Client profile: Less-Stress London

For the third in my series of posts about my small business clients, I’m profiling Less-Stress London, a digital wellbeing hub for the capital, founded and edited by James Langton.

James first approached me in 2015, after reading my article for Vice on the declining effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It took a while before we managed to sit down together and talk about his project (thanks for your patience, James!) but I instantly loved the idea of Less-Stress London. James is really passionate about promoting holistic health and wellbeing solutions to Londoners, and exploring the many and varied stresses of urban life. Less-Stress London combines a directory of practitioners, events, services, and green spaces, with an online magazine full of news, features and reviews.

So far, for Less-Stress London, I’ve covered a fantastic range of issues – the health impacts of working night shifts, anti-pollution skincare solutions, the impact of urban stress on babies, road rage and anxiety on public transport, and lots more. I’ve also had the privilege of working on LSL’s behalf with some fantastic wellbeing charities, including the Mental Health Foundation, Freedom from Torture, and the Phoenix Prison Trust.

I sat down with James for a chat about how Less-Stress London came to be, and how my writing services are helping to create his editorial vision for the site.

SG: What’s Less-Stress London all about, and where did the idea come from?

JL: Less-Stress London takes a holistic approach to keeping healthy in the city. A directory of mind-body services, weekend workshops and events, all wrapped up with London news and a genuine sense of the city’s local landscape. Is London a more stressful place to live than other parts of the UK and beyond? Quite the opposite. Because, however lonely we are in the big city, there are choices, neighbourhoods, communities and, crucially, other Londoners to bond with over an evening or a weekend activity and shared interest.

 

SG: Who and what are your personal inspirations and motivations?

JL: As a native Londoner, I feel proud and grateful to live in one of the safest and most tolerant cities in the world. The changes I’ve seen since growing up in the north-west suburbs as a child have been vast – not only the buildings and infrastructure, but also the incredible diversity of people who have made London their home over the years. The pace of life in the city means that most of us are so time poor it’s difficult to slow down and look around, to find the beauty that’s everywhere in the city, especially in the scruffier corners.

 

SG: What do you look for in the practitioners and services you feature?

JL: At different times, when I’ve received counselling or psychotherapy, I’ve instinctively felt that my body very much needed the same levels of attention that I was giving to my mind. I could process insights and reflection mentally, but my body often felt like it needed its own catharsis, or at the very least direction toward self-care. I think that whether therapist or practitioner, teacher or coach, it’s absolutely critical to encourage clients to explore complementary ways of working with different therapeutic ideas and techniques in between sessions.

 

SG: What do you see as the biggest issues impacting on Londoners’ everyday mental and physical wellbeing?

 

JL: Expectation – whether that comes from others or, more likely, ourselves. A fear that we may fall behind socially and economically unless we drive ourselves, and often our loved ones, to the absolute limit Cramped housing that often means it’s a struggle to find private space to unwind. Loneliness and lack of connection.

 

SG: What do you ultimately hope Less-Stress London can achieve?

JL: If our Less-Stress websites could have half as much influence as Mumsnet in the heads of politicians I’d be very happy. A better understanding that a holistic health agenda is not just an airy fairy ideal but a realistic solution to so many of society’s social and economic problems. Not just mind-body practicesm but also spreading the word about educational initiatives from organisations such as Young Happy Minds, who understand that a holistic education system is just as important as holistic health.

 

SG: How does the editorial content, contributed by myself and others, help you to stand out?

JL: There’s a huge amount of health advice available online right now, but it can get a bit shouty: ‘I’ve got a wonderful life, how can I make it better?’ That’s ok, but the wellness movement would do well to remember to build from the bottom-up as well as top-down.

Information about back care and posture is a bit lacking generally. A healthy spine is a critical component of wellness and we’re particularly interested in articles about the crossover point between therapeutic movement and therapeutic bodywork. Also clarity and understanding regarding the many different therapeutic techniques available.

London’s a big city and advances in technology are going to leave more of us struggling to find meaning and purpose from our lives, as the things we take for granted slowly become more and more automated. I hope the articles we commission at least nod in that direction once in a while.

We are a commercial organisation but I hope that the advertising partners we are able to attract complement the articles and features rather than detract.

 

You can find out more about Less-Stress London and the range of holistic health services available across the city at: less-stress.london

Could my writing services also benefit your business? Click here for information about working with me, check out some examples of my work for Less-Stress London, or click here to see what other clients have said about my writing.

Recent writing: Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual event organised by the Mental Health Foundation. It’s a great week for getting friends, family, celebrities and politicians talking more about mental health – particularly in the run-up to a General Election! But it can also feel a bit tokenistic, because we desperately need to get better at having these conversations, and actually converting them into actions, all year round.

The theme for this year’s MHAW was ‘surviving or thriving’. I’ve written articles for NetDoctor, Sebastian & Millicent, The Debrief, and Mental Health Today, exploring what it means to thrive with mental health problems.

Is anxiety sabotaging your career? – for NetDoctor:

Mental health problems affect one in six employees in the UK, and work-related stress is the number one health and safety concern for 70 per cent of businesses. Yet, for employees suffering from anxiety, a lack of support at work too often means lowering their ambitions to fit in with their emotional needs.

35-year-old Unite representative Tom* works as a telesales advisor for an energy company, and believes that his long-term anxiety has “held me back from applying for higher roles in the business, as management don’t really understand mental health.” More recently, he adds, “I have been off work due to the severity of my anxiety, and instead of being supportive they are over-riding my fit notes and taking me through disciplinary procedures to sack me.”

