The Social Media Generation.

I think social media is great. The opportunities it opens up for individuals, to showcase their skills and talents are amazing. The way it allows businesses to market themselves and reach wider ranges of potential customers. Services are easy to book, and easy to choose from the numerous reviews left on social media sites. We all have instant access to ‘how to’ tutorials, recipes, fashion ideas and so much more.

Social media has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with family and friends, even if you can’t meet as often as you’d like, you can still say hi, exchange a quick message, send birthday greetings, and keep up-to-date with what everyone is doing.

However, like all good things, too much can be a bad thing. From my personal observation, the younger generation are teetering dangerously close to the edge of far too heavy a reliance on all things social media related.

Obviously being online has always brought with it a certain degree of risk for youngsters with the anonymity aspect; not really knowing who you’re talking to, which has led to grooming, bullying and exposure of too much information. Putting aside the general identity related dangers, the hidden emotional cost of too much dependence of social media, is far more sinister.

There are those few unfortunate souls, who will bare every detail of their life and all the drama that surrounds them, over their social media accounts, and will seek empathy and support from their contacts. However the more common theme, is for people to only post all the good things that they want the world to see.

Sometimes, it’s akin to living a double life almost, and keeping up a charade like that is emotionally and physically taxing.

As adults, most of us are realistic and understand that no one has a perfect life 100% of the time, but trying to get children, teenagers and young adults to see and accept that is difficult. They tend to go by what they see, so a page on which someone seems to live an enchanted life, can lead to feelings of inferiority, insecurity, envy, bitterness and isolation.

All of us (not just the kids), need reminding, that what we see on social media is not a full and accurate representation of the truth. We see beautiful homes, flash cars and luxury holidays, but we don’t see the hard work, the late nights, the hours spent, the missed school plays and sports days and the sleepless nights that it took to get there. We see the loving relationship, but we don’t see the heartaches that came before it or the tears cried alone behind closed doors. We see the perfect bodies and faces, but the surgery scars, the fat childhood, the unhealthy relationship with food, all hidden behind that pretty filter.

Educate your children to use social media for it’s intended purpose, to make the world accessible to everyone, not as a means to measure their success against the success of others.

Easy Veggie Pasta Bake.

I hear from so many busy mums, who say they hate to cook, either because they are too exhausted, or just don’t have the time. The temptation to turn to the freezer for a fish finger or nugget themed dinner is all too familiar.

While there is nothing wrong with that, and far be it for me to judge, this pasta bake can be ready in about the same time, and is nutritious and tasty. It’s a family friendly meal that everyone can enjoy.

This a guide rather than a recipe, so I haven’t included quantities, just adjust it according to the number of people you’re cooking for.

ok, so;

Grab a pot to boil your pasta (any shape, any kind, generally NOT spaghetti type ones on this occasion).

Put the pasta on to cook as you usually would.

In another large-ish pan, heat oil, and add chopped onion (red or white). While it cooks, mince up some garlic, and chop some peppers (any colour). Throw these into the pan, and cook until soft. Add some tinned sweetcorn and tinned kidney beans. After 5 mins or so add tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Cook this out on a low heat for 10 mins. Meanwhile, drain and set aside your pasta.

Once the sauce is cooked, toss together with the pasta and lay into an oven-proof dish. Add a layer of white sauce (out of a jar), and top with cheese.

15 mins in a hot oven and BOOM, dinner is done!

 

Nipping It In The Bud.

This post isn’t just about stress and anxiety, it’s a post about stress and anxiety in children.

I’m the first one to roll my eyes and brush off dramatic topics concerning children. There are certain theories about parenting, childrens up-bringing and their behaviour that I find outlandish to say the least, however stress management isn’t one of them.

I strongly believe that the ability to handle stress, and keep anxiety at bay is something that can be instilled in children from an early age. Exposure to stresses often begins earlier than we realise, and by the time the heavy stuff happens, most of us have already adopted unhelpful coping mechanisms, such as using stimulants or depressants, having angry outbursts or bottling up our feelings.

Healthier alternatives to handling the difficult situations we all inevitably have to face, are things that should be introduced to children as soon as they are old enough to really engage with the techniques.

The easiest way to incorporate this is to practice deep breathing with them at bedtime, perhaps after a story, encourage them to have some quiet time for relaxation, and lead some breathing exercises for them.

I use guided meditations that are aimed specifically at children, and often use these in place of a bedtime story as they are told in story form, with breathing exercises and visualisations included.

‘New Horizon’ on YouTube do particularly good ones, but there is no limit to the resources available so find some that you child enjoys.

