DEAR 2016…

It would mean a great deal to me if you could take a look at my visual composition on YouTube – an open letter to 2016.

Just as it’s been for many, 2016 has been a very bumpy ride – not helped, of course, by the recent presidential election (in my opinion).

We’re living in a very scary time. A time where we ought to be moving forwards instead of backwards towards hatred, division, discrimination.

2017 is to be a time of change – whether that change is positive or negative remains to be seen. A time for improvements to be made, for love to be shared, for us to use our voices.

“Dear 2016. There’s been times where I’ve treasured you, times where I’ve resented you. Times where I’ve got on my knees and prayed that your days, weeks and months would pass me by so that I no longer had to endure your bitter taste.”
“I began this year on a dimly lit road. And it’s funny how one person, and one simple series of events can have the capacity to diminish that light completely and rid you of your sense of direction.” 

“This year, I’ve learnt that I’m not immune to vulnerability. To deny my vulnerabilities is to deny my humanity.”

“While I wish this chapter had been slightly kinder, I would never tear out its pages… because it all makes for a good read at the end of it all. And to read on to the better chapters, you have to surpass the bad. Skipping chapters simply doesn’t work.”


How to Have A Good Day

Isn’t it such a terrible feeling when you return home in the evening after a hectic, emotionally challenging day at work, feeling utterly crap, utterly exhausted (physically and mentally), utterly deflated and utterly dissatisfied with your day/week/job/life? 
And the worst thing about it is that tomorrow you have to do it all over again – repeat the same lousy, miserable day of going through the motions. But what if we could take control of what sort of a day we have? What if we could learn to love & squeeze each and every drop out of this new day we’ve been blessed to have been given?
By a “good” day, I mean positive, productive and healthy. I know that not all of these methods will be everyone’s cup of tea but for this post, I really wanted to compile some scientifically proven ways to have a positive day which I, personally, incorporate into my daily routine and have found to be effective… so here goes!
1. Practise Gratitude: I’m a big believer in starting as you mean to go on (cliché, I know!). Truly though, the thoughts you start the day with will likely determine your actions/behaviour/mindset throughout the day as well. Taking this into account, the way in which I, personally, like to start my day is by practising gratitude. For this, I simply grab my journal, grab a pen and reflect upon three-five things that I am truly grateful for. What I like to do is change it up every single day and to test myself to think of more and more to be thankful of – this can be anything from “access to water and food”, to “concert tickets” that you were given as a birthday present, to “a special friend” or simply just the fact that you are ALIVE! This simple practice enables us to shift our focus from whatever difficulty we may be dealing with at the time, reminding us that whatever we feel we may be lacking in our lives, there are still many things to be grateful for. It is an incredibly powerful yet simple addition to your morning routine!

2. Set Your Intentions For The Day: Instead of walking into the day with no expectations or particular goals to achieve in mind, consider just a few things in your head – perhaps do this whilst washing your face, brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil. acknowledging how you desire to feel, you can enter any situation with a whole new sense of being — even as you’re simply drinking your cup of joe, stuck in traffic, or throughout your working. When you get clear on how you want to feel, you can make clear decisions that create the life you truly desire to live. The moment you tap into the feeling, you get your power back.
3. Journaling – Do you have a lot of pent up emotion which you rarely any feel relief from? Do you sometimes feel there’s nowhere for you to go when hell breaks loose? Those days are over because it’s time to unearth that dusty old journal from the back of your wardrobe. Use this to address your feelings, to address what’s conflicting you. Don’t leave those negative emotions to fester in that head of yours – pick up a pen and scribble down every word you’ve held back until now. By routinely clarifying your thoughts and feelings you’ll get a clearer picture of what you want and how you feel. You’ll learn what makes you feel confident and happy. It’ll also become more evident to you what situations and people are toxic to your well-being.

4. Getting Adequate Sleep – If you’re anything like I used to be and you’re going to bed at all kinds of bizarre hours of the morning, adequate sleep is essential! It sounds so straightforward and to be honest, it is.
In getting sufficient sleep each night, we wake the next morning much more equipped to tackle the day, difficult emotions, difficult people, difficult situations. Don’t just rock up to bed at 1:30am when you know that you’ve got to be up at 6am, thinking “That’s fine, I can function perfectly fine with this much sleep”. You’re not superhuman, whatever it is you’re doing that’s keeping you up can truly wait! Chances are if you’re depriving yourself of the sleep your body and mind NEED to rejuvenate, tomorrow you will be noticeably underperforming at work, have a very intense, snappy temperament. 7-9 hours is an absolute must!