Continue reading at NetDoctor…

Is There Life After SSRIs? – for The Debrief:

More of us than ever are on antidepressants. Doctors in England wrote out more than 64 million prescriptions for them last year, and use of antidepressants is now seven times higher than 25 years ago, in 1991. The most widely used antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (aka Prozac), sertraline and citalopram, which act on your levels of mood stabilising neurotransmitter serotonin.

Some people need antidepressants and anyone who has a problem with that should get over it, stat. There is no shame in taking antidepressants and for many people, they are life-changing. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ treatment when it comes to depression. But, with so many of us taking these pills as part of our normal daily routine, it’s worth asking whether there can be life after SSRIs, in which it’s possible not just to survive, but to actually thrive? We spoke to three women who’ve been there, plus Dr Mark Salter from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and mindset coach Ebonie Allard, to find out.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

The troubled mind of fashion – for Sebastian and Millicent:

How much does what you wear say about you? Anecdotally, we all know there’s some kind of link between how we feel and what we wear. Who hasn’t spent whole days in their pyjamas, or a tracksuit, while feeling stressed, burnt out, or depressed? Not to mention the burst of confidence and self-esteem that comes from pulling on your best outfit and leaving the house looking a million dollars. In recent years, scientific research has confirmed what many of us already knew: how we feel affects what we choose to wear, and what we wear affects how we feel.

Continue reading at Sebastian and Millicent…

Using art therapy to thrive – for Mental Health Today:

“Writing and performing gives me the freedom to speak clearly, and the power to make my audiences listen,” says 45-year-old Ugandan refugee Jade.

Jade is involved with writing and drama groups run by the charities Freedom from Torture and Women for Refugee Women. For her, creativity, humour, and community have been crucial elements of her journey towards healing from the traumas she suffered back home.

“It’s very therapeutic to have that time with friends, writing together, listening and supporting each other,” Jade says. “I write a lot of poems and short stories now, but I always try and write something that will make people laugh. If I dwell on what happened to me, those people will have won.”

Continue reading at Mental Health Today…

The dark side of meditation – for Sebastian and Millicent:

The ancient eastern practice of meditation and mindfulness has been around for thousands of years, but far more recently exploded into prominence in the western world. It’s now rare to go a week without hearing or reading about the much-celebrated wellbeing benefits of taking time each day to focus on your breath and the sensations of your body, and enjoy simply ‘being’ in the moment. A key component of mindful meditation is the idea of noticing the small pleasures in life, and habitually bringing your wandering thoughts back to focus on your present situation.

Continue reading at Sebastian and Millicent…

Priority: Low

Priority: Low

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety, on and off, in varying degrees, for most of my adolescent and all of my adult life. In May 2014, while working at Feminist Times, I edited their Mental Health Week – a week of content focused on why mental health is a feminist issue. Sadly the Feminist Times archive is no longer available, but I remain immensely proud of the content I wrote, commissioned and edited during that week.

When I went freelance, not long afterwards, I made mental health a much greater focus of my work. However, I’ve continued not to write much about my own issues. Like most things, mental health is much easier to write about in the third person.

Then, at the start of this year, I set myself a monthly blogging challenge, one of the aims of which was to be more open, authentic and vulnerable about my own mental health problems. Little did I know then that they were about to explode quite so catastrophically, or I might not have thought it was such a good idea!

Mood altered

When I was discharged from hospital on 1 February, one of the sections of my discharge notes really bothered me:

Cervical spine fracture – C7. Priority: High

L Radius fracture. Priority: Medium

L1 vertebral fracture. Priority: Medium

Mood alterted. Priority: Low

Insomnia. Priority: Low

Of course, my body was pretty badly smashed up in the car crash. But when you’ve treated someone’s physical injuries as “trauma”, clinical phrases like “mood altered” seem grossly inadequate to describe the psychological repercussions. An altered mood is what happens when I get out of bed feeling chirpy and then burn my toast. Admittedly, I’ve not yet found the right words to suitably describe how I do feel, but “emotional trauma” would probably seem like the most accurate choice to anyone other than an actual robot.

And then there’s the priority: low. The better I get physically, the more painfully true this feels. The talking therapies waiting list I’m on feels endless, and my GP can’t do much more than chasing them and prescribing more pills. I feel totally isolated.

Low priority

In the three years since Feminist Times’ Mental Health Week, I’ve seen enormous changes in the public conversation around mental health. As Hannah Ewen pointed out in a recent Vice article, it’s become as trendy a topic for online content as feminism. But while I firmly believe that tackling stigma is hugely, urgently important in the fight for better mental health, what is all that worth when its level of priority, in healthcare and in our own lives, remains so low?

I love the NHS, and it breaks my heart to see it so hideously and chronically underfunded by the current government, but mental healthcare services are in a devastating position. And while it’s amazing to see everyone from Ruby Wax to Prince Harry speaking out about their struggles, sometimes a cup of tea and a heart-to-heart isn’t enough. Especially when you can’t afford to pay for expensive private therapists. Getting effective, professional and affordable support, when you need it, remains a constant struggle for too many people living with mental health problems. Talking about mental health is great, but we need to prioritise treatment too.

Recovery

I’m not the first person to make the point that greater investment in mental healthcare is urgent, and I won’t be the last. But I’m also conscious that it’s not just in healthcare settings that mental health remains a low priority. I’ve been writing about mental health regularly for three years, but I know that I struggle to make mental health a priority in my own life.

