popular-in-the-nineties Clear Lipglass (teamed with 'Spice' lipliner, obvs) but the princess in me couldn't resist a baby pink Tinted Lipglass. I can't remember the shade name but I used that little lipgloss for years and I loved everything about it, from the vanilla scent to the glossy pink finish it delivered. It featured in many of my hand written versions of Shout! magazine, usually in the 'what's in my make-up bag feature'. I've been obsessed with writing about beauty for a long time, it seems!

Nowadays I might not use the same gloss but my love affair with MAC continues. Every birthday and Christmas list consists of some sort of MAC haul, and when I had a little Christmas money in my pocket late last December I went MAC crazy. I also received a few MAC goodies for my birthday last October, woohoo! I've continued to use the products throughout the year and thought I'd share some of my favourites here. 

Picture of MAC Sheertone Blush 'Peaches' and Cremesheen lipstick 'Crosswires'
Sheertone Blush 'Peaches', Cremesheen lipstick 'Crosswires'

 I spied MAC 'Peaches' Sheertone Blush (£18) in my friend's makeup bag and immediately put it on my wishlist, as I love a good peach blush and it looked amazing on her. This is a spring/summer staple for me now. It gives a lovely wash of matte peach-coral and brightens up my pale complexion nicely. I do have to be quite light handed though as 'Peaches' does veer towards the darker tones of peach, meaning if I pile on too much it can look a little, dare I say it, *orange*. I'm quite pale so as long as I'm gentle, it works a treat!

Swatch of MAC Sheertone Blush 'Peaches'
MAC Sheertone Blush 'Peaches'
I picked up a Cremesheen lipstick in 'Crosswires' (£15) as it seemed like a gorgeous red coral colour and it fast became one of my all time favourite lipsticks. The texture is smooth and moisturising and it's a really unique shade; not quite a true coral but not quite a true red. The wide variety of colours on offer is what I love most about MAC, as they always have unique shades that I can never quite track down on the high street. 

Picture of MAC Cremesheen Lipstick 'Crosswires'
MAC Cremesheen 'Crosswires'
Another product I love using is MAC Prep + Prime Transparent Finishing Powder (£20), which I use to set foundation and concealer. Rather than leaving a flesh coloured tint like many loose powders, it goes on 'clear' and mattifies skin while anchoring makeup in place. Again, though, I do have to make sure I'm not too heavy handed with this as otherwise it can sort of dull my skin a little and mask the colour of my base, as although 'transparent' it does have a slight white tone to it. I apply it with a big fluffy powder brush and find it helps my makeup last much longer throughout the day without the need for regular powder or concealer touch ups. 

Picture of MAC Prep + Prime Transparent Finishing Powder
MAC Prep + Prime Transparent Finishing Powder

Last but not least is my MAC Matte Eyeshadow pot in 'Embark' (£12.50). I use this as an eyeliner on the upper lid when I want a super dark brown colour, and it gives a really natural eye opening effect. We all know I'm a sucker for a shimmery neutral but sometimes you want something a little more bold in terms of colour depth, and having a strong matte brown in your kit is something of an eye makeup essential, in my opinion. I apply this using my ELF Smudge Brush, which helps really pack the shadow into the lash line, adding definition. I'd say it's a little darker than it appears in the photos, although it does have a hint of orange-y earthiness to it- but not too much!

Picture of MAC Matte Eyeshadow 'Embark'
MAC Matte Eyeshadow 'Embark'
Aside from the 'Peaches' blush, which is very much a Spring/Summer shade for me, I'll be welcoming all of these MAC goodies into my Autumn/Winter makeup collection. 'Crosswires' is versatile enough to transcend seasons and should look fabulous come Christmas time; and I love nothing more than a well defined neutral eye, so 'Embark' should also serve me well. What are your favourite MAC products? Have you tried any of the above?

Browse MAC makeup here

Baci e abbracci, 


Friday, 23 August 2013

Anxiety Diaries | False alarm

Anxiety is normal. Anxiety is absolutely, completely, totally normal. If our bodies didn't have an anxiety alert system in place we would have been rendered extinct a long time ago. Perish the thought! 