5. Yoga: A simple 5-6 minute yoga routine has only recently become a pivotal part to my day. Not only does it enable me to become more centred and much more ready to plunge into the day that awaits but through the help of yoga, we can throw those negative and unhealthy feelings to the wayside. Yoga predominantly is based on the concentration of the breath and body, which helps to: Lower our blood pressure, lower our heart rate (thus helping to soothe a person’s mind and relieve worries), regulate our stress response system. While this may not initially sound like your cup of tea, I highly recommend sparing just 5-10 minutes each morning before rushing to the bathroom to clean your face and teeth especially if you struggle to find the motivation to get out of the door each morning or to start the day on a positive note. Here is a link to a yoga practice that I refer to every morning –
6. Meditation: Much like yoga, meditation focuses on the breath, the body and the sensations which come with it. 

The reality is that the majority of our daily lives are spent within our minds, focusing upon our thoughts as opposed to focusing upon our feelings, leading to more emotional stress which we are probably not even aware of! Henceforth, the act of meditation is extremely advantageous in enabling you to become acutely aware of what’s going on within you, in helping you to tap into your subconscious, in staying in touch with your inner self, in helping you to cope with distractions, in staying within the present moment (avoiding overthinking which we all know is destructive), and in shifting your mindset to remind you of what is truly important at the end of the day – YOU, your happiness, your health! 
The benefits to meditation are too many to count – I truly recommend setting aside at least 10-20 minutes every day for this simple addition to your day. There is a wonderful free app entitled “Stop, Breathe & Think” which enables you to “check in” and select your current emotions which, then, generates a list of meditations suitable for your current emotional state. This app is one that I use every single day without fail!

7. Sparing Time For Music, Television: 
I don’t know about you but music, primarily, is pretty essential to a smooth-running day for me! It’s what I listen to on my way in to work, often when walking down the street and also on my way back home. As we listen, music works on the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling blood pressure and heartbeat, as well as the limbic system, which is responsible for feelings and emotions. 

A TV show’s also a good call after a hardworking day. I usually opt for something lighthearted like a sitcom of some kind which helps me to unwind before bed.

8. Take The Time To Speak To a Loved One – even if it’s a simple twenty minute phone call. Often when we are going through a tough, or turbulent time, we tend to isolate and disassociate from others – even those who have not hurt us. Doing this will only magnify and exacerbate the issue in making us feel alone and as though there is no one that we can depend on. Don’t get to thinking that it’s just you against the world, that you’re on a “one man/woman mission”. Tell these people how much they mean to you. We all need a positive network of people in our lives. Additionally, take the time to listen, be compassionate towards them and their struggles. Remember – it may not just be you who is having a crappy week. Speaking to and listening to them can bring to both of you feelings of comfort.

9. Be Mindful Of What You Are Eating Throughout the Day – Some of you may be groaning at this point but let me explain for just a moment – in order to be healthy and happy, you must live for health and happiness (this includes eating). We must eat our way to happiness which is why I suggest reducing sugar and caffeine intake. Of course, it’s only normal that you should be tempted to go for that energy bar or mocha latte (that are both loaded with sugar) at times during your workday when your energy levels begin to plummet but what this does for us is spike our blood sugar, after we are given that temporary “hit”, we then crash right back down, leading us to feel even worse than before! As much as that tub of dairy ice cream at the back of the freezer might be calling your name after a hectic day and relieve you for a moment or two, try to go easy!
No – this doesn’t mean eradicating all of your favourite treats from your diet to lose weight (I am NOT an advocate of that! Every body type is just as valuable as another). 
Foods to consider incorporating into your diet are: walnuts, blueberries, flaxseed (all three of these are also brain & energy boosting to help kickstart a day of productivity), salmon, goji berries, apples, quinoa, brown rice. 

