Dealing with dark days

Literally, dark days. You know the story…it’s dark when you get up and dark when you get home. #northernhemisphereproblems…

The lack of natural light in winter can affect some people quite acutely. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression linked to the winter months. The symptoms include lethargy, persistent low mood, anxiousness, loss of interest in activities – which then tend to improve in spring/ summer.

I’ve always noticed a change in my mood and a general loss of enthusiasm around November/December but until a few years ago I had never heard of SAD. As you might guess from my blog title…I love sunshine and I soon find myself missing the bright mornings! Despite experiencing 26 winters, the darkness always comes as a surprise to me. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt unsettled, restless and more tired than usual. Mornings are difficult.

Here are some of my strategies to help alleviate the winter blues…

Firstly (and most importantly!): get outside!

Yep, it’s a struggle if you work 9-5 in an office (or like me, in a windowless lab).  Last winter, I tried to get out for a run at least one lunchtime a week – I’m going to do the same this year (haven’t started yet though…maybe next week, better late than never  🙂 ).  Walking would do – anything than gets you out in the fresh air! Exercise in general is a great boost for anyone struggling with low mood.

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Autumn at Westonbirt Arboretum

Daylight bulbs

As the name suggests, these light bulbs mimic daylight. It’s bright, white light – very different to the yellow light we typically have in our homes. My daylight bulb (an Amazon purchase for under £10) has moved through 3 different houses and is still going after 5 years of almost daily use. I love it! It’s so bright that my old housemates used to call my room the magic box. It’s currently in my closet so that I get my daylight fix when I’m getting ready in the mornings.

So, does it work? I’ve had mine for so long that it’s difficult to notice changes but I think it helps kick start my mornings and makes me feel more alert.

It’s s a cheap and cheerful option and as an added bonus, white light apparently causes your eyes less strain than yellow light…

 

Daylight bulbs continued….my Phillips Lumie Bodyclock

I first came across this daylight alarm clock a few years ago. I struggle to get up in the mornings and this product claims it can ‘keep your sleep cycle on track, boosting mood, energy and productivity levels all day’.

The premise: you set a rough time to be woken up and the Lumie gradually illuminates to mimic the sunrise, waking you gently. There is science behind this – waking slowly keeps your levels of stress hormones low and has also been linked to increased alertness during the day!

Does it work? Yes – in that it wakes me up. Opening your eyes to a bright room instead of pitch black is a nice feeling and definitely a more peaceful process than being jerked awake by a phone alarm! But I’m still quite good at ignoring the light and going back to sleep so I always set a back-up audible alarm…

I might be more effective if I used it regularly but my boyfriend does NOT appreciate daylight at 6am. No one likes being woken up earlier than they need to be and on a hair-washing morning I have to get up a full hour before him! (I have been trying to re-introduce this over the last few days so maybe I’ll be able to post an update!)

Of course this is just scratching the surface and I’m not an expert – just sharing in the hope that this is useful to someone. Do you have any tips for dealing with the dark winter months?

H x

If you think you have SAD and it’s affecting your life – or if you have any other type of depression – don’t suffer alone. There is always someone who can help  🙂

OOTD: A Cosy Jumper and Cold Ankles!

I usually don’t have time to take OOTD photos but my friend was delayed on the way to our coffee date this morning, so I had a few extra minutes before starting my walk down to the high street.

One of my new cold weather staples is this simple grey funnel neck jumper from Zara. It’s oversized – perfect for hiding warm layers underneath. I see so many ‘winter’ outfits which are just a loose-knit jumper with some jeans – I would freeze! Give me lots of layers any day.

Annoyingly, the neck is tiny (or maybe I have a large head) and the fabric doesn’t stretch much.  Every time I put it on I feel like I’m in danger of pulling hair out. But when it’s on, I love it. It will get lots of wear this winter!