There are many scientific explanations behind the physical symptoms of anxiety and behind the benefits of such symptoms. We sweat when anxious in order to easily slip out of the claws of predators; we develop a sense of 'tunnel vision' so we can lock our focus on the danger we're facing; our stomach flips and we feel nauseous because our brain is busy pumping blood to our limbs in order for us to make a quick getaway should we need to. 

The problem with having such an intricate and highly developed fight or flight system is that we can be prone to false alarms. Sometimes something sets our body off, whether we realise what it is or not, and we automatically assume there must be something wrong. If my body is telling me there's danger, my mind instinctively understands that I need to find that danger and find it fast! We often unconsciously assume that if our body feels anxious, our mind needs to hurry up and match it. That there must be a reason for our anxiety. Yet this isn't always the case. 

Likewise, sometimes we may have an anxious thought that causes us physical anxiety and anxious feelings such as being upset or scared. But when we take a moment to analyse the anxious thought, we find that it doesn't have any basis in truth. Again, a false alarm, this time stemming from an inaccurate thought. The first thing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy teaches is that thoughts are not facts. Just because we assume something to be true doesn't mean it is. That's a pretty powerful realisation. 

How can we determine a false alarm and calm ourselves down? The key lies in one small question:


A common model used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the Anxiety Cycle, which illustrates how thoughts, physical sensations, feelings and behaviours are intrinsically linked. This means that should we think an anxious thought, feel a physical symptom of anxiety, experience an anxious emotion or behave in an anxious way, these four things in turn influence and interact with each other, often unconsciously, leading to a certain outcome.

The great news is that because the stages interact, you can work on breaking the cycle at any point and it will break the other stages! This has been scientifically proven; it actually does work. I've been making a conscious effort to become more aware of anxiety in my everyday life, and I've been asking 'why' as often as possible. 'Why' really is the key. 

It helps to keep a written thought diary in order to start tuning into your anxiety, before re-framing false alarms in order to achieve a sense of calm. The following is a step by step example of an anxiety cycle taken from my anxiety diary. The situation was when I was out with friends for dinner. I filled in the cycle the next day, when I was feeling calmer. 

The thought I was having was that my friends must think I'm weak and unintelligent. This thought was accompanied by physical symptoms of anxiety such as an increased heart rate and uncomfortable palpitations, a sudden headache, blurred vision and nausea. Alongside this were the feelings I was having; the more I focused on the thoughts I was having, the more intense my physical symptoms became and the more upset, disconnected and stupid I felt. The behaviours connected to these thoughts, physical symptoms and feelings included a reluctance to speak and body language that suggested withdrawal, such as slumped shoulders, an agitated expression and difficulty maintaining eye contact. The eventual outcome could be deciding to avoid future social events, in order to avoid such an uncomfortable cycle from occurring again. 

As you can see, each stage is connected and all of the stages fuel each other. For this example I'm going to illustrate breaking the 'thought' element of the cycle, and show how doing so then breaks the whole cycle. Sounds too easy, right? With practice, it really does work.  

In the heat of the moment it can be hard to question your thoughts, and so this was something I did after the event when I was feeling calmer. The first thing I did was ask myself, and note down my answers to, the key question: why? Why was I having this thought and is it based in truth? Simply challenging your thought like this helps give a sense of objectivity and distance. OK, so I'm having an anxious thought... but I'm going to try to break it down a little. I was feeling self conscious because I had recently deferred my final year of study and this meant not graduating for another year; and I was frustrated with myself because I hated the idea of anyone seeing me as weak for doing so, or weak for having panic attacks. This helped answer the 'why' behind the thought I had over dinner.

 I then explored whether my thought, that of 'my friends think I'm unintelligent and weak' might really be based in truth. I suggested to myself that my friends might love me for who I am, and reminded myself that I wouldn't think these things about them so why would they think it about me? Besides, no-one had actually told me they felt this way about me. My friends have always supported me in the past and they know I'm intelligent as I've always been academic and they know I'm simply taking a break from my studies. They have always been supportive and sympathetic when we've spoken about my panic attacks. Evidence suggested that my friends didn't really think this way about me after all. 