10. Keep Temptations/Addictions At Bay

No, I’m not just talking about alcohol or drugs. Addiction and dependency can come in many different forms – money-spending, shopping, exercise, sex, sugar etc – (I know I’ve spoken about sugar already but there are reports to say that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. I’m not joking!). Do these things honestly make us happy? After that hyper, stimulating, drunken night.. do we feel good about ourselves? In order to have the best day that we can, to achieve the highest level of happiness and health, we must firstly achieve cognitive clarity (clarity of the mind). Each of the things I listed above provide a quick fix, it temporarily masks a certain emotion or insecurity – that’s not what we’re after. We are after a long-term, sustained happiness. 
11. Anger & Negative People: Collectively, everyday we find numerous things to take our aggressions out on. Maybe you’ve been caught in a traffic jam, maybe your iPhone’s not working, maybe someone bumped into you whilst walking down the street and didn’t say sorry. If the actions/words/behaviour/beliefs of another person cause you aggravation, disappointment or anger, think to yourself: Clearly this person has different values/ways of behaving to me… These are not wrong – they are just different to mine.

Can I be okay with the fact they have different values/ways of behaving to me? 

Will an angry outburst positively affect my day?
If you do end up losing your temper, try to monitor this and view this as a bystander. Through the lens of curiosity, imagine you were somebody watching another person acting in this way. Would you be drawn to this person based on this? 
Anger is often a manifestation of sadness, tiredness, loneliness, stress – or perhaps a combination of all of these. Let’s try to become aware of these emotions which we may not be able to avoid and focus our energies upon how we can control our responses to them. As I mentioned before, will an angry outburst positively impact your day?

12. Speak/Make Contact With Strangers: 
“Umm.. why would I do that?”, you may be thinking but even a simple smile or “good morning” will suffice. Some days it’s as if we pass through it without really connecting with anyone which not only adds to our feelings of loneliness. We forget that we likely have plenty in common with those we pass by in the street. Open your heart up to people, break a piece of yourself off to give to others. 
As kids, we were repeatedly told “Don’t speak to strangers” – wise because you can never be totally sure of a person’s intentions but the price we pay for this caution is that sadly we grow up to believe we should be overly suspicious of others and their motives which is often, very much unwarranted, as believe it or not, the vast majority of individuals are, by no means, sociopaths!
Many people are really friendly. These momentary interactions with people can add something really special to your day. Remember – you’re not committed to speaking to this person ever again so if the person you speak to is really strange, it can make for a good story. We are social animals – we’re built for social interaction. 

13. Work Hard: Give yourself something to be proud of today so that when you finally get into bed at the end of the day, you can look back on it with pride and satisfaction. Remember – today will never come back around today. You have just one shot to make today a great day. 
Give yourself plenty of breaks and plenty of me-time, but just as importantly, work hard! Batter away at that keyboard in your office, give that customer you serve a smile and genuinely wish them a lovely day. 
To stay motivated, I like to remind myself that’s it’s better to be absolutely exhausted at the end of the day from working hard than to be absolutely exhausted from a negative emotion that’s controlled my mind and my day. 

14. What Do You Have To Look Forward To?:

Arguably one of the essential aspects to happiness is having something to look forward to. Without these
small pleasures, each week would be identical to the last. With this in mind, make some future plans (an hour, here and there, to meet a friend for coffee, a weekend break to a foreign city). In cultivating a sense of anticipation, we can enjoy the happy experience for longer and can transform an otherwise average day. 
Grab yourself a calendar is a concrete reminder of what you have to look forward to over the course of the next week. If there’s a slot of time on a particular day, find something to fill it. Give yourself something good to look forward to. 
15. Self-Kindness: If you continue thinking that today will be no different to the car-crash that yesterday was, it most likely won’t be. Similarly, if you wake up, look in the mirror and tell yourself “wow I’m so ugly”, how can you expect to have a beautiful day? You’re better than those negative kind of thoughts, and your day will be too once you remove those kinds of destructive thoughts. 
YOU are more than capable. You are in control. You are much more powerful than you think you are in this moment. Stop telling yourself that you’re “hopeless”, “ugly”, “stupid”. Those are lies and nothing good comes from lies. 
A terrible day is not inevitable. You’re a human being – it’s only natural that things will sometimes not go to plan (likely to no deliberate fault of your own). Give yourself the patience, kindness and consideration you need. We all fall down sometimes – it’s human nature but it’s also human nature to step back up which takes me to my final point…

16. Use Yesterday: Although the first thing most of us will want to do after a rubbish day is throw it away into a distant, dark corner of our minds, we should reflect upon what things didn’t go according to plan. Use what happened to motivate you, to grow you, to rejuvenate. The beauty of us, as human beings, is our resilience. Without even realising we’ve exhibited inner strength and resilience, if we think back to each bad day, each bad experience, we see how we’ve continued to keep on trying (even though we may never have envisaged ourselves doing so). 
If you are having a bad day, you are not a bad person by any stretch of the imagination. You are stronger than your circumstances. Tomorrow is a new opportunity to try again – for improvement, growth, happiness and health. 

