Breathing

“Just keep breathing and keep calm. The only real control we have is over ourselves.”

The above words are from the song Just Keep Breathing by We Came As Romans and it’s as close to a mantra as I get.

I’m a lover of a motivational or uplifting quote, and when it’s paired with my favourite genre of music, that’s something pretty special.

I find many things peaceful and helpful to re-centre my mind.

I grew up by the sea and I now live by a canal, and there’s something about walking alongside the water, maybe briefly sitting, and just taking in deep breaths that really helps return that inner peace for me. Maybe there’s no one else there or maybe there are passers by but I don’t concern myself with them. Just inhaling the fresh air and exhaling any tension.

This is the same reason I took up yoga. You can’t always go for a stroll, maybe it’s raining (unless you enjoy wandering with the pitter patter of rain overhead on your brolly) so I get my yoga mat out, put my headphones on and set up a YouTube video in front of me, and spend 20-30 minutes following a routine that primarily focuses on breathing and stretching.

A recurring theme is focusing on your breathing, and I really took to this practice. When I feel anxious, or overwhelmed, or stressed, I find it really helpful to stop thinking about everything else, go back to basics and focus on one thing: my breathing.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale positive vibes.

Exhale the stress.

Whether this is during the practice of yoga, sitting at my desk, outside work on the steps, sitting on a bench in the park, walking to work… It can be tailored to you.

I find that getting some fresh air also helps because if I stay in the environment that made me initially overwhelmed, I can’t always shake it so easily. Sometimes I feel like I just need to get out.

There are lots of ways that people employ to cope with stress and overwhelming feelings; this is an easy one that I like to practise and have actually found very useful recently.

One example is when I had quite a rough night’s sleep, a horrid dream, and then an anxious morning that dragged out for the whole day and left me feeling very drained. I still went to work, but pausing every once in a while and just focusing on the inhale-exhale a few times really did help me reset my perspective.

Likewise, if I feel like I have too much on my plate, spending 20 minutes outside at lunchtime just taking in the fresh, cool air can help me recentre myself. It can be wandering down the street or sitting on a bench just relaxing and watching passers by, not really focusing on anything apart from my breathing.

Just a final reminder that you are tougher cookie than you think.

Tips from a Spanish graduate on how to learn a new language

Where did it all start?

My passion for languages was originally inspired by my parents, my Mum studied French and German, and is currently studying Spanish at degree level, and my Dad is passionate about Spanish and every time I ask him, he’s watching a new Spanish series he’s found!

I studied GCSE French and Spanish, then went on to study A Level Spanish, and then beginner German alongside my bachelor’s degree in Spanish & Translation. I suppose you could say that I enjoyed learning languages!

Me standing look out into the distance at the Oceanographic in Valencia, with the modern architecture behind me, next to a small body of water.
At the aquarium in Valencia, 2015.

In the same year I began studying at secondary school, my Grandma bought a house in Southern Spain, in a remote village just east of Cádiz. For 6 years, we spent summers there, driving around the different towns in a hire car, munching tapas and listening to Spanish CDs (anyone remember having to listen to music on discs?!) that we bought in MediaMarkt.

The time would come for me to fly the nest and head off to university where I studied Spanish & Translation. As part of my degree, like most language graduates, I spent one academic year studying in Valencia which I talk about in more detail here. I studied entirely in Spanish and spent one hour a week assisting in English classes, which helped with my translation skills too (did anyone else not have any idea that we have five conditional tenses in English or was that just me?!).

How can we effectively learn languages?

It really boils down to immersing yourself in the language and you might have heard that many times, but it’s true. Watch, listen, read, speak, practise, laugh at yourself when you make a funny mistake, and enjoy it. If you’re trying to learn a language by watching a car documentary in the language when you’re not interested in cars even in your native tongue, you probably won’t be as keen and you’re less likely to stick with it.

Watch

One of my modules at university incorporated the weekly homework activity of watching one episode of Los Misterios de Laura on RTVE.es (a public Spanish television channel) and then answering questions about it in our next seminar. This particular series is about a detective with two children who I really warmed to, who uses intuition and instinct rather than scientific evidence. Now, the reason I think I still watch this even though it hasn’t been my homework for years is because I really enjoyed the show itself. I would watch a detective comedy series in my native tongue and so the content is interesting to me.

The very popular online TV streaming service Netflix is also home to many international TV shows and films – not just Spanish – and a great place to start if you’re not really sure what you’re looking for.