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Note to self: Don’t wear cropped jeans in winter. You will have very cold ankles. Ripped jeans probably weren’t the best idea either….#breezy

Jumper: Zara. Bag: (new) Topshop. Coat: (old) River Island. Jeans and boots: (old) ASOS

H x

Outfit – My version of Evening Autumn Glam

So, Saturday was the big Halloween night out in the UK… but unfortunately I didn’t get to wear fancy dress. We were invited to two (two! never felt so popular haha) themed house parties….but missed out on both due to a family birthday dinner.

Probably a good thing that I couldn’t go – my Black Swan costume is waaay out of date. Every girl was either going with the Mexican Day of the Dead theme or as Harley Quinn.

So although I missed out on the party action (not bitter at all :-p) I did, however, get to dress up.

For me, Autumn = rich, dark red tones and jewel colours. I brought out my old velvet dress – a gorgeous royal blue- and dressed it down/cosy-ed it up with a turtle neck jumper and tights. Out came the berry nail varnish and purple lipstick.

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It was really mild last night and with all my layers I didn’t really need a coat, but I wore this lovely camel-coloured number just because. I love this coat. It’s a belted mac style. The drape of the fabric feels so elegant. However, elegant is not something I get to channel often. Nights out are usually ‘jeans down the pub’. I feel like this coat needs to be worn with some sort of heel. So…. this was the first time I’d actually worn it out! (I’d worn it lots in the house, obvs…..)

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I fancy adding another dark lip colour to my collection – I think I’ll go for something matt next time. I love some of the vampy make-up looks around in Autumn/Winter!

H x

Not Going Out

At the grand old age of 27, I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that my days of partying like a carefree teenager are over.

Now that my boyfriend have moved out of the city, nights out are logistically more difficult. When we go out together, someone usually ends up driving -that someone is usually me. If one of us goes out separately, it’s a case of an expensive solo taxi ride or begging the other half to pick you up past bedtime.

I complain to my boyfriend on a regular basis about my lack of party action. One of the reasons for leaving our central city flat was that didn’t go out regularly enough to justify the location. But any time that I’m stuck inside cooking dinner on a Saturday night, I’ll listen to Radio 1’s dance anthems and invariably get FOMO. Sometimes I feel like I’m running out of time to enjoy myself before I have to ‘properly’ settle down.

But I’ve never been known as a wild party animal and maybe I only want to go out because I think I should be. I LOVE to dance and I’m partial to a few cocktails, but I also associate bars and clubs with unwanted male attention and being jostled by sweaty drunk people while I’m trying to get down to Rihanna. I’m also not a big drinker due to a combined fear of hangovers and feeling out of control. My goals on a night out are catching up with friends and getting some dance action; other seem to go out with the sole aim of getting completely smashed. Not my idea of a good time.

Most of my friends go ‘out’ a lot less now anyway – they have busy lives, more responsibilities and less time for hangovers. With the expectation and excitement of a rare ‘big’night out, it seems to be easier to get carried away – and the night will end with someone in bed before midnight, drunken arguments and/or an exhaustingly long journey home.

So these days I’m learning to be content with casual nights at the pub – although if next year is anything like this one, there will be plenty of weddings and hen dos for me to get my party fix! #latetwenties!

H x

Fitness Highs and Lows: A Charity Cycle and an Unexpected Half Marathon!

A bit of a long one – I talk about the two sporting events that I’ve just taken part in and how they didn’t exactly go to plan!

The Charity Cycle

16th Sept: I undertook a charity cycle with work colleagues. 170 miles over 2 days.

I’d been training for this for almost 6 months. I took part in the same event last year so I already knew that I was capable of the challenge. Despite this being a more demanding ride (more miles and more hills), I was relaxed with my training. I mostly cycle with my boyfriend, who pushes me hard. I like to dawdle and look at pretty landscapes along the way, but he is solely focused on getting from A to B in the quickest time possible (maybe it’s a male thing!).

Before the ride, I could cover 70 miles at a reasonable pace and barely feel it in my legs the next day.  We’d also accidentally covered a number of ‘worst case’ scenarios – getting lost and not having enough food or water. But a group event like this is a very different experience and you can’t plan for the weather….