The next step was to swap the negative thought for a positive alternative. I went with 'my friends think I'm intelligent and strong, and they love me for who I am'. I then plotted a new diagram in my diary, using the frame shown above. I started with the new positive thought and then imagined what physical sensations I would have, what feelings I'd have, and what behaviours I'd exhibit if I really believed this new thought (it often involves acting, if you still feel anxious!) Finally, what would the eventual outcome be?

The more I focus on the positive alternative thought of 'my friends think I'm intelligent and strong, and they love me for who I am' the more the physical symptoms, feelings and behaviours align with this thought. The stages are connected and feed into one another, and if you take some time to focus on a positive thought, grounded in evidence, and then imagine how you would feel physically, what your feelings and behaviours would be, and what the outcome would be, the more your body and mind start to settle and calm down. 

By questioning your thoughts in this way you're actually giving your body and mind space to breathe. You're giving yourself some much needed distance, simply by considering an alternative. You might not believe the alternative straight away, but that doesn't matter! Even when you're simply pretending, the more you focus on the positive thought and on filling in the diagram, the more your body and mind will respond and start to believe your new thought. 

Asking 'why' and taking a moment to challenge an anxious thought really has helped me to get a grip on my anxiety at times, and it feels incredibly empowering. My CBT therapist explained that using this type of model to challenge potential 'false alarms' is something you can adopt as a long term strategy; you're building an anxiety fighting muscle and while it isn't a quick fix and it requires dedication and perseverance it can and does work. After a while you can move away from noting things down on paper and develop an instant awareness of thoughts, challenging them quickly in the moment. I'm looking forward to getting to that stage. 

I love how empowered it makes me feel when I take the time to sit down and get to grips with what I've been thinking. I'm starting to believe that I can gain some control over anxiety, and it's not something someone else can do for me. I have a tool box and I'm starting to utilise my tools!

I'm becoming better at recognising 'dodgy' thoughts; with the help of my trusty anxiety diary and the Anxiety Cycle model I'm much more often able to say, with confidence:

'Keep calm, it's a false alarm'

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Thursday, 22 August 2013

Love | Be kind

I originally posted this a year or so ago on a previous little blog I used to write (a wedding and relationships blog that never quite took off!). I stumbled across it today and think it's still very relevant and worth sharing. 

If there's one thing I've learnt through my experience of being in a long-term relationship, it's that being mean is not OK. Of course, people make mistakes and have bad days and we all take things out on our other halves that we shouldn't. But there's a big difference between making a mistake and repeatedly causing pain to the person you're in a relationship with. I've battled many, many insecurities throughout my life but I've always believed I deserve someone kind and loving. I believe everyone deserves someone kind and loving. 

My fiance has many wonderful qualities but the one that really stood out for me when we were first getting to know each other was his ability to always be kind to others. He's one of those people who you immediately feel comfortable around because he's calm, easy-going and cheerful. He makes new friends quickly and effortlessly as he's sociable without being overbearing, and although he can be quiet he isn't shy. He never has a bad word to say about anyone and has no interest in bitching about others. That's what I remember thinking as we got to know each other. He made me, and continues to make me, want to be a kinder person.

We got together after he bought me a rose and handed me a card with a poem inside that he'd written (a bit corny but really special all the same!) He then bought me a rose two weeks later to mark two weeks together, another a month later and a bunch for every anniversary, valentine's day and birthday so far. I wrote letters and cards and bought him his favourite food every so often, like chocolate bars and other small things. I recently gave him a postcard with a picture of two knitted pears on, with a silly caption. He recently bought me a beautiful engagement ring :p But that's not to say we're an overly soppy, cringey couple. And we're certainly not perfect. We just try to remind each other that being kind feels really really nice. 

The best thing about being kind is that you don't need money or material things to express gratitude, appreciation, admiration and love. Chris compliments me a lot, encourages me when I'm feeling useless, celebrates when I do well at work or on an essay, listens when I'm feeling down and provides countless hugs when we're hanging out. He is my best friend, and I can't imagine having it any other way. As noted by my good friend Michaela in a recent blog post (click here- it's an excellent, touching piece on friendship and love) surely your boyfriend or girlfriend should be your best friend? We expect our best friends to treat us well and treat us with kindness, so surely it's only logical for our partners to do the same? 