In the last 14 weeks, I’ve based my ability to return to ‘normality’ almost solely on my physical recovery. I’ve put totally unnecessary pressure on myself to keep working for the sake of “keeping busy” and “taking my mind off things” even though I know, personally and professionally, that’s not how it works. Self-care, though wonderful in principle, is so hard to prioritise when you just don’t feel worthy of being cared for.

Surviving

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week and, as I wrote in last week’s post, the theme this year is “surviving or thriving?” I’m writing a couple of lovely pieces, for various different outlets, on all the positive and wonderful ways that people with mental health problems have learned to thrive with their conditions. But I also know that surviving a day at a time is the reality for many more people, and that’s ok too.

It’s not ok how hard we have to struggle to get help. But it’s ok to not be ok. Plenty of people have told me that since I left hospital, and it’s finally starting to sink in. So my pledge for MHAW this year is simple: to make mental health a much higher priority in my own life, and let thriving follow in its own sweet time.

Balance: April 2017

Balance: April 2017

It’s been a beautiful month, all sunshine and blue skies carried over from March. But, in my head, it’s felt more like endless, drizzly April showers. As of today, I’m 13 weeks into recovery. I’m sure there’s no typical pattern with this kind of thing, but I’ve started noticing distinct phases in my own recovery journey, and April has very much been one of resentment and frustration.

While March’s sunshine had me feeling optimistic and hopeful, in April it’s simply made me despise anyone who’s enjoying life more than me. And, particularly on social media, it’s hard not to feel like that’s everyone. I even weighed up whether to bother writing about this month. Imagine starting a 12-month blog challenge, your entire year falling apart within the first 30 days, but still being stubborn enough to feel like you have to keep it up!

And honestly, despite being my most physically well month since the accident, it’s also been my least balanced month of 2017. I haven’t finished a single book in April. I’ve had terrifying panic attacks in the middle of the street, and on public transport. I’ve had duvet days of wrapping myself up in self-pity and sleeping for 15 hours at a time. I’ve cancelled so many plans. (Sorry.) I’ve had sudden outbursts of frustration and rage, but mostly I’ve felt nothing much. Work has plodded steadily on, but writing at the moment feels like I’m just about keeping my head above water, not relishing it in the way I did when my cast first came off.

Darkness

What people who’ve never had depression don’t realise is that, at really bleak times, it can feel like less than ‘sadness’. You spend a long time feeling overwhelmed by all the emotions, only to reach a point of total emotional paralysis. It’s nothing. It’s numbness and apathy, a big, dark empty pit inside yourself, where nothing matters and you’re not worthy of feeling anything at all. Not even sad. Not angry, or frustrated, or lonely, or anxious.

The moments when you do feel those things – when the hospital cancels your much-anticipated appointment, and your body actually allows you to burst into tears – come as a relief. The tightness of panic in your chest, however hideous and nauseating, feels like a pleasant reminder that you’re still alive enough to care about your own preservation. That an irrational fear of suffocating to death on the tube, surrounded by strangers, with 15 panicked messages to your husband forever remaining unsent, is better than weeks on end of simply not caring if you live or die.

April has been a month of not caring, punctuated by moments of caring deeply and overwhelmingly. Recently I’ve started working on content for next month’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year has a theme of “surviving or thriving?” For me, simply surviving each day is enough right now. Thriving still feels such a long way off. We’re now a third of the way through the year, and I’ve not even come close to completing my goals – personal or professional – for Q1. My goals for Q2 have all been replaced by “make it through to June”.

Even self-care becomes a struggle when you can’t shake the feeling that every attempt to do something nice for yourself (like a retreat, for example) backfires spectacularly. I ordered myself a dozen beautiful pastel roses to mark the 12 week anniversary of the accident. When the courier (no prizes for guessing) forgot to collect them from the depot, so they didn’t show up until 24 hours later, I felt distraught.

Light

Of course, there are always glimmers of light, and I’d be remiss not to mention them. The day my roses didn’t arrive, my husband came home with ten cheap and crappy red ones from the local shop, which brightened my day immeasurably.

Over the Easter weekend, I removed my email account from my iPhone for four whole days – so good for the soul – and spent my days walking, eating, and enjoying the sunshine in east London, Cambridge, and Welwyn Garden City, with some of the people I love most in the world.

On Sunday 23rd, my not-so-little brother ran the London Marathon in aid of Toybox, and I’ve rarely felt so proud as I did watching him reach that finish line. Speaking of which, this month has also seen me weep my way through the BBC’s Mind Over Marathon, which is a must-watch. I can’t wait to get my running shoes back on once the spinal nurse okays it.

And finally, we’re spending the upcoming bank holiday weekend in one of our favourite cities, Bristol, visiting the world’s greatest little boy (our godson) and his mum. There’s no better excuse to run away from reality.

Work-wise I’ve written more than has actually been published this month, but below is the small selection I have to show for it so far. Perhaps this month’s biggest work news though is that I’ve taken on a freelance ghostwriting contract with LifeBook UK, working on a project that I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into over the coming months…

The Motivation for Moderation – for Less-Stress London

Shahroo Izadi is a modern behaviour change specialist, supporting clients to change their habits around food, drugs, or alcohol. Having previously worked in addiction support services for the NHS and Turning Point, her work combines the well-established techniques of motivational interviewing (MI) and mind mapping.