Day 1: We had 25 punctures. 25!!!! Storms and flash floods the day before had covered the roads in flint and debris. Our skinny road bike tyres didn’t stand a chance. Only 4 of the 27 riders survived the weekend without suffering any punctures at all.

I was forced to quit the ride and jump in a support van near the end of the day after discovering a huge hole in my tyre. Before that, I’d been having a great day. I unintentionally found myself in one of the fastest (all male) groups and was pleased to discover that I was able to keep pace.

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Day 2: I decided to hang back in a slower group and ride with friends. That didn’t go so well. The temperature had dropped. The wind had picked up. I didn’t eat enough the night before. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. I could go on with the reasons – I have spent hours over-analysing this already.

Basically, I didn’t have enough fuel to keep going. I became so cold and exhausted that I felt close to fainting. When my vision starting blurring I knew it was time to put myself in the van before I held up my team mates!

I was really disappointed not to complete the whole distance. It was still a great achievement but I have a tendency to set high standards for myself. I knew I was capable of doing it. I was a relatively experienced cyclist compared to some of the team. I was annoyed at having played the nutrition game so wrong. Also, this was a team event and I felt so out of it that I couldn’t really connect with the enjoyment and celebrations at the end of the ride.

But the important thing is, we’ve raised over £10k for Asthma UK! 🙂

My first half-marathon

27th Sept was the Bristol half marathon. 4 days before, this message appeared on my phone: ‘Well done on the cycle! Don’t suppose you fancy running the half marathon this weekend?!!’ A friend’s friend had dropped out due to injury and a free place was up for grabs.

My immediate reaction was NO WAY. Despite supporting various friends running the Bath Half for 6-7 consecutive years, I’ve always said that I’d never run 13 miles. Excuse no.1: I find running a bit boring. I can’t be arsed with all that training. Excuse no.2: My granny knees can’t take said training.

But then I thought again. I’m probably the fittest I have ever been right now. Certainly fit enough to run a half decent time without dying.  I had all the cycling training behind me and I run (a little bit) anyway. My friend, an experienced long distance runner, was happy to take the course at a relaxed pace. So we went for it – going in with no preconceptions about time or ability. Just to enjoy it.

And it was great! We did it in 2hrs 6mins – a time I am very happy with considering I hadn’t ‘trained’ and in fact, had never run further than 6k (3.7miles) before. Although the last few miles were a bit of a struggle, I had enough energy to chat to my friend (and generally mess around) throughout the course. And we managed a sprint finish too!!

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The atmosphere was great and I would definitely consider running another Half in fancy dress, to get even more support. Sunshine and showers on the day made for reasonable running conditions. UK runners, if you’re looking for a half marathon for next year, Bristol is great – it’s a lovely scenic route and according to my friend (the more seasoned half marathon runner), it’s really good logistically too.

Before any runners yell at me, I am not advocating doing an event like this without training! My legs started hurting from mile 3. The day after, I could barely walk. I’ve had a sports massage today which has pretty much sorted them out.

So, there we go, the best laid plans etc….Anyone else got any big sporting events coming up?

H x

 

OOTD: Loving my (new) New Balance trainers

The past 2 weeks have been a busy blur. With the bathroom re-vamp ongoing (more on that when it’s finally complete) and preparations for the charity bike ride (completed (and survived) on Saturday – again, probably a separate post later) – I’ve barely thought about blogging!

Here’s a little OOTD post featuring my New Balance 373s, which I’m currently living in. When I say OOTD, this has been almost every other day for the past week or so!

I never used to be much of a fashion trainer girl – I own a pair of the almost ubiquitous white converse but tend to favour boots for everyday wear. Working in a lab, I can’t wear sandals (or anything where my skin is exposed) so my shoe collection is 90% boots.

This year I’ve finally branched out into trainers and I love mixing them into a smarter look. I got some Adidas superstars earlier in the year but rarely wear them in work – I think they push the already very relaxed ‘smart casual’ office code a little too far. But they are COMFY. At the grand old age of 27, with knees and feet abused by years in heels, I appreciate comfy. I’d been keeping an eye out for some other trainers in a darker colour and spotted these – I love the navy, grey and coral pink colour combination!