With TV shows and films, I would suggest using subtitles in your native tongue first, then progress to subtitles in the language you’re learning and then watch without subtitles when you feel confident enough. I haven’t spoken Spanish since university so sometimes I still put the subtitles back on in Spanish, particularly because it helps with reading too.

Listen

…to music.

Getting songs stuck in your head can come in handy when you’re learning a language. With music in Spanish, I would listen a few times then look up the lyrics if I wasn’t able to fully pick out the words – bearing in mind that even when listening to music in English, sometimes there are mumbled or rushed words that aren’t as easily understood!

Much like with TV and film, it’s important that you find the music that suits you. I don’t listen to classical or opera in English so I didn’t try to in Spanish – I go for pop and punk rock where I actually enjoy the melody too.

…to podcasts and audio books.

If you’re not keen on making a playlist to listen to, podcasts are another option. They’re becoming pretty popular these days with a podcast discussing almost any topic you can think of!

I had to research this one a little bit because I only listen to a couple of podcasts even in English, I’m still catching up with the trend. I have, however, listened to Ted en Español a couple of times so that’s a start.

I can’t say I’ve listened to an audio book in another language yet because I’m not a huge fan of them anyway (I love turning the page myself and bookmarking where I’ve left off!) but again, if you enjoy them in your native language, I think they’d be a great place to start.

Read

…ebooks.

You don’t have to get straight on Amazon to put a load of novels in your basket and wait for delivery, that’s the beauty of the digital age! I personally like using Google Play Books for eBooks and the Libby app to access the library archives from my sofa. I suppose depending on the language you’re learning and the availability in your library, you may well find more options by purchasing them online and if you’re like me and you enjoy turning the physical page anyway, don’t let me hold you back from the paperbacks!

…and paperbacks.

After having read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, I did purchase Crepúsculo whilst on a summer holiday in Spain. To be honest, I tried understanding word-for-word and spent many an evening with the English copy, Spanish copy and the Spanish dictionary (yep, paperback dictionary too) on my lap sifting through them all. If I were to read it again (which feels ever more appealing now I’m writing this post) I would read it more for gist the first time around rather than word-for-word understanding! It did get pretty exhausting…

Practise, practise, practise!

This is really the biggest top tip of all. Watching one TV show isn’t going to breed fluency, reading one book and then putting it down never to look at another word again isn’t going to cut it if you want to hold conversations in the second language.

Bringing the new language into your everyday surroundings, for example after a conversation with a friend, is helpful to learn words and phrases that you would use in your native language. One idea is to write down what you were saying afterwards and try to translate it into the new language. Look up any vocabulary you didn’t already know and try to use that in a conversation soon, so that it sticks.

I wanted to learn Russian for a while but it never really took off. Will this be my next language learning challenge?

Ultimately…

Be prepared to make mistakes and laugh at yourself. Bilingual mistakes make for great stories and memories, so don’t shy away from trying!

How I found my Why

I fell into a bit of slump recently, a pretty big one actually. The pandemic and some heartbreaking news on top of some generally low motivation just came to a head.

I sat in bed one Sunday afternoon cuddling the duvet and when I thought perhaps I should get out of bed and get some food, or do something I enjoy, my brain just said “what does it matter whether I stay in bed or get up and do something interesting?” Well okay, I guess in the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure anything groundbreaking will come of a fun activity and maybe I won’t change the world, but I’ll enjoy it.

What does it matter if I get up, clean the house, feel motivated at work or if I do the bare minimum? What does it really all matter?

I wasn’t particularly sad or having any drastic thoughts, I just couldn’t see the point in doing anything. I started reading up on the point of things though and found some pretty insightful questions on Quora where others had felt the same and the community on there had come together and helped.

The reality for me was that I couldn’t see past my own overarching negativity.

Sure, it actually doesn’t matter if I make the most of the day or I don’t; but that day won’t come around again to give it another go so that’s the point. I only get today once. I only get to live this once. Yesterday I didn’t know I’d have today and today I don’t know what will happen tomorrow… But ultimately, let’s make the best of it. We spend our lives counting down until the end of the work day, the end of the week, but the importance of making each day count is something I explore in more detail here.

To find my Why, I figured where better to start than with Who, What and When…

It took me a while to come out of my slump but I think I was looking too far and wide to find a purpose. What’s your Why? is a question I’ve seen dotted around and to be honest, it has sent me spiralling into some sort of existential crisis, but it’s not about looking at the global picture. The chances of me becoming a famous writer or having a place in a history book in the future is really minimal; I’m talking grain of sand in a world full of beaches… But the chances of me making a difference in my social circles in real life and my little space on the internet? That’s much higher.