Commonly used in drug and alcohol services, these techniques are very effective in stopping ‘all or nothing’ thinking and allowing clients to take back control of their lives. “Motivational interviewing is like dancing with your client,” Shahroo explains. “You know where you want the dance to end, but you allow them to lead, you don’t push, and you get there in their own time.”

This works, she adds, by reflecting back what the client has said, gently guiding them to reach their own conclusions, before reflecting those outcomes visually in a mind map, which the client can refer back to. “There’s no judgement, you’re not putting words in people’s mouths, so it makes them less defensive,” she explains.

Continue reading at Less-Stress.London…

6 of London’s Best Modern-day Gin Palaces – for Hotel Indigo

For gin lovers, there’s simply no better city on earth than London. From the Gin Craze of the 18th century, to the grand Victorian gin palaces, London’s love affair with “Mother’s Ruin” is well established, and still going strong today. The city’s first gin palaces began popping up in the East End, around Holborn and Old Street, during the 1830s, before spreading to more central locations. From the Hotel Indigo London – Tower Hill, you’ll find yourself ideally placed to explore the London’s gin-loving heritage. From traditional offerings in nearby Holborn to trendier variations in Shoreditch, here are a few modern-day gin palaces to try:

Continue reading at Hotel Indigo…

Client profile: Ayesha Giselle Life Coach

Last month I profiled Rachael Cunningham, founder of Sebastian & Millicent, as the first in a series of posts about my small business clients.

Today I want to share some of the work I’ve been doing with Ayesha Giselle, a success and accountability coach based in Hackney.

Ayesha and I met through a networking group for east London freelancers and entrepreneurs, and I knew she was exactly the kind of person I love working with. Ayesha is a driven, ambitious woman, with a passion for supporting and empowering other women. She’s also a fellow east Londoner, so that was a big tick in my ‘supporting local small business owners’ box. And her work is all about self-development, and helping people – particularly young women – get the best out of their lives and careers.

When Ayesha and I got chatting, we realised that our skills complemented each other perfectly. She had the courage and self-confidence to put herself out there, but lacked the writing skills to really make an impact; while I had those writing skills but felt certain that I regularly held myself back from being as successful as I could be. Well, working together has been really quite special for both of us! Since last summer I’ve been writing blog posts, PR pitches and e-books for Ayesha. I’ve learnt so much from her, both through the briefs that she sends me for her content, and from the coaching I’ve received through our brilliant skill sharing agreement.

I sat down with Ayesha for a chat about what coaching means to her and her clients, and how my writing services are helping her to get her messages out there.

 

SG: What does being a coach mean to you, and how did you get started?

AG: Being a coach means being a source of inspiration, guidance, support and wisdom. Leading by example to inspire and encourage my clients. Using my wisdom and insight to help guide my clients to making the best choices for where they are at on their journey. And to be a support system who is completely in their corner. My client’s success is my success; we win together.

Being a coach allows me to be the person I needed when I was going up, starting my business, and finding myself and my way through life. I always wished I had someone I could talk to who was a bit wiser than me, had more insight into life than me, who would support and encourage me 100% when I found it hard to do so myself. Someone who could push me out of my comfort zone, provide a safe place to explore ideas, and believe in me. Not really having that kind of support growing up made realise what was missing, and who I could be to help others. Funnily enough, I think I decide to become a coach when I was a teenager, after reading one of my mum’s self-help books and thinking to myself ‘this is what I want to become’. At the time I was studying performing arts, which I loved. I initially planned to pursue a performing arts career until I was 30-35, and then I thought I’d have enough life experience to become a coach.

Later I was in university studying Arts Management, which I didn’t really enjoy, and I decided to drop out in year 3. By that stage, I was living life thinking ‘time is too precious to spend it being miserable and doing what you don’t enjoy’. So I made my decision with no plan, just knowing that I no longer enjoyed my course at all, and that it wasn’t for me. However, there was still this strong desire to become a coach as I felt it fit perfectly with who I am – a bold action taker who loves to learn about herself, and always looking forward to growing, teaching, and supporting others. The only thing stopping me was the fact I thought I was way too young to be a coach; I thought I need to be an older person with lots of life experience. In spite of my fears, I took a leap of faith and enrolled myself on a life coaching course, invested in some of the best coaches and mentors, and have never looked back since.

 

SG: Who and what are your personal inspirations and motivations?

AG: My inspiration to become a coach was Fiona Harold, who I had the pleasure to be coached and mentored by, and Iyanla Vanzant. Both women inspired me through their work and love for what they do.

My main motivation for coaching is making a difference in individual people’s lives, and knowing that I’m having a massive positive impact on them and their future. Nothing can beat the feeling of your client’s success. My clients’ success is my happiness. It brings me pure joy knowing that I played a part in their amazing journey.

 

SG: What unique experience and perspectives do you bring to your work with clients?

AG: I am able to pass on my resilience to my clients – helping them to keep their eye on the goal, remain consistent, enjoy the process and be willing to challenge themselves, whether that challenge is a self-limiting belief or a fear. I see opportunities within the problems. I help my clients to track, track and track some more, so that they can see the progress they have made. If they want certain results then they need become that person who can get the results they want. Lastly, I know that your thoughts create your reality, and by changing the way you think about yourself or a situation, you can change your reality or an outcome.

 

SG: Like me, you’re obviously passionate about working with ambitious and driven women – what issues do you see coming up again and again?