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I’ve worn them to work with dark denim and a white cotton shirt, but mostly I just pick up the colours with a simple grey t shirt and skinny jeans or leggings. Easy, and I love it. I was a bit too late for 90s fashion but I’m happy to go with the casual classics this time around!

H x

Growing up before the Internet – Do I wish I’d had YouTube as a teenager?

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When YouTube launched in 2005, I was 16. I can’t remember when or how I first came across it – 99% of my internet usage was MSN instant messenger, MySpace and Bebo (blasts from the past! Who remembers them?).

There is an unbelievable amount of content on YouTube now – and it’s not all funny cats.  There are tutorials for EVERYTHING. How to fix your car, fix your computer, do DIY, clip your dog, experiment with makeup, braid your hair. I’ve watched of all these and more (but, not gonna lie, I mainly watch cute puppies).

In fact, I was checking out an eye shadow tutorial earlier when the question behind this post popped into my head. What would my formative years have been like if I’d had access to the YouTube of today?

Growing up in a small village in relatively rural Wales, my world was limited when it came to beauty, fashion and style. The only ‘modern’ fashion store was a tiny New Look with an extremely narrow range. I once went to a birthday party where 3 of us were wearing the same Eeyore t-shirt…

I was never a very girly girl and I didn’t really get ‘into’ clothes and makeup until my late teens. I don’t have any sisters and they weren’t common topics with my mum or my friends. However, like any teenager, I remember stressing about my appearance. I felt insecure when socialising because I wasn’t confident about how I looked.

 

My point is, if I’d had a resource such YouTube at my fingertips, would it have made those years any easier? I think I could have done with a little more ‘life’ education. Maybe, with it’s power of connection to real people, YouTube could have expanded my horizons. Yes, it’s a largely one-way connection, but any connection is surely a benefit to a shy young person trying to work out their place in the world. Focusing on the positives, would it have helped me develop my own style or use makeup to help me feel comfortable in my skin?

Teenage years are difficult in any situation, so maybe not. But yay for Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube today – they have helped me experiment over the years. I could focus on the perceived negatives of social media here. That it’s making us insular and narcissistic. That it promotes fast, disposable fashion. That it tells you a ‘natural’ makeup look takes 37 products. But I won’t. I’m a grown woman and I use it, with a healthy dose of awareness, to help me make choices which suit me and make me feel happy and confident.

Wishful thinking about the past is easy. I wouldn’t change my upbringing. It was sheltered, but it was safe and very happy (and made me the person I am today, etc etc…). If I’d grown up watching beauty videos every day, who knows how different my life could have been!

(Almost made a pop culture reference to Sliding Doors there. Then I remembered I’d never seen the film. Just googled the trailer. Worst trailer ever???)

H x

Outfit: Wedding guest – my favourite dress

Wedding season is now over for me so this post is a little late – I just haven’t had time to take any photos! But I wanted to feature this dress which has seen me through 3 out of 4 weddings I’ve attended this year.

I bought this for a winter wedding way back in February but I loved it so much I wore it again in May and August! It was a barginous £28 in a sale at Miss Selfridge.

I’m not a huge fan of more traditional formal/prom style dresses – A line styles in particular don’t suit my frame very well. I’m always on the hunt for something a bit unusual. My other wedding go-to is this floral jumpsuit, also from Miss Selfridge.

I rarely wear long dresses but I LOVE the maxi-length cape sides of the dress. It perfectly combines the swishyness of a long dress with a practicality (and leg reveal!) of a short one. The long sections create a beautiful elegant movement when you walk. And predictably, it’s fun to dance in! When the music stepped up a level I just tied the sides around the body of the dress out of the way 🙂

To brighten up the outfit I paired the dress with a mustard-yellow suede fringed clutch (Oasis) and my ‘comfy’ burnt orange block heels (Office). Admittedly this dress would look better with higher heels – let’s be honest, everyone’s legs look better with higher heels! But after years of wearing ridiculous heels I’m trying to give my feet and my knees a break.