“..But They Don’t Love Me” – A Lesson In Self-Love

Despite the indisputable diversity among us, one thing which all of us have in common (no matter how some try to claim otherwise) is our desire to be liked or be loved. As much as it is a necessary or arguably essential component to our day, our happiness, our life as a whole, the desperate longing for this type of reassurance and reciprocation of affection can, more often than not, contribute to a negative, despondent, excessively self-critical mindset. I’ll, shortly, explain in further detail my reasoning behind this.
Only yesterday, a very close friend of mine (who, for privacy reasons, we’ll call her “Emily”) came to me with a problem that she had found herself in. In short, she had begun to fall for a guy who she had known for quite a few years, yet when Emily informed him of her feelings, he truthfully admitted that he did not share this level of affection for her. 

Here are a few extracts from mine and Emily’s conversation:

My feelings were really hurt when I heard how my friend was depending so greatly on another person to validate her worth, her beauty. A potential partner is merely meant to embrace and magnify these positive qualities. It upset me to know that she, herself, felt so incapable of seeing anything “worth loving” within herself and that only this person, whom she’d developed feelings for, could help her to acknowledge that she had these positive traits. To me, this perfectly exemplifies a way in which this sort of a situation can be destructive.

There’s no getting around the heartache and emotional turbulence which comes with such a bruising realisation. However, if we allow this type of experience to diminish our confidence, our belief that we are worthy of love and that we will someday find it, without a doubt we will end up upon a dangerous road which only fills us with destructive feelings of inadequacy. 

For starters, let’s try not to think of these experiences where someone we’ve loved has not loved us in return as a “rejection” but rather as a “redirection”. I don’t know if those of you reading believe that circumstances come about through a God, through fate or simply through coincidence but for me, I like to think that, no matter the source, there is a lesson, a reason behind every experience and each card that we are dealt. Similarly, I believe that, with every person we meet, we learn just a little bit more about ourselves – whether we consciously acknowledge this or not. 

Either way, what we learn from these situations is needed to prepare us for better relationships in the future. Therefore, this sort of an experience is redirecting you to something better. The fact that this person has not reciprocated your feelings is, not necessarily, a reflection of the person you are either (unless you have four rows of teeth, fur growing upon your eyeballs and a terrible personality). It does not mean you were inadequate or not pretty or smart enough. This person, sadly, was just not the right person for you romantically and consequently, you were not the right person for them. 

We mustn’t keep telling ourselves “he/she doesn’t love me.. that means I’m not enough. What if nobody will think I’m enough? What if I’ll always be alone?” – these thoughts do nothing but cloud our judgment further and isolate us not only from the truth but also the people we will go on to meet. Until we find love for ourselves, it will most likely remain just as difficult for us to truly be ourselves around others. 

I, personally, have been in similar situations – one in particular which completely ate away at my self esteem and not only left me feeling worthless and unlovable but led to some very unhealthy, compulsive behavioural patterns in attempt to win that person’s affection, to ‘correct’ or at least ‘improve’ myself somewhat to be considered more attractive. 

Luckily, I’m now in the place where I no longer expect somebody to emerge from the woodworks, sweep me off my feet, show me how worthy I am of their affection. Instead, I look only to myself to know my true worth.

Countless amounts of people would always tell me “How can you expect someone else to love you when you can’t even love yourself?”. I would always turn a blind eye to this comment. “How I feel about myself doesn’t stop anyone else from loving me”, I would think… and to some extent, this is true. 

However, I do think that working on yourself before a relationship is extremely valuable. Is a relationship with this person you totally adore really *that important if you are not in a happy, healthy relationship with yourself (able to stand on your own two feet, recognise the strength, beauty, independence and wisdom that you hold)? 

There’s a question to ask yourself if you currently yearn for love or the girl/guy of your dreams.
You can’t wait for someone to finally bring into existence the self-esteem that you’ve always lacked. You can’t wait for that special someone to pull you out of your difficult circumstances. 