Encourage your children to talk about their feelings. We do, one good thing, one bad thing, and one confusing thing that needs further clarification, each day. I wouldn’t advise doing this activity at bedtime, as it can lead to a lengthy sleep avoidance technique!

Simple ideas like these, incorporated into your routine, will equip them with the skills that they can depend on when life gets challenging.

Managing stress and anxiety is a powerful lesson to teach your children to help them through the ups and downs of life. I really hope you’ll give it a go.

Meditation.

The first thing I want to say about meditation is that it helped to turn my life around, and really helped me to deal with a number of emotions, including, but not limited to; anxiety, sadness, anger and guilt.

Many people have said to me that they find it difficult to meditate, because they can’t seem to clear their mind.

I personally do not agree with the idea that meditation means sitting in complete silence, not thinking about anything. The ability to clear your mind completely and silence your thoughts, takes years of practice.

Meditation, to keep your mind healthy and help you to cope with the stresses and ups and downs of life, is much simpler.

I’m a huge fan of guided meditations, and have mentioned this before. I love apps like Headspace and Calm, but I also make use of the endless free resources available on YouTube. There are so many different types of guided meditations to choose from and they vary in length. My recommendation would be to start with 10 minutes a day.

You can pick meditations tailored to things you enjoy, and situations that bring you peace. I love ocean sounds, rainfall and storms, or visualisations centred around waterfalls and tropical beaches. These are the things that speak to me and bring me comfort. They help me to find my inner calm.

Find something that is right for you. Often it is a case of trial and error.

Those 10 minutes a day concentrating on your breathing and visualising yourself in your safe, peaceful place, make a world of difference to your stress levels in general.

Life is made up of good days and bad, but keeping your stress levels down helps you to think more clearly and find better solutions to any problems you might encounter. Rather than having a emotional response to each situation, you’re more able to deal with things logically when you feel calm. This is turn helps to maintain healthy, happy relationships with family and friends.

If you feel like meditation could benefit you, give it a go, it worked for me and you have absolutely nothing to lose. Happy Breathing.

My Make-up Must Haves.

Whether I’m going full on glam, or a natural ‘barely there’ make up look, some of the things in my make-up bag are essentials that I just can’t do without.

I’m not a make-up professional, I just have a keen interest in cosmetics and I know what I like, so I’m hoping this will inspire you to try something new, or to find a product you’ll love as much as I do. It’s just a bit of informative fun, so don’t take it too seriously ladies and indeed, gents.

These aren’t in order of preference, but more a logical kind of order-of-use.

Benefit The Porefessional Primer: This smooths my skin out and has that silky matte feeling that all good pore-minimising primers should. It creates the perfect base for my foundation. (See my separate foundation review post for more info on that).

Urban Decay Naked Skin Concealer: I’ve tried lots and this is the one that applies, blends and lasts the best for me. Love it.

Beauty Bakerie Flour Setting Powder: I never really used to use a setting powder, but I get oily on my T-Zone and my concealer would always crease under my eyes. This powder has fixed that, and it doesn’t look powdery or cakey, it just gives a nice soft-focus finish.

Benefit Ka-Brow Eyebrow Pomade: This is the best eyebrow product I’ve ever tried. I have used much more expensive versions, but they didn’t apply or last as well. This goes on like a dream, and lasts all day, until I physically remove it myself.

NYX Vinyl Liquid Eyeliner: Cheap and cheerful. I wear liquid eyeliner a lot, and have been doing so for years. I’ve tried some of the most expensive ones on the market, but for the last couple of years this has become my go-to product. It glides on and stays put. Perfect for a winged look.

Benefit Mascaras: I like all of them. They give a beautiful effect ranging from natural to dramatic without clumping or smudging.

NARS Blush in Orgasm: This is the perfect shade of peach, with specks of gold shimmer. It goes with almost everything and gives skin a really healthy glow.

ICONIC London Illuminator: This liquid highlighter is the only glow I need. It comes in four shades and they are all perfect for all skin types. You can put a couple of drops on for a subtle effect, or build it up for serious drama.

Urban Decay All Nighter Setting Spray: The clue is in the title. This is like hairspray for your face, and there’s no melting, not even during a heat wave. It really locks make-up in place.

Carmex Lip Balm: It’s so important to keep your lips hydrated. A flaky, dry lip can ruin your whole look. Carmex conditions, treats and soothes lips. Whether you decide to go for a bright lip, a matte lip, or a gloss, always make this your base!

And there you have it folks, a list of my make-up must haves.