Where do I start?

I started asking myself a few questions to try and generate purpose, and to find my Why, I figured where better to start than with Who, What and When…

  • Who do I love being around?
  • Who am I inspired by?
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What are my hobbies?
  • What causes am I passionate about?
  • Where do I want to explore?
  • Where do I want to travel?

What did I come up with?

Here are a few things that came to mind for me, and that might help you if you’re in a bit of a slump too.

  1. Spreading joy within my circle of loved ones and supporting them in the same way they support me.
  2. Making my parents proud after the 18 years they spent raising me, and giving something back.
  3. Maintaining a level of infectious happiness that brings joy to Dean’s days too.
  4. Putting my all into my work, even if it isn’t my dream job, to earn the money I need to get us a house one day (come on 2021, please be our year!)
  5. …also to earn enough money to travel where and when we like. Dean and I love going on city breaks whenever we can. Work hard, play harder, right?
  6. Making myself proud when I’ve cleaned the flat top to bottom and it looks all sparkly.
  7. Making an impact where I can such as being a Mind Charity campaigner and running 5k for Leicester Hospitals Charity.
  8. Spreading positivity and sharing my story with others to help remove the stigma around mental health issues such as anxiety.

That there is how I rose from my slump. I put the blanket down, made a cup of tea and started properly thinking about my Why, not in terms of fame and fortune, but in my little corner of the world, because that’s where I can make a difference and that’s what’s important to me.

How the Pomodoro technique revolutionise my working day

What is the Pomodoro technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management approach developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and traditionally, the timer will run for 25 minutes at a time with 5 minute breaks, until the fourth break which is for 10 minutes.

“Pomodoro” is the Italian word for “tomato” and the technique is named as such due to the timer that Cirillo used at university being shaped like a tomato!


How does it help me?

Automated reminders.

It’s very easy to get engrossed in a project that you might forget to make yourself a drink or stretch your legs regularly so the sound of the Pomodoro app pinging to signal a 5 minute break is a regular reminder for me to do just that!

Time to rest my eyes.

Not literally, I’m not talking about mid-morning naps, but we spend a lot of time looking at screens these days: computer screens for work, phone and tablet screens for social media and TV screens for entertainment…We’re inundated with screens, so to have a regular reminder to rest my eyes, look out of the window, do a wordsearch, and look at something that isn’t showering my eyeballs with blue light is really helpful for me.

Less procrastination, more motivation.

My mindset has changed from “I’ve got all day to do this” to “I’ve got 50 minutes to get to this particular stage” so I push myself to meet mini goals in the time I have before the app signals a break. This means that I procrastinate less and I feel more motivated to get things done and tick them off my list.

I make it work for me.

The default settings are 25 minutes of work with a 5 minute break and then after 4 rounds, a 10 minute break. That said, you can make it your own. I tend to work for 50 minutes and having 10 minute breaks so that I can fit in work calls, and the longer break is 1 hour to accommodate my lunch.

My day feels better structured.

I suppose it goes without saying that the structure to my day makes it more productive and enjoyable. Since it is divided into manageable chunks, I don’t feel overwhelmed with everything that I need to do; I assign a project to each 50-minute session so that nothing falls off the end of the list.


Where can I find it?

There are Pomodoro apps on both the Apple Store and Google Play Store, but also if you’re using your computer and you would rather keep it to one device, you can also find websites with the same time management functions.


Moving forward…

This app has gone straight on my home screen because I use it every day. As well as the working day, it seems like something I could maybe use for HIIT workouts to factor in those short breaks and home projects that I want to get started but keep putting off!

Have you ever used the Pomodoro technique or app, or do you plan on trying it?

How CBT helped me

You may have heard before that a problem shared is a problem halved, and that’s what I’m here to talk to you about today (problems, not fractions, that is).

I struggled recently for a couple of weeks, trying to meditate regularly, look after myself and take each day as it came, but ultimately it wore me down. I was crying regularly, overwhelmed, not finding joy in many things and considering we’re in a pandemic, that is not the icing on the cake that anyone needs. We’re all just trying to get by.

So after persevering for two weeks, I talked. I spoke to people who I respect and trust, and who I thought would lend an ear and possibly even help me see it from a different angle.