There is nothing or nobody that you need to complete you because you, on your own, are fantastic. YOU have all you need, you always have – the only thing that’s missing is your ability to love yourself and see through your own eyes that you are worthy of this love, not through the affection of someone else.

Just for the record, I love you! I think you’re worth it and I also think that if your time hasn’t yet come, it’s still to come. Remember – timing is everything! Until that time comes around, don’t wear yourself out trying to search for love or the right person. Instead, invest in yourself – see what YOU (not him/her) have to offer.

So, as you finish reading this, I would like to ask yourself once again – is a relationship with this person you really like *that important if you are not in a happy, healthy relationship with yourself?

Priority & Perspective

This crazily connected world that we live in with copious social networks to constantly keep up-to-date with is both a blessing and a curse — I think so, anyway. 

So many of us wake up in the morning and the first task we attend to is checking our phone for emails, Facebook notifications, how many “likes” we got on our last Instagram photo etc. “Oh, and let’s check Amazon to see if that pair of skinny jeans has decreased in price”. I, too, fall into this trap and although, I usually succeed in fighting the temptation to check my phone before I’ve even rubbed my eyes or paid attention to my thoughts, the thought is always there! 

I’m going to sound like such a nagging parent but it is precisely these types of factors which not only contribute to the stress (especially with the temperamental tendencies of technology) but also sidetrack us and distract us from our purpose and from really taking full advantage of the 24 hours we’ve been given! First and foremost, I think it’s important to recognise how incredible it is that we’ve been given today to do as we wish while others will not have been given this opportunity.
I personally would much prefer to say after the day is done that I had spent it focusing and investing time in the activities which benefit me psychologically, physically and emotionally rather than say that I spent it sitting procrastinating on my iPhone.

NB: It would be hypocritical of me to say that I completely avoid my phone throughout the day – this is absolutely not the case but I do limit my use of it and drastically prioritise the things that will contribute to the smooth-running of my day, my mindset, my physical well-being. Investing in these things in order to really take care of myself gives me such a feeling of gratification. 
As cliché and slightly morbid as it sounds, time truly is short. I don’t know about those of you reading but sometimes, my week goes by in a flash and I’m left not overly certain of what it is I’ve accomplished. Similarly, a day can pass and it feels as though there was not nearly enough time to complete the tasks I planned to complete. 

However, in reality, it simply comes down to the act of prioritisation. 
Tackle the day from the right angle. “What can I accomplish today that will ensure my mindset, perspective are kept on track? Can I do anything today that could have a positive impact on my future?”. Don’t leave to fate what you can do singlehandedly – don’t undermine your ability to make a significant change to your life! Of course some things cannot be achieved overnight and require more time to truly set in motion e.g. landing a job where you’re destined to be for the rest of your life! Let’s not forget physical, psychological well-being – is there anything that can be done to maximise these? 

We, as humans, are naturally drawn to dwelling on things when things are maybe not totally going to plan (expressing our frustrations on Twitter which I may have done “once or twice” in the past!) as opposed to being practical. Why not grab that dusty, half-used notebook or journal from the closet and address the things that are causing you to suffer? Those words, thoughts, feelings are not meant to be neglected and left to fester in your mind. Imagine if you could rid of yourself of some of the pressure you’re putting upon yourself to suppress these thoughts and feelings.

It is never simple knowing just who we can turn to – like many of you reading this, before now I’ve confided in people who have turned out to be the opposite to how I initially perceived them to be. Therefore, writing about what’s conflicting you can be just as advantageous as speaking to a friend. Alternatively, investing in some other cathartic means of self-expression may also be a good call. 

Keeping this attitude can be really difficult, especially in times where experiences or current situations drain us motivationally but reaching for that bag of Doritos, can of Coke and TV remote will not rectify any personal difficulties. Sugar and saturated fats are, in fact, likely to give you a quick buzz of energy and then leave you feeling just as bad as before, if not worse! 

Instead, aim to do something that WILL have an impact upon your overall well-being. Stop letting your mind tell you “You’re too tired to go for that 20 minute run, sit and finish those M&Ms instead”. Take control and start telling yourself “In an hour, I’m going to spare 20 minutes to have a run so that I can keep physically active and also somewhat improve my current emotional, psychological state”. 