AG: I see clients using excuses to hide behind their fears which literally holds them back from becoming their full potential. I see women not believing that they are good enough, and lacking confidence in their ability, which stops them from going after what they really want. And then being scared to ask for what they want. Another thing I  have noticed is that many women know, and deep down really want, what it is they desire; they just don’t how to get it – which is where I come in.

 

SG: How has hiring me as a writer helped you as a small business owner?

AG: It has helped me a lot. Writing is not my strength, however I have so much wisdom and expertise in my area that I want and need to share with the world. Sometimes it can be so hard to explain what is in my head in a clear succinct way. Hiring you to help write my blogs and pitches has helped me to articulate my thoughts and message in a coherent way. You always deliver on time, with material that surpasses my expectations. You really get exactly what I am trying to convey. It has also saved me a lot of time. Instead of wasting time stressing over trying to produce content, I am now able to focus that time on the things I enjoy and am good at, which is coaching and teaching.

 

SG: What do you feel the blog and e-book content I’ve written add to your brand?

AG: It has allowed my message to be clear, and really show my expertise and wisdom in my area. It allows my brand to be more polished and professional. It’s a really good investment as what you put out is what you get back in return. If you put out quality work, you attract the right clients and the business that you want. The content you put out represents you, and you always want to put your best foot forward, and the blogs and e-book have allowed me to do just that.

 

You can find out more about Ayesha Giselle’s range of coaching programmes and services at: ayeshagiselle.com.

Could my writing services also benefit your business? Click here for information about working with me, check out some examples of my work for Ayesha Giselle, or click here to see what other clients have said about my writing.

Being ManKind: The crowdfunding campaign exploring modern masculinity

Masculinity is in crisis. As a feminist, and as a journalist covering mental health, it’s impossible not to notice. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems. They’re significantly more prone to substance abuse than women. They both commit and suffer from more violent crimes.

And, while men benefit from many privileges under patriarchy, they also suffer from limiting and sexist gender roles just like women do.

The more work I do in this area, the more convinced I am that men’s mental health is a feminist issue. And tackling it has to start with some frank and honest conversations about what masculinity really means for mankind today.

Being ManKind

I was thrilled, back in December, to meet the team behind Being ManKind – a collaborative, educational project, aimed at challenging stereotypes and getting men and boys talking about what masculinity really means in the modern world.

Being ManKind is the brainchild of Darshan, Priya and Jenny from social enterprise Super Being Labs. I knew I loved this organisation as soon as they explained that the child in their logo represents their company ethos: “be curious, be creative, and don’t be a dick”.

The initiative aims to use men’s own stories and experiences to challenge traditional stereotypes of masculinity and provide positive role models. It all started with their gorgeous coffee table book, Being ManKind Vol. 1, a collection of inspiring stories told by men from all walks of life – from a paratrooper living with the loss of his legs, to a comedian grappling with anorexia, and a foreword by boxer Anthony Joshua.

The book is a fascinating read, and beautifully put together with photos capturing the whole diversity of men and masculinity. According to the Being ManKind team, their aim with the book is to “offer an opportunity for boys to draw on a diversity of experiences, to decide for themselves what it means to be a man. The book wants to show that once you get past polarised gender expectations, you find that the only unbreakable code in humanity is kindness. The idea is that through the stories told, boys and men will be inspired to forge forward as kind and confident individuals, both for themselves and those around them, allowing everybody to succeed together.”

Gender education

For every copy of the book they sell, another copy is donated to a school or youth organisation – along with educational resources and lesson plans – in a bid to spark conversations amongst young people from across the gender spectrum. “Unfortunately, the world still defines people by their gender, rather than their humanity. These gender stereotypes create expectations that not only damage those who are burdened by them, but they also cause harm to the people around them too,” explains Being ManKind co-founder Darshan Sanghrajka.

“After all, you can be powerful but compassionate, strong but weak, competitive but giving, courageous but scared… the list goes on. Gender has nothing to do with it. We need to help the next generation understand their roles as individuals, and only then can they start to positively understand their relationships with those around them. Without this, we can’t ever have an equal and just society; fear and greed will rule, rather than kindness and unlimited potential. It’s why the team and I have embarked on this project – it’s important to a just world and now, more than ever before.”

Crowdfunding

With volume 1 already under their belts, Being ManKind this week launched a Kickstarter campaign to take the project to the next level. With a £75,000 target, and more than £8,500 raised on day one, their goal is to take the Being ManKind conversation to a bigger audience, by extending their work with schools, youth organisations and charities, creating an outreach programme, and continuing to tell more men’s stories through their digital platform and future book volumes.

Please do support them if you can – I’ve pledged £35 to secure my copy of volume 2!

Being ManKind – The Mission from Super Being Labs on Vimeo.

Stress-busting hacks for small business owners

Stress and burnout were a pretty heavily recurring theme of much of my work last month. As a mental health journalist, it was a pretty good warm-up, because April is National Stress Awareness Month!

It’s also the end of the tax year – or, as I like to call it, Freelance New Year – and, as you might remember from my first blog post of 2017, I love any excuse for a fresh start. Blank spreadsheets, new stationery, and a fresh set of goals and targets.

This year it’s more significant than ever. After my new calendar year didn’t get off to such a great start, April is the first month when I’m really able to get back into the swing of things.

Managing stress as a small business owner

A few weeks ago someone at QuickBooks contacted me about their plans for Stress Awareness Month. Throughout the month, they’re hoping to open up a conversation around stress in the workplace, including top tips for freelancers and small business owners. I was really flattered to be asked to be part of that conversation – particularly after I confessed that I use rival accounting software FreeAgent, not QuickBooks, to manage my finances!