When the thoughts are swirling around in my head, it’s difficult to identify a resolution, the problem builds up and up, and left to fester too long, it becomes unnecessarily out of hand. Talking can stop it in its tracks.

Even while I was talking, I could feel the weight slipping off my shoulders. It was emotional to talk about it, but getting thoughts out into the world instead of swirling round my head and growing by the hour, was exactly what I needed.

After some breathing exercises and a cup of tea, and calming myself down, I felt much more able to take on the day.

I can’t recommend it enough. It differs between people what they might need: a sounding board, advice, another perspective… But getting the words out into the world is the first step.

This recent situation spurred me on to talk about the therapy I had in the Autumn of 2019.

I have always been quite an open book, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’ve always had a sturdy support network that have helped me along the way. Sometimes though, there are bigger talking points that maybe need some professional guidance and that’s where for me, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy came in.

Once every two weeks, I’d attend an appointment and spend an hour untangling my thoughts and discussing different ways of looking at them, and what I might say to others who were having those same thoughts.

Firstly, it’s important to note that I didn’t go to CBT until I was ready. I didn’t notice the problem and immediately sign myself up. For years I had considered it but I would procrastinate making appointments, speaking to NHS or private services, because I shyed away from it and sometimes even convinced myself I didn’t need it. There were people in the world much more in need than I, I was going through a rocky patch. I would settle on making the call or online referral and then do absolutely nothing about it.

Once I was ready, in late 2019, I referred myself online. I had stumbled across the form after looking up self-help resources on my GP practice’s website. Once I filled in the form and clicked send, I had made the first step.

It was a surreal feeling as it was now out of my hands. I had committed to it although I wouldn’t have to think about it for a while because it wasn’t until three months later that I had a telephone assessment to identify the correct route for me.

It was a difficult phone call of course and there were questions where I would pause to gather my thoughts because it can be tricky delving into your own mind and verbalising it all. I took a deep breath; telling the whole story was the only way I’d help myself.

I received a letter with my appointment which would happen the week before a week in Crete so it was sandwiched nicely before cocktails in the sun. I could switch off whether it had gone well or not, and have time to contemplate it too.

I had been taking notes for a few weeks about situations that I wanted to discuss so I took my notepad, a pen, some water and some tissues. I later began to take an A4 folder to house all the worksheets that my therapist would print and walk through with me, which I still refer back to today.

Don’t get me wrong, I would get through a fair amount of tissues because the conversation digs deep but I really would feel a sense of relief after each session, and I would be armed with techniques to use in similar situations.

I attended a one-hour session every two weeks for 12 weeks at my local doctors’ surgery, each week taking another topic to unpick that I had noticed in the two weeks between appointments. In between appointments, we would agree a task that I would try and bring back the results next session. That said, there was a big focus on taking it at my own pace. If for any reason, the situation hadn’t arisen in those two weeks, it wasn’t a problem, there was simply no situation to practise in.

When my last session rolled round, it hadn’t quite registered in my mind that this would be my last appointment but somewhere deep down, I had already accepted it. I had a folder full of tools and I felt ready.

I haven’t been back to therapy since then but given my positive experience, if I felt it necessary again, I do think it would be the first thing I considered.

Of course this is my experience via the NHS, there are many options, both with the NHS and privately, and different solutions suit different people. I would implore anyone needing some guidance to start with the NHS website. Do some research, find out what’s out there in your area or online, and when you feel ready: reach out.

I was lucky in that the first treatment I tried was helpful for me, but I want to conclude with a little reminder that CBT is not for everyone. I’ve heard many anecdotes of people trying different treatments and going back to their GP when it wasn’t quite working and exploring something else. Like life, sometimes it takes trial and error but until you speak up and find out, you’ll never know.