Within the last few weeks, I’ve been organising periods within the day where I can turn off my phone, leave it in a room upstairs, be away from TV screens. 
This enables me to become fully present in the moment and examine my thoughts, feelings. I like to spare time on a daily basis for meditation, photography, songwriting, going for a walk, exercise and journaling. What you choose to invest in is totally for you to decide but be thoughtful of your own well-being and health. Do something that is going to make a difference to you, your day and potentially your future. 

Before I draw this to a close, I would just like to remind you that you hold the strength within you to change your life for the better and to overcome your current circumstances, however intimidating or overpowering they appear presently. 

Don’t allow your negative experiences or sadness to dominate your life, your day, your ability to be happy and healthy. Today, I want you to prioritise your happiness and well-being. 
Lots of love to anyone reading!

Letter to My 13 Year Old Self

Dear 13 year old Steven,

Adolescence will be not an easy ride by any stretch of the imagination, much the same as adulthood, it will hold many trials and tribulations – some of which you have already begun to encounter! These experiences are going to cause incredible amounts of hurt, pain and will further shatter the illusion ingrained in you during childhood that life will be a care-free, easy process. Ultimately, though, these experiences will be monumental in the thick skin you will later develop. It is only when experiences strip us bare and leave us at our most delicate and vulnerable that a thick skin can be uncovered. 
These periods will be a real mixture of bitter and sweet. Some of the lows you are going to encounter will be no short of devastating and frankly unfathomable but if there’s one thing you should bear in mind and take with you everywhere you go, it is that life is worth it. Giving up is not an option that is allowed – Life is to be treasured and held onto, regardless of how much of a sick, cruel bastard it turns out to be at times. The messes you will find yourself in are not forever – this is as much a cliché as it is the truth!
Gay, ashamed and insecure describe you perfectly at this point and sadly these adjectives will be relevant for quite a few more years yet. Despite this, you won’t always have to run from who you KNOW you are or be so troubled by it. You won’t always have to scroll through the Internet for hours in desperate search of a “gay cure” (in years to come you will be laughing at how ridiculous this sounds!). There is a place for you in the hearts of many and this small detail, lo and behold, does not deaden your self-worth or your right to be loved. 
This seemingly inescapable loneliness and void which you are only too familiar with (having lived with it since an early age) will, by no means, dissipate. It is something that you will continue to live alongside, however you will find a way to manage this. Subsequently, eventually you will acquire the ability to appreciate yourself and not yearn for anybody else to complete you. 
Additionally, you will discover that the things that set you apart and cause you feel misunderstood and alienated do not always serve you negatively. These attributes in fact allow your beauty to be projected so much more brightly and will be the things that draw people to you. 
It’s probably the last thing on your mind at thirteen years old but believe it or not, in a few short years, you are going to fall in love for the first time. The experience is going to take you completely by surprise and will be one that’s both extremely difficult and very heartbreaking. It will unhealthily affect the way in which you look/think of yourself, how worthy you are of love and your ability to accept love from people in the future. It will take years for you to realise but eventually you will understand that you need no validation or confirmation of your worth. No person is your sole source of happiness and there is nobody you need in order to feel complete. 
Later down the line, your trust is going to be severely tested. Family members will disappoint you to the point where you can no longer call the house you live in your home because it just feels so tainted by the deceit and selfishness of others. This, too, will affect the caution you take and the anxiety you feel over future relationships of your own and will outline how segregated and damaged your family is. Nonetheless, it will provide you with an unshakable determination to go about things the right way – to not abuse the trusts of those closest to you; to remain honest and maintain your values.
Remember that you are an INDIVIDUAL – therefore, don’t allow people to discourage these individualities or make you believe that they’re wrong. After all, these people are simply just unhappy with themselves and their lack of empathy and ability to look beneath the surface of a person will do them absolutely no favours. 
You are beautiful – regardless of how much acne you have on your face, regardless of your sexuality, regardless of what anyone else will have you belief. Fierce winds are on their way. However, the sun will shine eventually. Just you wait.

5 Ways to Improve Lifestyle 

Before I get properly started, I would like to apologise for my lack of activity & consistency with publishing new material. Over the last few months, I’ve been preoccupied with a series of other commitments – not to mention quite a lot of stress which, largely, has motivated the subject of this blog entry – health & lifestyle.
Lifestyle is something I am very passionate about and is, most definitely, near the top on my list of priorities (which I think comes as a shock to many people as the reality is that few people of my age prioritise wellbeing to the extent that I do).
My idea of health is not limited to one area alone, such as fitness or physical health, instead it includes a whole array of things – psychological state, spiritual wellbeing, diet, the types of people that are around us.
Thus, I strive to follow a holistic approach with my lifestyle which encapsulates each of these elements. 