I’ve been freelancing either full or part-time for the last three years, and while there are countless things I love about it, there’s no denying it comes with its own unique set of stresses and challenges. I also increasingly work with a number of small business clients, providing content for their websites and blogs – so I know small business owners come up against many of the same problems, and I hope the lessons I’ve learned along the way are helpful for them too.

Work-life balance

This is one of my favourite subjects – and one of the most compelling reasons for going freelance – but it’s also a real challenge to get right. Managing your own time is a wonderful kind of freedom, but you really do have to actually manage it. For me, that’s all about listening to my body:

1. Working at the times when I’m most alert.

For me, that’s usually first and last thing, with a slump in the middle of the day which I’ve long since given up trying to work through!

2. Taking proper breaks for lunch and naps.

Scientifically proven to make you more efficient.

3. Getting plenty of exercise.

Whether that’s a lunchtime swim, a post-work jog, or even just a walk around the block to buy the morning papers.

4. Wearing proper clothes. 

Pyjamas are fine for the odd day when you can afford to take it easy, but getting washed and dressed for work most mornings is a really useful part of your self-employed routine.

5. Seeing other humans. 

It’s very easy to go an entire day where the only living beings you communicate with are the office cats. But even us introverts need some human interaction now and again, and it’s a great way of to get ideas flowing if you’re feeling blocked. I love finding an excuse to meet people for coffee or lunch – whether it’s a potential client, a fellow freelancer, or an editor.

6. Switching off. 

Having a separate, designated work space is so vital – whether that’s a home office in your spare room, or hiring a desk in a co-working space. I have to admit I’m still bad at this, but there’s something really powerful about closing the door on your workspace at the end of each working day, and leaving your iPhone alone for the evening.

Financial balance

I’ve only got on top of this myself relatively recently, but imposing some work-life balance on your finances is a great way to ease the stress of irregular cash flow.

7. Accounting software. 

As I said, I use and love FreeAgent, but there are other options that might work better for you. Personally, I find that FreeAgent takes all the stress out of invoicing, managing my income and expenses, and chasing up late payments. It saves me so much time compared to entering everything into a spreadsheet by hand. Plus it generates handy graphs to track my monthly income, and I can file my self-assessment to HMRC directly from within their interface. (We both get 10% off if you sign up using my referral link.)

8. Separate bank accounts.

This has been my most recent innovation (radical, I know) but it really has made such a difference. I’ve been meaning for ages to find some way of separating out my regular expenses (mortgage, bills, insurance, business expenses, etc.) from my everyday spending – or what my client Ayesha Giselle calls my “self-care budget”. Then my husband got a new job at Starling Bank, a brand new start-up bank offering straightforward, mobile-only current accounts. Well, it seemed like the ideal opportunity – so I signed up for an account as one of their friends and family BETA testers. Knowing how much I spend on monthly essentials and business costs means I can use my main account for standing orders and direct debits. Whatever income is surplus each month goes straight into my Starling account, for me to spend on whatever I fancy. Not only has it made managing cash flow much easier, it’s also a really nice way to support my husband’s work after years of him proofreading my articles! (Again, obviously other bank accounts are available.)

Organisation

I’m naturally a bit of a control freak, so this is probably the part of freelancing I’ve struggled with least. Despite that, being 100% reliant on your own organisational abilities can still be a challenge. Fortunately, there are three tools that I completely and utterly swear by to keep things in order. I think I’d lose my mind if I was ever without them.

9. Evernote

Basically my second brain. This digital notebook takes some getting used to but, once you’ve figured out how it works best for you, it’s absolutely invaluable. I use the desktop, iPhone and iPad versions to keep on top of everything from recipes to receipts. I’ve got folders for article ideas, client and editor contact details, paperwork copies, blog posts to read later, and travel plans. My favourite feature though is the web clipper, which allows you to save articles, emails and information directly from your browser. (You can have a month’s free trial of the premium subscription if you sign up using my referral link.)

10. Bullet Journal.

Although I’m incredibly reliant on Evernote for all my digital notes, there’s still no match for good old fashioned pen and paper. My version of the popular bullet journal format is much less pretty than the ones you’ll see on Instagram. I use a Moleskine notebook, a selection of multicoloured fine liners, and a basic to-do list plus journal layout. I also have monthly habit tracking pages, and an ongoing list of books to read, editors to pitch, and articles to write. Scruffy brain dumps win over delicately patterned borders, for me. As a cure for writer’s block, it never fails.

11. Boomerang. 

This Gmail plug-in is the only email hack I’ve ever tried and liked enough to stick with. As the name suggests, it brings old emails back to the top of your inbox at a time of your choosing. So perfect for reminding you to follow up on emails that haven’t yet had a response. I can’t believe how regularly I use it to successfully nudge editors who’d just missed my pitch first time around. Its other brilliant function is ‘send later’, which I use to schedule those emails I don’t want to send straight away, but also don’t want to forget about! Obviously, I have a referral link.

Have a happy and stress-free New (tax) Year!

March writing: stress, hormones, and psychological photography

Despite taking a lot of time off to recover, work-wise it’s still been a surprisingly busy month. Quite by accident, a lot of my recent writing seems to have focused on stress – an unexpectedly therapeutic subject to write about when your own life feels pretty stressful. Here’s a quick round-up…

My latest blog post for insurance company LV= was published in early March. Written for their Life Insurance blog, it looks at symptoms of stress and how to tackle them. A lot of it sounds like common sense but, collectively, we’re so bad at really managing our stress levels. It was great to get some really practical expert tips on how to identify the signs and catch it early.