Obviously I use lots of other products, but these are the ones that I can’t live without no matter where I am or where I’m going.

 

Leyas Unicorn Party.

Party planning for the girls is something I really enjoy.

This year Leya turned five and she asked for a unicorn party. In actual fact, her first choice was Moana, but the entertainer who played her had recently left the company, so unicorns it was.

I booked a party package with My little princess parties.

http://www.mylittleprincessparties.co.uk/princess-parties-berkshire-surrey-hampshire/

They have various options, but the full party package works well for me, because I know the children are looked after and entertained.

I like to start planning a good few months in advance, and begin with a venue. Next come the invites, and once the RSVPs are back and I know how many children are coming I can order the tableware and party bags. This year the decorations were mostly from Pretty Little Party Shop (https://prettylittlepartyshop.co.uk/), and I went for a magical, pastel coloured theme.

I knew I wanted to get a special unicorn cake, but I looked for ages and couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, then I remembered how much my family loves Lolas Cupcakes. I went on their website and found the perfect cake.

https://www.lolascupcakes.co.uk/Ordering/1688/Unicorn-Cake.htm

Not only did it look great, it tasted so delicious.

My brother-in-law created a gorgeous cake table, with a pretty unicorn backdrop which he made. He’s quite the arty/crafty one in our family and the effort he put in really paid off. Thanks Guv!

The helium balloons, some large foil ones, some filled with confetti and some sparkly, completed the party decorations and we were good to go.

Sam from My little princess parties was brilliant. I knew she would be as she had been Tinkerbell at Leyas 3rd birthday party too. The children danced, played games, there was a pass the parcel, and a special wish with some fairy dust.

I tend to stick to a simple party food menu for the kids, including sandwiches, crisps, pizza, sausage rolls, fruit, cakes, and biscuits, with squash to drink and some refreshments for the parents.

Leya had a wonderful time, and she went to bed one very happy little girl, all unicorned out!

I can’t wait to start planning Arias party in a few months!

 

Peppa Pig World.

As a rule, I generally avoid theme parks. To be honest they’ve never really been my thing. I’m not big on thrill rides, and even baby rides make me a little bit queasy and anxious – motion sickness is not my friend.

Our daughter Leya turned five last week, and when we had asked her what she wanted to do, in addition to the family get-togethers and party with her friends that we had planned for the weekend, her response with no hesitation at all was ‘I want to go to Peppa Pig World’. I tried to change her mind over the course of the next few days, by making alternative suggestions, but she wasn’t biting, so that was that.

I was pleasantly surprised by the location of the park itself, it was lovely, and felt like taking a drive through a little country park. The large car park had ample space, and our early arrival at opening time, meant that we were lucky enough to get a space very close to the main entrance. There were lots of turnstile entry points, so we didn’t have to queue at all to get in, which is surprising for the summer holidays.

The first thing we were greeted by was the huge gift shop. You can’t exit the park without going through it, so it’s strategically located for the children to point out all the things they wish to take home. Leya, of course, wanted to go in right away, but we managed to bribe her with the promise of a present on the way out. This guarantee was agreed to, reluctantly, and so into the park we went.

The park itself has a lot going for it, There are a number of things that make it a fun family day out.

  • It’s flat, which, if you’ve been to other large theme parks, you will know to be a rarity.
  • It’s small enough for the rides to be close to each other, so that little legs don’t get tired walking around from attraction to attraction.
  • There are lots of things to eat and drink, including sit-down café/diner style options, as well as shack/stalls selling hotdogs, donuts, ice-cream, candy floss, sweets, popcorn, hot and cold drinks and so much more.
  • The rides are fun, but relaxed and calm enough that even babies can go on most of them, with a couple of exceptions.

We had a really lovely day, the girls laughed, enjoyed the rides, ate well, and left with a gift each from Peppas huge toy store.

The rides were well managed, and we didn’t have to queue long for anything. I would definitely recommend a day out here with the kids, even if you’ve shied away from theme parks in the past.

 

 

 

The Book That Changed My LIFE.

At the beginning of last year, I made a decision about my life. It was a long time coming and a change was definitely needed.

2016 had been a particularly difficult year for me. A traumatic labour had caused the anxiety to sky-rocket. Leaving the house alone had become impossible. I couldn’t walk to the end of my street for fear of having a panic attack and passing out or getting into jsome kind of medical emergency with no-one around to help me. I had started feeling panicky any time I was out of my comfort zone. Trips to the cinema, and eating out, became things I avoided, instead of enjoying them like I used to. The anxiety had got so bad that I couldn’t understand how I was going to get through life, and at my rock-bottom moments I even wondered if my children would be better off without me. All I did was worry, all day, everyday. I avoided car journeys, driving by myself was out of the question, even just to the local shops. I could only be a passenger in the car if my husband was driving, which meant I couldn’t even go anywhere with friends. I missed family gatherings and birthday dinners because I couldn’t face the journey or the venue, and I would find myself making up one excuse after another out of shame.