100 thoughts working from home

1. Okay, let’s do this, time for work. *Snoozes alarm*
2. YEAH, totally ready and raring to go! *Snoozes alarm for the second time*
3. Okay, I’ve got 20 minutes to get ready, go, go, go!
4. How did I ever get up in plenty of time and commute?!
5. Anyway, don’t think about that, just find some clean pants and go brush your teeth.
6. Hmm, breakfast… Toast? Packet of crisps? Is there a difference now?
7. Yes, there is, Paris. For goodness sake, make the toast.
8. When the toast pops up and it’s the perfect colour…
9. We’re off to a good start, y’know.
10. Right, cup of tea, open the laptop, bish, bash, bosh.
11. The clock has struck nine. Let’s go. Today will be productive.
12. Why did I put a meeting in at 9am?!
13. More to the point, why do the settings default to me joining with my video on?
14. Good job I’m getting into the habit of checking that setting before we dial in.
15. Oh that’s a lot of faces.
16. Are we all putting video on for this meeting?
17. Somehow I don’t think the Sales Manager will be keen on me showing up with my messy bun and Winnie the Pooh t-shirt.
18. Have people tidied their home offices in preparation for having their video on?
19. Who is that prepared?
20. Is everyone else putting their video on?
21. I mean, if there’s at least someone else without theirs on, I think I’ll be okay.
22. Okay, we’re good. There’s at least three of us still in our comfies and not willing to put video on.
23. As long as no-one mentions it, let’s just leave it at that. As long as I contribute to the meeting, I’m sure it’ll be grand.
24. *An hour later* Thank goodness for that. Meeting over. No mention of the video. Excellent result.
25. Okay, admin time.
26. Let’s all file an e-mail, an e-mail, an e-mail, let’s all file an e-mail in it’s rightful place.
27. Do dee do dee dooo deee dooo deee dooo deee, do dee do dee dooo deee dooo deee dooo.
28. *Skype alerts to a new message* “Just a quick question…”
29. It’s never a quick question though, is it?

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30. Be honest, Debbie, this is going to be an all-day project, isn’t it?
31. Also, I can’t prioritise my Skype messages.
32. I like to leave emails unread so I know I have to pick them up later.
33. But I can’t do that with your message.
34. You risk your “quick question” being forgotten about…
35. *Twentyfive minutes later* Case in point. Not a quick question!
36. Proof-read, proof-read, proof-read.
37. Look away from screen and at the sky for a few minutes in between…
38. I do like having all my meetings in the morning.
39. It means this afternoon can be admin time without interruptions.
40. *Three hours later* THIRSTY. Cup of tea time. Should probably stretch my legs, they’ve been crossed on this dining chair for three hours.
41. Hey, we aren’t even far from lunch now, team!
42. Might do a little Instagram video of me stirring my tea. That’s the height of interesting things happening around here today.
43. Pop a cute little song on top of there annnnnd tea break’s over.
44. Back to it, girl!
45. Squint at the screen, get headache, have to take a break, and repeat.
46. Squint.
47. Headache.
48. Break.
49. Repeat.
50. I honestly think the commute was a great time of day to be away from a screen for 20 minutes.
51. Is it me or do we just not get away from them now?
52. Laptop for work, phone for social media, personal laptop for blogging, TV for downtime…
53. My EYYYYES.
54. Okay, lunch time. Time to switch my gaze to the fridge. Yesss.

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55. Reheating leftovers without having to make small talk is one of my favourite things.
56. Also without queuing for the microwave! Seems like a distant memory now…
57. How many dishes can I wash in the two minutes on the microwave?
58. 3, 2, 1…Go!
59. *Dishes complete, walking past shoes whilst stretching my legs*
60. I wonder if my shoes think I’ve abandoned them for good.
61. I’ll be back, friends. One day.
62. Ooh note to self, vacuum in here later.
63. (Definitely going to forget that as soon as I walk out of here).
64. Ooh, could put some laundry in whilst I’m walking past the washing machine.
65. Chores are easier to sprinkle in between work now. I do like that.
66. Right, back to it.
67. Oh, who’s putting calls in at 3pm?
68. Did you not hear me thinking about this earlier?!
69. Could you not have spoken to me before just deciding that was acceptable?!
70. Ugh.
71. I can’t be bothered challenging it though.
72. I’m just going to begrudgingly join.
73. Come on, it’s only 15 minutes. It’s okay.
74. It isn’t a call I have to lead or prepare for either.
75. Just be there. Me, myself and my opinions.
76. …and my cup of tea. Obviously.
77. My cup of tea! I left it by the kettle, again…
78. Okay, they’re forgiven. Quick call, c’mon let’s go.
79. *Thirty minutes later* I don’t know why people put 15 minutes in to natter on for 25.
80. Does my time mean nothing to you, Sheila?
81. Okay, let’s crack on, work to do, people!
82. Hmm, those flowers have seen better days…
83. Focus! Now is not the time to be writing a To Buy list.
84. Okay but I’ll just write it down before I forget…
85. Right, not long to go now.
86. Oh, hello, the almost-hometime-influx-of-questions. Why do people decide to open a can of worms “just before I go”?
87. Can’t you do that “just as I’ve logged in” so that I can prioritise and manage my time?
88. If I don’t answer this now, I’ll definitely forget tomorrow…

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89. Just quickly, before I sign out…
90. Oh, crap, it’s 5:45. Why didn’t anybody remind me when it was home time at half past?!
91. Where were all the eager people standing up and putting on their coats?
92. That’s one thing about working from home…
93. I need a timer on my phone or something.
94. Right, just finish this off and we’re good to close the laptop…
95. *Twenty minutes later* Wahoo! Home time, babyyy.
96. Buckle in for the 2 minute commute!
97. …aaaaand sofa time.
98. Oh, I did say I was going to do a workout today, didn’t I?
99. Ah I’m exhausted.
100. Tomorrow, it is.