Speaking of stress, later in the month I wrote for The Debrief about the science behind burnout. Experts told me what causes it, what it does to our physical and mental health, and how to avoid running on empty. Also for The Debrief, I spoke to endocrinologist Dr Helen Simpson about the crucial roles hormones play in our bodies. They might be another source of monthly stress, but turns out they’re also pretty essential to life!

For healthcare publication Mental Health Today (MHT), I looked into problems with mental healthcare transitions. Young people moving from child and adolescent (CAMHS) to adult (AMHS) services are often left in limbo, without support. I spoke to three young people about the unnecessary stress this caused at an already turbulent time in their lives.

Finally this month, I wrote for Broadly about the exciting work of photographer Diogo Duarte. When I first met Duarte I was struck by the vulnerability and intimacy of his self-portraiture. Since then, he’s been pioneering psychological photoshoots as a way of uncovering something of his subjects’ inner selves.

Identifying 5 stress symptoms, and how to tackle them – for LV’s Love Life blog:

Symptoms of stressHeadache, sweaty palms, increased heart rate: we’ve all felt the symptoms of stress before – but some are less obvious than others…

Mental health journalist Sarah Graham (@SarahGraham7) talks to the experts for their top tips on tackling the lesser known signs of stress.

Stress is a huge issue that many of us face in our day-to-day lives. In fact, between 2015 and 2016 there were nearly half a million (488,000) reported cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety.

Although it’s often clear when stress levels are creeping up, there are some symptoms that can be harder to recognise.

Continue reading at LV…

The Science Behind Why We Get Burnout – for The Debrief

The science behind burnout

Stress, exhaustion and burnout sometimes feel like inevitable side effects of modern life. When we’re all so busy working, playing, and burning the candle at both ends, how is anyone ever meant to avoid the occasional bout of feeling totally and utterly worn out?

Burning out is one of the major reasons for employees taking time off sick, and it can have a huge impact on all areas of your life, affecting your work, your social life, and your mental and physical health. We spoke to the experts about the science behind burnout, and how you can keep yourself from running on empty.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know Your Hormones Control – for The Debrief:

9 things your hormones controlWe all know hormones have a lot to answer for – the wild mood swings, the monthly acne, the brain fog – but do you know just how many everyday processes your hormones have an influence over?

As women, we tend to only think about hormones in terms of PMS, pregnancy and the menopause, but there’s so much more to our clever endocrine system than just regulating our fertility.

We spoke to hormone doctor Helen Simpson, from The Society for Endocrinology, about all the things you never knew your hormones were controlling.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Young People’s Mental Health – the Importance of Transitions – for Mental Health Today:

The importance of transitions

Young adulthood is a turbulent time for anyone. The hormones, the acne, the first loves, the pressure of exams, and the seemingly endless identity crisis about what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. It’s a big and difficult time of changes and transitions; and that’s without throwing a mental health problem into the mix.

There are also the well-documented problems with the transition from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS), to contend with. But how exactly is this affecting teens on the cusp of adulthood – and what can be done to make things better?

Continue reading at Mental Health Today…

A Celebration of Self: Capturing the Inner Lives of Women and Genderfluid People – for Broadly:

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but in a world where 93 million selfies are taken worldwide each day, how much can we really say about ourselves in a photo? For one London-based photographer, the answer is more remarkable than you might expect.

29-year-old mental health worker Diogo Duarte is the creative mind behind PhotoBard—a business offering clients “psychological portraits” that intimately reveal something of their inner selves. And for his mostly female clientele, like psychotherapist Jessica Mitchell, the results have been profound.

Continue reading at Broadly…

I’ve got lots more new stuff lined up for April, so watch this space! And if you’re interested in finding out more about working with me, please get in touch.

Balance: March 2017

After spending most of February hosting my own private pity party, I’m pleased to report that March has been, well… better.

Physically my health has improved enormously in the last 8 weeks. I’m off painkillers, I’m sleeping more sensible amounts at more sensible times of day, without sleeping pills, and my left wrist is finally free of its cast. I can handwrite properly again, which is wonderful, and I’m gradually getting my strength back. More frustratingly, I had expected to be free of the neck brace by now too. After going into hospital expecting to be released, the news that my consultant wanted me to keep it on for another five weeks felt like a massive blow. I wrote off two whole days just lying in bed feeling sorry for myself and depressed. Fortunately though I’ve just about mastered the art of covering it all up under a scarf.

So, what have I been up to?

Celebrating amazing women

March is always one of my favourite months of the year, and not just because it’s when the sun finally begins to emerge from its wintery sleep. Women’s History Herstory Month means International Women’s Day celebrations, Women Of the World (WOW) Festival at the Southbank, March4Women, the Million Women Rise march, and lots and lots of exciting feminist writing and events to get stuck into. This March was quieter than usual, obviously, but there was no shortage of sisterhood.

On 1 March I was gutted to miss the National Refugee Women’s Conference, after so many months of planning and looking forward to it. Women for Refugee Women hosted hundreds of refugee women and supporters from around the country for panel discussions, workshops, performances, and the launch of The Way Ahead report. Although I was confined to watching along on Twitter and Facebook, I was so proud of what an inspiring and uplifting event the team achieved.