This dress definitely delivers on swish-factor! Would you wear a dress like this?

H x

 

EAT: Combining healthy eating and training

Since I’ve stepped up my training for my charity cycle ride in September I’ve been especially conscious of my diet.I like to think I’m a fairly healthy eater anyway but increasing your calorie intake in a healthy way is a different challenge.

 

Here are a couple of my staples on a training day….

Breakfast: Porridge or fruit museli. My tip: soaking porridge oats overnight speeds up breakfast a little the following morning!

Lunch: Quinoa salad with tuna, cherry tomatoes, avocado and feta.

Simply mix with some olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar and lemon juice and you’re good to go. I sometimes add a shake of flaxseeds and/or sunflower seeds for a little extra protein crunch. I do lots of variations on this, sometimes adding peppers or olives to the mix.

Yes, I know quinoa is quite expensive and a bit of a faff to cook (if you don’t use packets… yesterday I split half of mine in the sink and had to spend ages rescuing and washing it!) But I really like it as an alternative to rice and pasta – it’s filling without being stodgy and goes so well with so many different things. The extra protein content is an added bonus!

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Snacks! Energy bars, nuts, dried fruit…and if you need it, a second lunch…

I’m always hungry, even when I’m not doing loads of exercise. They don’t call me Hangry Harri for nothing! At work I have a desk drawer full of snacks. On cycling days I even have an Outlook calendar reminder at 3pm for my ‘Second lunch’ (usually a quick chicken or tuna sandwhich). Otherwise I will be super grumpy on the ride home.

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Smoothies!

I’m not a huge fan of eating fruit, so blending things together is a great option for me. It’s also useful for masking the taste of food I’m not keen on: I hate bananas, but I’ll sometimes pop a few pieces into a smoothie for an extra nutritional hit.

Frozen fruit mixes are a great – you always have something on hand. A berry mix is my go-to – I might add some yoghurt to thicken it up and if I’ve been exercising, a small scoop of protein powder as well. At the moment I’m using Maxinutrition strawberry flavoured powder. I’m not an expert in this area but for me useful addition to my recovery routine.

These are just a couple of highlights from my diet right now – if I can eat sensibly, then anyone can!

H x

How to Spend a Sunny Weekend in Exeter

Last weekend I had booked in a long-overdue catch up with two of my closest uni friends – time to motor down the M5 to Exeter, Devon for a chilled weekend involving sun, sea, sand and icecream!

Saturday started with a quick visit to  The Donkey Sanctury, Sidmouth. It’s great to read about (and support!) the rescue activities and see the donkeys in a happy environment. I’m particularly fond of the fluffy ones! Here’s a selection of my many donkey pictures….

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Next up was Seaton Bay, where we hired a couple of kayaks (from these guys) and braved the choppy waters for a mini sea adventure! I have to admit that we didn’t get very far (we spent too much time laughing and bumping into each other). I tried stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding recently as well – if only I lived nearer a lake or the sea…

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Back in Exeter, we headed to the quay for dinner. I love this area – the old industrial buildings give it lots of character and it’s especially popular on a sunny Saturday evening.Thanks to my friend J’s blagging skills we managed to get a table outside On the Waterfront – the perfect spot for cider and pizza in the evening sun! J and I went half and half with different toppings on one of their 16″ pizzas. So good, but finishing it was an Olympic effort – we saved a few cheeky slices for evening munchies!

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Next up was an open air cinema event, held in Exeter’s Northernhay Gardens. We watched The Martian (definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it!). We were armed with blankets and snacks but I still wasn’t really prepared for 2 and a half hours lying outside. It wasn’t the most comfortable of film experiences! Some couples in front of us had the right idea with a full pillows and duvet setup going on…

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Sunday was chill-time. We spent the day on the beach at Exmouth. I love a day on a good ol’ British beach, even if by the afternoon I had to take shelter under my beach towel to avoid getting sunburnt..

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Unfortunately, this weekend is not so sunny. I should be cycling…but it’s so wet and windy! Time for some DIY instead, while I dream of last weekend’s beach time…

H x