If you enjoyed this post, I share more thoughts lists here:

So we’re no longer shielding but… What now?

It’s a crazy old world out there, we are living in unprecedented times (if only I had a quid for every time I heard that, eh!) and so it stands to reason that a lot of us feel unsure about the next steps and the plan that the government has laid out for us.

I’ve labelled the easing of lockdown, Unlockdown for ease of reference throughout the post but I do hope it catches on. I quite like it.

“We’re all in the same boat, but what’s crazy about it is that we’re living this all at the same time. We all experience weather but all at different times.”

Ricky Gervais on Fearne Cotton’s podcast, Happy Place.

We’re not quite ready yet, and that’s okay.

Whilst the government guidelines set out what we can and can’t do, it is important to note that this doesn’t take into account personal comfort levels. That is, whilst we are advised that pubs may now be frequented and people may gather at a 2m distance in groups… There’s no rule to say we need to start doing these things until we feel ready. I will note that as I’m writing this, the guidelines are as above but of course they are subject to change. Especially if you’re reading this years in the future… Do you even know what I mean by lockdown? Are we in the history books?

There’s nothing wrong with not quite being ready yet and it’s important not to jump in with both feet if you’re only comfortable dipping a toe.

We’re taking things at our own pace.

This is a life principle as well as lockdown one. We all have different paces of life for example, I have some friends who own houses and others like us, still renting and saving for the day we can purchase our own four walls! It’s the same here. When the rules changed to allow 6-people gatherings, some may have been excited to do so and others might not quite have been ready, and that’s absolutely okay.

We are prioritising local news.

Given that the daily government briefings are no longer, we are now keeping up with local news more often. With the idea of local lockdowns now more likely than a national one, local updates are more relevant than ever. The next town along might be affected but ours might not be, or vice versa. I am being careful not to overload myself with news stories for reasons I discuss here but once a day works for me, personally.

We are clear on our personal comfort levels.

Whilst I’d absolutely love to see my family, to hug them again, and to see my friends face-to-face rather than through a laptop screen; I’m personally more comfortable only just going for walks with Dean at the moment. We have discussed government updates with friends but we’ve set the bar for where we are in our personal journeys. We’re lucky to have understanding friends and family, but even if that weren’t the case, there shouldn’t be any pressure. There’s nothing wrong with not quite being ready yet and it’s important not to jump in with both feet if you’re only comfortable dipping a toe.

We’re concerned that lockdown was more straightforward than unlockdown seems to be.

This is something we discussed on our family video chat and it is something that resonated with me a lot. I personally found it easier when the rules were strict and clear. Now we are relying on common sense and being aware, the lines feel like they’re blurring. Even when shielding paused, there’s no telling when we will be comfortable to return to our way of life as we knew it with the caveat of social restrictions. That is a transition I haven’t yet mentally worked through but I will be working through it at my own pace. There is no magical click of the fingers to get us back to life as we know it.

Until then, I’m okay in our little bubble working our way up to the next phase of unlockdown and if you’re feeling the same, just know you’re not alone. We will get there in our own time.

For further guidance on this topic, I have personally found the following resources to be helpful to me:

Dear 2019 Me

Dear 2019 Paris,

We’re just over halfway through 2020 and I’m going to be honest, this year is going to knock you for six! Buckle up, little one.

As you know, we’ve travelled to Bristol, Bath, London, Crete, Lithuania and Estonia in 2019. Well, this year we only just made it to Belgium.

Everything in life is temporary. Good days must be appreciated and bad days will come to a close, for a fresh, new day to start.

Last year, we ran our first 5k and after lots of hard graft, we were promoted to senior in the team at work, but you’re going to want to get comfortable in your own four walls now (literally at home and figuratively in your job) because there won’t be much room for movement in either of those aspects of life.