Many of you may be thinking at this point “Who even is this guy? What does he know about healthy lifestyle? He’s no doctor”. You’re quite right to wonder about this too. In answer to these questions, I am just a regular person like all of you – I am not a holistic dietician, doctor or anything in between, however for a long time, I was somebody who took minimal care of their lifestyle & health, especially during a time where I was very psychologically unwell. These past experiences have undoubtedly inspired me to take extremely good care of myself and to encourage others to do the same. All of these things I have put into practice in my own life and have been monumental in creating a healthy lifestyle for myself. 

1: Time.
Set aside some time for yourself & your spirit each and every day. This appears fairly simple at face value but can in itself be challenging if you spend many hours working or have any other equally time-consuming commitments. However, it is essential that we do this otherwise we are only allowing ourselves to be defined by our occupations when there is, of course, so much more to us than this alone. If our minds are constantly focused on the stressful factors in our lives, we have no chance to recharge our batteries & simply end up becoming psychologically exhausted. Time to yourself may come in the form of binge-watching shows on Netflix, journaling or participating in therapeutic & creative activities in which you can channel your feelings of stress into – cooking/baking perhaps?
One of my favourite things to do when I feel overwhelmed is sparing half an hour to meditate. For me, it helps me to practice mindfulness, resulting in a heightened focus, patience and equanimity. I’m by no means saying that this will benefit everyone but if you are interested in taking up meditation, an app I find to be greatly effective is “Stop, Breathe, Think” which enables you to check-in, describe your psychological and physical state which generates a list of suitable meditations for you. 

2: Exercise. 
This is going to sound very cliché and mundane to people reading and believe me when I say that up until recently, I shared this perspective about exercising. I used to be under the impression that adequate exercise was code for daily intensive hour long gym workouts which, much to my relief, is by no means the case. 
In reality, a simple 15-20 minutes worth of exercise 3-5 times a week is more than sufficient. When we take part in exercise, Our bodies release endorphins which interact with brain receptors, triggering a feeling of ease and positivity. Also, exercise and physical activity serves to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the bodily tissues, helping our cardiovascular systems to work more efficiently. The more efficiently our hearts & lungs work, the more energy we have to go about our daily tasks. 

3: Diet.
By this point you’re probably contemplating not reading any further – “exercising and changing my diet? Umm, I don’t think so”, some of you may be thinking. Eating completely organic foods, of course, is not an option for a lot of us due to the often dramatic price difference between those and non-organic foods. 
However, diet plays such a vital role – one that many people underestimate. Not only does it ensure our bodies are kept in working order but through a healthy diet & conscientiousness, we can considerably improve our overall health.
Firstly, sugar – I’m sure there’s little you don’t already know about excessive amounts of sugar. For starters, it causes insulin spikes, leading to a series of health problems overtime, such as obesity, cholesterol, diabetes etc. it is empty calories (meaning there’s no nutritional value to sugar whatsoever) and for our bodies to get all the nutrition required (without gaining fat) every calorie needs to count and provide the vitamins, protein, good fats etc our bodies need. 
Secondly, dairy products and foods containing milk – this shocks many people but dairy is in fact one of the most inflammatory foods a person can eat. Ever wonder why we hear the term “lactose intolerance” so often every single day? This is why! The inflammation it causes in a large percentage of the population results in a number of digestive issues such as bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea, as well as contributing massively to skin conditions, such as acne due to dairy’s hormone content which interacts with our own hormones. 
Additionally, consumption of dairy products significantly contributes to weight gain and cholesterol. “But we need milk for our bones” – not so! According to hundreds of studies over the years, people that consume large quantities of milk and dairy products are much more susceptible to bone fracture. 
In terms of calcium, here are some dairy free rich calcium sources: 

• spinach • kale • broccoli • almonds

4: Toxic people.
Whether we like it or not, those around us have a seismic impact upon our own behaviour and perspectives. If we are surrounded by people who are continuously pessimistic and ungrateful, it only makes sense that we will also adopt some of these traits. Assessing which people are good for you and which people are not is an important measure to take to ensure that you. You may want to ask yourself whether this person encourages you, whether this person spreads positivity. How emotionally draining is this person? How supportive of your accomplishments or aspirations is this person? 