Of course, it isn't always easy to be kind and sometimes I fall into a complete kindness coma. I become blind to the things Chris does to love and support me, and I take my anger out on him because he's an easy target in that we have no fear of the other running off and leaving if we do get angry. I'll start taking his kindness for granted and rage against him when I should be teaming up with him against whatever's pissed me off so much in the first place. I know when I've fallen too far into the kindness coma because there comes a moment when I yell particularly loudly or give a look so full of annoyance that for a split second I see a flash of acute bewilderment, pain and embarrassment pass across his face when he realises I've completely stomped all over his kind words or good intentions. It works both ways; we've both done it before, although thankfully not very often, and it really does sting. It always makes me want to kick myself for being so mean and thoughtless. It always kicks the kindness coma right out of me.

Being kind doesn't mean being passive or never putting your point across or never airing your grievances. It means doing so from a place of mutual respect and love. That's what being assertive is all about. I'm not an expert at this, by any means! But I am willing to learn. It doesn't cost anything to be kind and it creates a mutually supportive atmosphere, leading to a healthy relationship. Get rid of point scoring, forgive small mistakes, believe in your partner and invest in your relationship as best friends as well as lovers. Most of all, believe you deserve someone kind and believe you can be kind in return. I often feel that I'm not as kind as Chris and never will be; he is naturally open and friendly whereas I can be guarded and short-tempered. But I'm really, really trying. I asked him prior to writing this if he could think of something small I've done recently that would count as an act of kindness; he said it made him happy when I sent him a nice text this morning using a silly nickname we have for each other. 

So I know I can be kind, and I am kind, I just forget how to be, sometimes. I want to avoid slipping back into that kindness coma for as long as possible. I'm aiming to kick it, and kick it hard. Who's with me?

Baci e abbracci, 

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Life | Achieving my blogging goals

Although I originally started blogging about two years ago it's only in recent months that I've started to focus on building a really personal, comprehensive blog packed full of the topics I hold close to my heart. I used to have separate blogs for beauty, lifestyle, wedding planning and spirituality/tarot, but I decided to create one blog allowing room for all these subjects and more. the Bluebird & the Robin was born out of this aim, and so what was previously Thoughts on Beautiful Things became the Bluebird & the Robin, complete with a new header, colour scheme, layout and various additional tweaks such as blog badges and an Instagram widget. It's a never ending creative process and I'm loving building something that's all mine!

I'm proud of my little blog because I can now say it really does reflect who I am and what I'm interested in, all in one place! While blogging isn't about how many readers or followers you have (I believe it's ideally about cultivating a safe space in which you can feel free to be yourself and to express yourself!), there's no doubt that when you're feeling proud of your work you tend to want to connect with as many people as possible to share your experiences with and start conversations with. Socialising is a natural human urge, after all! I love chit chatting with fellow bloggers and readers, and since giving my blog a makeover I'm even more keen to widen my networks and develop the Bluebird & the Robin further. Writing is like breathing for me; it's my biggest passion and favourite thing to do. Who knows where it could lead..?

Two weeks ago, inspired by a blogging goals post written by the wonderful Megan from Little Miss Average, I decided to jot down some of my very own goals for the Bluebird & the Robin. I figured if I put pen to paper and focused on specific, achievable goals within a small time frame I would have a great focus for the coming month. I'm astonished to say that I've already accomplished and surpassed every one of my goals!

I decided I wanted to aim for 950 Twitter followers, 130 Bloglovin' followers, 100 GFC followers and 100 Instagram followers. As you can see there is a little bit of an imbalance between Twitter and every other social media platform! But that's OK, one step at a time! I am happy to confirm that I have reached these targets already, at the following rate:

A picture of the Bluebird & the Robin social media statistics

Woohoo! That's 1,012 Twitter followers, 142 Bloglovin' followers and 101 Instagram followers as of today (21/08/13)! Plus, I've also reached 106 GFC followers. I am chuffed to bits! This just goes to show that writing down goals and adding a structured time frame delivers solid, measurable results. 