Actress Noma Dumezweni, who’s currently playing Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, opened the conference with a moving speech – and musician Yasmin Kadi closed with a performance that just perfectly encapsulates everything I love about Women for Refugee Women. As our director Natasha Walter said, quoting Emma Goldman, “if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”:


International Women’s Day (8 March) was fairly muted – but I wore my WSPU T-shirt and wrote a client blog post about feminism, in the spirit of the day.

Then, that weekend, I put my face on and dressed up like a functional human being for the first time since the accident – to see my Women for Refugee Women sisters perform again, this time at WOW Festival. They never fail to blow me away, and it was lovely to catch up with so many of my talented and inspiring friends. As of today, I’m now back in the office a few hours a week, until the new comms exec takes over the role after Easter, and it feels so good to be back with my sisters.

Reading and writing

After having to put most of my work on hold following the accident, March has been a month of gently easing myself back in. I’ll post more about my recent writing work shortly, but in brief… As well as catching up on blog writing for my regular clients, and working on health features for my regular publications, I also started writing lifestyle content for a global healthcare brand, and had my first article published by Mental Health Today.

Of course, some days are easier than others. The brain fog, the forgetfulness, and the inability to get out of bed are too unpredictable to get back into my normal work routine just yet. But, for the most part at least, writing feels like a release rather than a chore again.

Having my cast removed has also made a big difference to my reading, so I’ve started making up for lost time in the book department! It’s been a really great month for captivating reads by brilliant women writers.

A Quiet Life

First up was A Quiet Life  by my colleague Natasha Walter – a gorgeously written, unputdownable novel about the wife of a Soviet spy during the Cold War. A Quiet Life was very almost my favourite read of the year so far – but then I read Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing

Homegoing

Set over three continents and seven generations, Homegoing  tells the story of two Ghanaian sisters’ descendants – after one marries a British slave trader, and the other is shipped to America to be sold as a slave. Gyasi’s novel is heartachingly beautiful – both devastating and restorative, brutal and hopeful – and without a doubt one of the best things I’ve read in a really long time. I raced through it in 24 hours.

Ghana holds a very special place in my heart because of the incredible Ghanaian women (and one very special Ghanaian little boy) who’ve had such an impact on my life in the last 18 months. I spent a lot of time thinking about them while I was reading Homegoing ; such a wonderfully raw and poignant tribute to their homeland, and to the power of human connections. I can’t wait to visit some day.

A Single Man

My third book of the month was a ‘get well soon’ gift, Christopher Isherwood’s classic A Single Man . I saw the film adaptation of it years ago (mostly for Colin Firth), but I obviously hadn’t remembered much of the plot. It centres on the grief of English professor George, whose partner was killed in a car accident 8 months earlier. Perhaps not the most thoughtful choice though, for someone recovering from a traumatic car accident! As beautifully written as it is, that detail was still just too raw and painful, and I had to stop about halfway through. I’m sure I’ll come back to it one day.

Shrill

Finally, I read Lindy West’s  Shrill (Notes from a Loud Woman) – another ‘get well soon’ present from a friend – which was far more uplifting than A Single Man. I have a complicated relationship with the Jezebel.com ‘loud women’ school of feminism – mostly because it’s always made me feel that my own quietness is one of my biggest failings as a feminist – but I enjoyed Shrill far more than I expected. West has done significantly more than her fair share of speaking out, and taking the relentless abuse for it, than most of us dare. Her victories – against the social acceptability of rape jokes, of fat shaming, and of Twitter abuse – are hard-won and well-deserved, and speak volumes about the power of women’s voices when we do speak out. She’s also refreshingly human and down to earth; raw in her honesty about the struggle to overcome shyness and self-loathing, and learning to love and accept herself. A really inspiring read.

Topping up my vitamin D

Although – to my huge frustration – I’m still not allowed to run or swim, the sunnier weather has made it easier for me to enjoy getting out and about. Somehow, despite knowing that exercise, fresh air and sunshine make me feel better, as a depressive I’m still always pleasantly surprised when they do. After a grim couple of months, March has been beautiful. The extra vitamin D has definitely given me a much-needed boost.

Self-care this month has meant buying myself daffodils; eating ice lollies, reading books, and sipping cider in the sunshine; going for gentle walks around the park; and enjoying some much-needed quality time with really wonderful friends. Emotionally I still feel unnervingly fragile, like the slightest insensitive question, or unexpected engine noise might shatter me into thousands of pieces. But I also feel loved and supported, and more capable of learning to love and support myself again.

Paris in the springtime

On Saturday, the most glorious day of the year so far, I wrapped up March with a trip to Paris with my mum and two very special little sisters. It was a celebratory trip, planned to mark the ten year anniversary of my parents becoming their respite foster carers. I still can’t believe the eldest is now almost 17, the same age I was when I first met her. Despite their problems, the pair of them have grown into such bright, thoughtful and funny young women, who I’m very proud to call my sisters.

The weather for our trip was perfect, and there really is nothing more beautiful than meandering around Paris in the springtime. I was surprised by how familiar everything still felt after six years away. The eight months I lived there, in 2010 and 2011, were simultaneously the best and worst of my life. I’ve always loved Paris, but the everyday stresses of living there certainly took some of the sheen off. My mental health during that time was dreadful. And yet Paris, in all of its darkness and light, still felt like home. Wandering along the river with my family, and eating breakfast by the Notre Dame, it was such a relief to escape from everything, even if only for a few hours.

There’s still a long way to go, but recovery is so much easier when the sun’s shining.