I really was so ashamed of myself. I saw what I was going through as a weakness. I felt like a failure for having got myself into this situation, where life just felt exhausting. Don’t get me wrong- I wasn’t unhappy with life, I was loving being a mum, but being anxious all the time was so overwhelming and I was tired. I felt safe in my little bubble and everything out of my comfort zone felt terrifying.

Then when my babies went on their first holiday abroad without me, I decided I needed to get some level of control back in my life.

That was when I found this book. Or should I say THE book.

‘Anxiety; Panicking about Panic’ by Joshua Fletcher.

This book hit the nail on the head for me, because Fletcher, having suffered from anxiety himself, understood that my situation wasn’t caused by unhappiness with my life, it was caused by me being scared of my next panic attack occurring. Anyone who has ever suffered a full blown panic attack will know why- and if you haven’t you’re really not qualified to pass judgement on the matter, or make assumptions about how it feels.

Someone finally got it! I was scared of panic attacks and had begun to avoid any situations where I feared I might have one, and not be able to control it.

This book really helped me to understand what was happening to my body during an attack and the quickest way I could allow it to run it’s course and pass. At  the time that I turned to this book, I was having attacks almost daily, and although they haven’t completely disappeared, I recognise my triggers now, and instead of avoiding them, I use the techniques I’ve learnt from this book, and I’m able to stop a full blown attack from occurring, or when I do have one it’s not as bad. They have also reduced in frequency by about 90%.

Anxiety has always been with me, it walks with me and does it’s job when it’s needed, but it doesn’t make any decisions for me or control what I do or where I go anymore. I refuse to give it that power. I feel able to do this, and be strong because of this book. It gave me the push I needed, to take the steps to tackle my situation.

The book taught me that no matter how awful an attack feels, it’s not dangerous, and it is going to pass. I learned that if I gave into the sensations, rather than trying to fight them, they passed a lot quicker. Fletcher helped me to remove some of the fear from the attack and helped me to get my life back.

The road to recovery isn’t only long, it’s permanent. There is a continuous need to remind yourself that everything is ok. The key to doing that effectively lies in arming yourself with knowledge about what is happening to you, and also meditating and reflecting to keep levels of stress hormones in your body low.

If you feel like this book could help you too, it’s available from Amazon. I hope it helps you the same way that it helped me.

 

 

 

 

 

Dubai.

My first holiday with my husband and our girls.

Before I tell you all about the holiday itself, let me be clear that this trip required me to face many anxieties and fears, not just flying, but many other things that may seem trivial to some, but were a huge deal to me. I had to confront my anxieties about airport queues, due to fear of having a panic attack and not being able to escape, or have anywhere to calm myself down. I had to confront my fear of being a passenger, both in taxis and transit trains, for the same reason. I had to confront my anxieties about medical emergencies or incidents involving my children, in a place far from home, where I didn’t know how the medical care system worked. These were all very real, very scary fears for me. They were things I had avoided for a long time, I mean, prior to travelling this year, I had managed to avoid cabs and trains for well over a decade (yes really). This holiday really has marked a huge shift in the way I choose to live my life, and I’m so grateful for support I received from friends and family, and particularly my husband. I also recognise and feel proud of myself, for the hard work it took, the difficult personal journey I came through, to get to the other side of my fear. I finally feel like I’m starting to live again.

The flight to Dubai was an overnight flight with British Airways and it was pretty uneventful. It was tiring though and I found myself wanting to nod-off, but kept jolting back to reality, worrying about the girls. They managed to get a little sleep, and Leya entertained herself with the IFE, however Aria found the headphones uncomfortable and wanted to sit in her dads lap for most of the flight (not so much fun for him).

We landed in Dubai at around 8.30am local time, and the airport was quiet. It’s a long walk and a short transit train ride at DXB to passport control. One thing -possibly the only thing- that impressed me about the airport, was that they opened up fast track family lanes to get you through immigration as quickly as possible if you had children with you. We collected our bags and headed to the taxi rank.

The Dubai heat hit me like a blast from an oven full of hot air! I was NOT prepared for how hot it was. However, we were soon in an air-conditioned taxi, on our way to the Hotel. Our driver was a friendly woman, and I immediately felt at ease in her cab.