That’s okay though, we’ve got a nice space, decent company and just thank your lucky stars for good friends who will bring you supplies and catch up with you through the window.

You’re a tough cookie, y’know, you’ll muddle through. You are lucky to have such a strong support network. Even when there are scary updates on the news with their graphs and incomprehensibly high figures, just breathe. Everything in life is temporary. Good days must be appreciated and bad days will come to a close, for a fresh, new day to start.

In the words of one of your favourite bands, “it’s in the hardest times, we grow the most”.

Oh, talking of music: don’t buy a new outfit for Slam Dunk yet! Plans are going to be postponed so you’re going to want to write a list of all your plans so that you can put new dates next to them when the time comes.

Your creativity levels, like many people’s, are going to thrive. You’re going to make yourself proud actually. Okay it will be difficult sometimes, you might have days where you don’t do anything because you’re feeling lost. You’ll have days when you finish work and curl up in the duvet feeling deflated. But sometimes, just sometimes, you’ll underestimate yourself. You’re going to surprise yourself. You’ll plan to work up to big goals in phases and in one day you’ll go further than planned.

In the words of one of your favourite bands, “it’s in the hardest times, we grow the most”.

It won’t be the year you’ve planned, in fact it’s going to be flipped upside down and completely shuffled around but it’s going to be a year of learning, being there for each other in ways you haven’t even considered yet and the events of this year might even make it into the history books.


You likely won’t believe me on a lot of these, but here are some changes you’ll see:

Catch ups with friends at the pub becomes a weekly video call where all of a sudden everyone is writing a quiz or coming up with a drinking game.

Monthly family gatherings become weekly video calls with our parents, but less quizzes this time because Mums quite like printing off Bingo cards instead.

Food deliveries take two hours longer because most of the time is spent disinfecting all items before putting them away.

For that very reason, you’ll shop online less for clothes and trinkets.

The commute becomes much shorter and you can eat your lunch on your own sofa.

That said, logging off at hometime becomes a bit more difficult because you aren’t so keen to get out of the office on time (because you’re already at home in your slippers) and you don’t hear the hustle and bustle at 5:30pm of everyone asking what each other is up to tonight.

Team huddles and quizzes become all the more important at work because you can’t just turn around and ask your colleague a question or catch up about your weekends.

You’re going to watch the news more at first for a daily briefing on the situation but you’ll ease off again because you’ll need to limit your consumption of the news for your own sanity.

For the first time in my lifetime, toilet roll is consistently out of stock and we begin considering kitchen roll and the last tissues you have in the house…

City break planning becomes city break dreaming because we can’t put a timeline on it and therefore we can’t plan our budget.

Weekend plans, whilst we didn’t go out every weekend before anyway, become all about the same four walls and trying to make each weekend different (or just letting ourselves relax and take the pressure off it).

Preparing for friends to come over becomes less about vacuuming the lounge and more about opening the bedroom window so we can chat whilst they stand outside.

Running out of milk before the next food delivery becomes less about popping down to the corner shop and more about hoping a friend can stop by and drop some off (whilst having a catch up in the way described above).

When the guidelines change, walks take a lot more thought and route planning, and hand sanitiser and a face mask now outrank our keys and coat on the checklist before we leave.

Becoming nervous at the sight of people walking towards me in the street is now less about social anxiety and more about health anxiety.

Progress is not linear and not every walk will feel better, sometimes it will feel scary and the route will be suddenly cut short because it’s busier than we expected, but it’s important that you don’t leave it too long to go out again because there will be good walks too.


I suppose if there’s one thing to take away from all of this information: you might want to pick up some antibacterial wipes on your walk home from work and make sure Skype still works on your laptop. You’ll see what I mean…

Hang in there, P.

Love,
2020 Paris x

The Virtual Care Package

In the current pandemic and lockdown situation, I haven’t ordered anything to be delivered to our home apart from food, and I’m trying to keep deliveries to the essentials as an extra health and safety precaution.

With that in mind, and having a loved one struggling with anxiety, I wanted to do something to help without potentially triggering anything or making it worse.

Cue, the Virtual Care Package. An e-mail with all the things you think might make their day that little bit better with no postage, delivery or waiting times! The items can be personalised, things you’ve made, or simply resources you’ve seen online that you think would be useful.

I’ve come up with some ideas to start you off (most of these are examples from the actual care package I sent):

A Yoga, comedy, or an uplifting YouTuber video.

A personalised Spotify playlist or your favourite playlist.

Resources to directly help with anxiety e.g. Mind charity or NHS resources.