5: Structure.
In today’s society, there are constant distractions everywhere we go – from email notifications to aimless scrolling on Twitter and Instagram, we consistently get sidetracked and off-course with our productivity. Before long, the day’s through and you’re left unsure as to what you’ve actually accomplished. 

However, if we attempt to structure just a few parts of everyday (not too many parts otherwise this might lead to more stress and frustration if the routine you’ve formulated isn’t quite kept to), we can organise our lives so that it makes senses to us and wake up with a sense of order and ownership. Structuring such things as when it’s time to go to bed or when to wake up in the morning can help us to build good, healthy habits and instil a feeling of determination in us, preparing us for a prosperous, productive day.

Small Acts of Kindness

With so many of us fawning over the latest iPhone model & brand of designer trousers, it’s easy for us to overlook the significance of the practise of kindness & generosity which, believe it or not, don’t always have to come in the form of a two week all-inclusive holiday to the Bahamas as a gift for somebody’s birthday (although I, for one, would not refuse such a gift if the opportunity represented itself!) I am a firm believer that even the smallest, or seemingly most meaningless acts of kindness can go an extremely long way & have a seismic impact upon another person’s outlook, spirit, day or week. 

In my opinion, it all starts with the act of looking beyond a person’s initial appearance or perceived “differences”. It’s a case of accepting that everybody is the same – each of us have lots to offer, have dreams, aspirations & a story to tell. 

It’s an inescapable reality that the majority of us live in fear of each other and subsequently, hold ourselves back, refuse to communicate or establish a connection with people we come into contact with & thus restrict ourselves. 

This is something I am guilty of, truth be told. More & more recently, I am becoming aware of this:

• Keeping my distance from large groups of loud young people out of fear that I may be ridiculed or victimised in some way

• Choosing not to sit beside somebody I’m unfamiliar with. 

• Avoiding eye contact with somebody when walking down the street.

However, in maintaining the mentality that we are all human beings and performing small gestures of kindness, we are able to become less inhibited & frightened of the people around us – we are able to share a piece of ourselves with these people & potentially establish a connection with them. 

Such acts of kindness can be as simple as:

• Smiling at people you briefly make eye contact with

• Asking that uncharismatic barista you always see in Starbucks how their day has been

• Holding the door for somebody

• Taking the time to tell a loved one the extent to which you love them. 

• Starting a conversation with that person at the bus stop even if it goes no further than the first ten seconds of it.

It is precisely these small acts of kindness that can bring so much colour to a person’s day – which, for all we know, may have been a stress-induced nightmare. A simple smile may be enough to re-inspire and reinvigorate someone who typically passes through each day feeling a lack of recognition or notice. Sometimes, the one thing a people is in need of is a willing listener with an open heart and mind.

If I’m totally honest, I believe the horrific incidents that took place in Orlando to have inspired me to better myself. The incidents truly have awakened & instilled a feeling of urgency in me – to give love & kindness more freely. 

Through the daily practise of kindness, we have the ability to progress in our individual journeys as well as contribute to other people’s. As well as casting light upon a dismal day of another person and adding a potential spring to that person’s step, kindness results in feelings of elevation & an increased self-efficacy. 

On a biochemical level, the act of kindness & altruism serves to increase levels of dopamine in the brain, thus bringing about the sensations of a “natural high”. 

A ripple effect occurs due to the pursuit of kindness, in that when we carry out even a small gesture of kindness, it has the ability to evoke feelings of inspiration in that person to reflect the same kindness in their own actions. Henceforth, although a small action of kindness may be but a stone dropped in the ocean, seemingly obsolete & overlooked, just as a stone causes waves when dropped into the ocean, so does kindness. 

Now, as I draw this blog entry to a close, I would like you to reflect upon your individual efforts and willingness to give kindness on a daily basis – even to people you are a stranger to. 

Do you find yourself holding back from trying to establish a connection with people you come in contact with? Do you avoid making conversation or simply making eye contact with those you pass by on their street or those you work alongside, day in, day out. What about the opportunities you’ve passed up on to ask a sales clerk how their day has been or simply offering a smile to somebody? 

Through a collective contribution & effort in the distribution of kindness, we can cause the world in which we live in to be a kinder, more tolerant, more tranquil, pleasant & connected environment to exist in.