Sofitel Dubai Palm Resort and Spa was beautiful. Adorned with palm trees, and designed with a Polynesian theme. There was a real ‘Island’ feel that I think hotels on the main land would find difficult to rival. The welcome in the main lobby was warm and friendly, with an efficient check in and a delicious cold beverage, which was very much appreciated. Our room wasn’t ready, due to us arriving significantly earlier than the regular check-in time, but we were invited to make use of the pool while we waited. When they did call us an hour later, we were delighted to discover that we had been upgraded to a suite. The room was gorgeous, with a huge bathroom and our own private terrace with comfy seating and a dining area, surrounded by tropical greenery.

The pool was fabulous and we spent our days cooling off, taking in the beautiful views and sipping cold drinks in one of the poolside cabanas. We would take late afternoon naps with the girls, and then shower and dress for dinner. The dining at the hotel was lovely, with lots of choice and something for everyone. We mostly ate at the buffet restaurant Manava, as it was the most convenient option with the girls. We tried the Porterhouse Grill one evening, and the steak was delicious.

As it was so hot (being the Gulf in the middle of summer), we weren’t interested in the usual Dubai excursions of shopping malls and sand safaris, this was more a chance for us to spend some quality time together as a family. That said, I had to visit Dubai Mall once, to see what the hype was about (Don’t believe the Hype), and to eat some cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory, The peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake was amazing. The mall-not so much. Dubai is extortionate to shop in and I refuse to pay double what I would here for make-up. perfume, clothes, shoes and handbags.

Our flight home was delayed by over five hours (thanks BA), and we spent hours waiting around the airport. The girls were irritable and we were all extra exhausted by the time we eventually got back to London. This was further exacerbated by the fact that they couldn’t find anyone to attach the jetty to the aircraft, and then there were only two customs officers working in passport control. We had to queue for ages, as we couldn’t use the e-gates, and all families and non-EU passengers were sent the same way-bizarre!

I loved every minute of being in the resort and spending time with my family. Would I go back to Dubai? Maybe. I’d like to experience it again when it’s cooler, and maybe try a different resort, but I don’t think it will be until after I’ve been to some of my other dream destinations. The architecture, although impressive is a little over-bearing, and the dusty atmosphere with it’s never-ending construction just isn’t for me. They know how to create fabulous resorts though, I’ll give them that.

Facing Your Fears.

Fear feels real. It does.

Fear has an important job to do. It protects you from danger. When you’re in a dangerous situation, fear kicks in and your fight or flight response is triggered.

Fear becomes an issue when we attach it to situations where we aren’t in any real danger. If you allow that fear to hold you back from going to certain places, taking part in activities, or prevent you from being social, you limit yourself, and you limit the level of enjoyment you’re getting from your life.

Having been anxious to a degree, for most of my life, and having multiple phobias, I have first hand experience on how fears that are out of control can take over your life. All fear is learnt. We learn it through observation of other peoples reactions to things, or from the things they say. We may learn fear by being in an unpleasant situation, and then associating those feelings with that which we fear, and being worried about it happening again. No matter how your fear comes about, there will, at some point, have been a triggering event, observation or statement.

When we fear something, we begin to avoid it. Avoidance brings temporary relief, but is by no means, a permanent solution. Avoiding the thing you fear is stressful. Having to overthink and question things all the time in order to practice successful avoidance is difficult and time consuming, wasting valuable time that could be better spent enjoying life.

Facing your fears really is the key to overcoming them. I was first told this as a young child, and immediately it made me more terrified and unsure – facing my fears seemed like the worst idea imaginable – like hello? I’m trying to stay as far away as possible from things that scare me. Over time, and as I grew older I realised this advice had been one of the most accurate and helpful pieces of advice I had ever been given.

Sometimes, facing your fears might not eradicate them completely, but it will make them more manageable. It gives you more strength, self-belief and a sense of pride in your abilities.

Some of the most beautiful things in life are waiting just on the other side of that fear. If you can push through those few minutes of intense, dread and panic, you’ll find that once your fear reaches its peak, down is the only way for it to go. When your heart rate and breathing begin to return to normal, you start to realise that you’ve achieved something you probably never thought you could. Your new found confidence gets you thinking about all the future holds for you, now that you hold the key to overcoming your own personal hurdles.

I’m a prime example with my fear of flying, which was so crippling it affected almost two decades of my life. I’ve only been back three days, and I’m already planning my next holiday!

Facing your fears is hard work, but the rewards are so worth it, and we all deserve a life free of fear.