What next? What goals do I have now for the Bluebird & the Robin? As well as numerical goals I've also got some broader goals that I'd like to achieve over the next four and a half weeks (by 21st September):
  • Reach 1,050 Twitter followers
  • Reach 200 Bloglovin' followers
  • Reach 115 Instagram followers
  • Reach 120 GFC followers
  • Reach 24,000 page views 
  • Create three more Anxiety Diaries positive affirmation badges and pop them on the blog
  • Create a weekly schedule for posting, covering beauty/spirituality & tarot/poetry/wedding/lifestyle
  • Comment on four blog posts daily in order to widen my network and make more blogger friends!
  • Set up my super secret NEW blogging award (!) and award it to its first group of recipients 
  • Write and publish two 'practical' Anxiety Diaries posts containing actual activities and methods to help confront anxiety, as there are lots of tips and tricks I've learned and developed that are really helping me at the moment, and I'd like to offer some more practical support to readers as well as emotional support.
What do you think? Do these seem like achievable goals? I think they do, as they're specific and have a defined deadline, meaning I'll know exactly whether or not I've achieved what I've set out to achieve in around four week's time. I have to say, it feels amazing to have already achieved August's goals! It's a huge confidence boost and makes me wonder if this could mean I can even achieve bigger, long term goals as well...

Roll on 21st September!

Do you set yourself blogging goals? What are your goals for the coming weeks as we leave summer behind and welcome in Autumn? 

Baci e abbracci, 

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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Review | Botanics Rosewater Toning Spritz

A picture of Boots Botanics Rosewater Toning Spritz
Botanics Rosewater Toning Spritz

I don't often use toner as I'm prone to being a little lazy (!) but when I do I like to use one that soothes and refreshes my skin. Botanics Rosewater Toning Spritz (£4.99 for 150ml at Boots) does just that, as well as delivering a relaxing dose of sweet smelling rose to help lift my mood. Rose is used in aromatherapy to soothe, relax and uplift and this spritz is a lovely way of adding a touch of aromatherapy to my everyday skincare routine! 

Containing 'refreshing rosewater' and made from 100% organic ingredients, Boots Botanics Rosewater Toning Spritz promises to be gentle on the skin, designed to 'delicately cleanse and tone'. Through their collaboration with the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, Botanics 'beauty scientists' are able to use approved active plant ingredients to 'bring you beautiful skincare that's proven to work'. The Toning Spritz aims to 'tighten pores and remove the last traces of makeup' when used after cleansing, resulting in 'smoother, fresher' skin. 

Quite impressive claims! Luckily, I've found it to deliver on its promises- phew! After using a gentle refreshing face wash in the morning and after hot cloth cleansing in the evening, I spray three or four spritzes of this on to my face, allowing it to sink in a little before gently dabbing away any excess with a cotton wool pad. I also use it on my eyes to remove any last traces of makeup and as it's gentle it doesn't sting or irritate at all. 

From what I can remember Botanics Rosewater Toning Spritz used to come in an ordinary non-spray bottle before Botanics re-branded within the last year or so, and I much prefer having the spray nozzle. It adds a little something extra! At first, admittedly, I found it a little strange spraying something all over my face as my initial reaction is to scrunch up my eyes and hold my breath! I think this is probably because I've never particularly liked dunking my head under water (I'm not a huge fan of swimming!) and so it sort of triggers a reflex reaction! I've gradually gotten used to it though, and it's especially brilliant in hot weather as the cold spritz instantly cools me down. 

My skin feels noticeably softer and less irritated than usual after I use this, and the dry patches that often like to make an appearance on my chin and cheeks have become much more settled and soothed. Every last smidgen of makeup is removed and I no longer wake up with panda eyes in the morning- hooray! I'm not so sure about pores being tightened, but I don't really have noticeably large pores so perhaps I'm not the best person to judge! I can say, however, that this is a real treat to use and the beautiful natural rose scent makes it smell far more expensive than it is! 

I've been making an effort in recent weeks to follow a regular skincare routine, and having used this twice daily for the past week I can confirm that it is fast becoming a facial staple. I've also noticed that due to the uplifting and calming qualities of rose, a little spritz of this can really help calm me down if I'm feeling anxious or panicky. For me, that makes it even more of a wonderful addition to my skincare routine. Aromatherapy from a drugstore own brand at such a reasonable price? It's a thumbs up from me!

Baci e abbracci, 

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