Some photos of you together.

Plans you’d like to make together when this is all over.

Colouring sheets that they can print and relax with (link or PDF attachment).

Instagram accounts to make them laugh/smile.

Uplifting podcasts.

An eBook you think they’ll like.

A Netflix show you enjoyed.

A poem that you’ve written for them, or an already written one that you think will make them smile.

An invitation to a virtual quiz either that someone is holding or that you’re hosting yourself.

Recipes you know they’ll love.

Positive news stories from the week.

Online tours of museums and attractions.

A Skype link for you to have a cup of tea and a catch up.

An image you’ve drawn or a blog post you’ve written.

What would you like to include or receive in a Virtual Care Package?

Travelling into a pandemic

It’s amazing, and scary, how quickly things can change: in a year, in a month, even in a day. That last one, we understand now better than we ever did before.

We left for Belgium in very early March 2020, aware of the global news but with no travel restrictions or high alerts in the media particularly for the UK or Belgium, it seemed the coast was clear for the time being.

It was our first time travelling by Eurostar and I have to say, I’m very impressed with their service. The journey there was seamless and the journey back, though earlier than planned, was pretty smooth too.

Day one was fairly standard for a city break of ours. Head out for breakfast, then for a wander, make sure we stop by a few landmarks, grab some lunch, meander back towards our accommodation, get changed and pop out for dinner.

Our second full day in Brussels was almost a 180-degree turn. We spent it indoors in our Airbnb apartment, after an alarming amount of pharmacies were displaying “No Hand Sanitiser or Masks Available” signs and an unsettling feeling in the air. Needless to say, anxiety held us captive other than a trip to a cafe for breakfast, and a trip to the closest Carrefour for supplies for the next 48 hours. We were lucky that the Airbnb was furnished with a small fridge-freezer, oven, hob and kettle, and we had decided that it might be best to limit our exploring. Even if we hadn’t made this decision, it became just about mandatory when the closure of cafes, bars and restaurants was announced, effective from midnight that night. This was none other than Friday 13th March, living up to its name if you’re superstitious.

It became very real, very quickly.

I was refreshing Eurostar’s Twitter feed more often than I was blinking. I would be seemingly in a trance watching Brooklyn Nine Nine on the Amazon Firestick one minute, only to be in floods of tears the next when my thoughts flickered back to the real world.

Not only was this a bit like the first 10 minutes of a sci-fi film, but we were also living it 350 miles away from home.

The Eurostar back the next day would cost no less than 400€ for the two of us. It was steep, and when I say steep, I mean it was over three times the amount we paid for both of our return tickets together. The difference between self-isolating in our Airbnb for one or two more days compared to travelling home earlier really was minimal. We had already stocked up at Carrefour and planned to continue making our way through Brooklyn Nine Nine. We’d wait it out.

The tweet that I’d been hoping for popped up at 4pm the next day:

“If you have already commenced your journey and wish to return earlier this weekend, please make your way to the station and you will be placed on the next available service free of charge.”

This was it. Home time, baby!

I have never been so excited to come home from a city break. We packed our suitcases and set alarms for the morning, to be at the Eurostar departure lounge for the 07:52 to London.

We made it onto the train after showing the Eurostar staff the tweet that I had saved. I took a screenshot with the stubborn view that nothing was getting between me and that ticket home! Thankfully, although staff were seemingly unaware of this new approach, they honoured the tweet and we hopped on.

With plenty of space, armed with hand sanitiser and the Belgian chocolates I’d bought in Duty Free as a last minute souvenir, we were on our way back to home turf.

The train home from London was less straightforward to change, but in the grand scheme of things, we got off lightly with two new tickets for £30. It could have been so much worse.

The train was full and I spent the whole time wishing it would go faster and people would get off at the next stop. Somehow we had landed ourselves on a service that stopped at every tiny station that no-one has even heard of.

Grateful to have made it, we closed the front door behind us and flopped onto the sofa, not before washing our hands of course. We had packed the toilet roll and hand soap we’d bought in Carrefour having heard about the emptying shelves in the UK, and I’m pretty glad we did. We immediately contacted our employers to discuss working from home, who were very understanding and I must say, I am very grateful that we are in a position to work from home and to have been isolating since.

The anxiety hasn’t gone, no definitely not (it never does), but it’s certainly more manageable in the comfort of your own home.

Belgium, we will be back one day when we can and I look forward to seeing the sights and enjoying your beautiful country sometime soon.