Santa Silliness to Festive Frolics: Christmas Running for Everyone

Last year I signed up for Run Up To Christmas and didn’t manage to qualify for a medal. This year I signed up again and I am quite confident that I can achieve what I couldn’t last year. As we approach the final stretch of 2018 it is easy to start thinking as if the year is over. December is still a full month just as any other even if it is especially hard to keep on just as you have all year with all the intention in the world to pick it all up again in January.

Having said that, I can’t help think that with all the stress and extra activities, expectations and awkward social interactions the festive season brings that running and exercising throughout the month might not be the worst idea.

Run Up To Christmas (aka RU2C) is a good challenge and way to find some peace and calm in all the madness. It’s also a good motivation to keep running through one of the darkest grizzliest month of the year. Run Up To Christmas has sold out now but that doesn’t mean you can’t do a similar challenge if you fancy it.

Here’s a list of other festive challenges to get you in the Christmas spirit whilst letting some steam off without necking all the spirits you can get your hands on to deal with in-laws, extended families and people you just don’t feel like dealing with. Some are virtual, some are free, some are social and some are just a bit of silliness.

Christmas Sloth Virtual Race
Entry: £9.99
Link Here

Choose your distance, form 1 mile to a full marathon. As the title suggests it is virtual so just record it via a free app on your phone like Strava, or with your running watch if you have one. This is super accessible to everyone from the seasoned runner to those who struggle to even get out the door. 1 mile is 1 mile, a goal set and a challenge completed is a challenge completed.

25K Advent Challenge December 2018
Entry: £12
Link Here

This is another advent inspired challenge where you cover the distance between 1st – 24th December. The distance is 25 Km, which averages out at a km a day. This is definitely achievable for most people. Pace is irrelevant and you can aim to walk it if that suits you.

Santa Dash 5-10K, Multiple Locations and Dates
Entry: ~£25 (prices vary)
Link Here

You’d be hard pushed to not have noticed the annual swarms of Santas running around parks all around the country. Many are charity events raising money for a variety of causes. The biggest dash in London has already been and gone, but there are plenty more opportunities to don your red suit and run 5-10 Km in a swarm of santas. What could be more festive than pretending to train for christmas eve like the champ himself?

Running in the Name of… CHRISTMAS 10K
Entry: Free
17th December, Threadneedle street, EC2R 8AH
Link Here

This run is not a race as such, but a social 10km festive run. Festive dress is encouraged and there will be plenty of photo opportunities. They do request you are confident running 10km at a 10 minute mile pace.

Yule Jog 10K, Multiple dates
Entry: £20
Link Here

Run a fun filled 10 Km route around London whilst experiencing many of the best lights, christmas markets and trees London has to offer. There are varied paces to sign up to, all of which can be seen on the website. The route starts at Tower Hill Tube.

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Do I Really Need This? The Minimalism Challenge

A good while ago, the exact time escapes me, I watched Minimalism on Netflix. It is a documentary about 2 guys, The Minimalists, who tour around talking about their minimalist lifestyle and how being more minimalist has helped increase their life satisfaction compared to having lots of stuff and things.

These guys had realised that working hard to collect and buy lots of things wasn’t making them happy. Each thing they got would bring them some joy for a while, but it all had a finite amount of joy to bring into their lives. So they shifted their focus from material possessions to making things count. I think we can all relate to this in some way, whether we buy a new clothing item to cheer ourselves up, or some new stationary that will lead the personal organisation revolution we are about to embark on.

Since watching this documentary the crux of the idea has stuck with me. The point is not to have the least amount of things you can own and function, but more that everything you own brings purpose and/or joy to your life. So this could look like, fewer clothes, fewer knick-knacks that sit in the cupboard for eternity collecting dust, and fewer things for the sake of having things. Do I really need 5 sets of headphones? I mean, really? Each set has their selling points, but really? What about that CD collection that I never listen to? Or the DVDs I have of films I don’t even think are that great? I’m not about to vow to become a minimalist. Instead I embarked on a month long clear out similar to The Minimalism Challenge to free up some space in my flat.

The final trigger moment was when I was sat in my big chair to relax and instead of relaxed I felt overwhelmed. There was stuff everywhere, piled up to the high ceilings I have and covering the floor except for a few pathways between my stuff to the bathroom, kitchen and bed, not dissimilar to animal tracks in the woods. Maybe I hadn’t noticed before because I was spending so much time watching TV, ‘no TV August’ really made me realise just how much my room had gotten overcrowded and how actually, in my accumulation of so much stuff I could no longer use my space effectively: I couldn’t shut my wardrobes or my drawers, using my bathroom or toiletries was like a game of Jenga to get a deodorant. My floor was rarely clear, my wardrobes were stacked upon so much that the towering amass felt claustrophobic like high rises on narrow streets in a city.

As I sat there in my chair I decided that something needed to change. It wasn’t a one day long task. It felt too overwhelming for that. I decided to do the minimalism challenge. You throw the amount of things away that is for that day, so 1 on day 1, 2 on day 2, the final amass is 465 or something. Instead of saying I’d do it each day because I knew I wouldn’t, I aimed for 465 things re-homed or recycled by the end of September.

There is enough ‘stuff’ in the world to do the rounds – what if by passing something on, books that you know you won’t read again or don’t love, could bring some joy to someone else? Surely that is a more fulfilling purpose for the book whilst encouraging resourcefulness rather than everyone needing their own copy to then throw away in landfill?

This isn’t to say we are entirely blameless for our consumerism. It is a driving force in western culture. When you don’t have much you are constantly made acutely aware of how little you have and how much you can’t have that everyone around you seemingly just has. For a period of my life I didn’t have very much at all. I couldn’t buy much, even buying enough food was hard, and every penny was accounted for. As this period of my life drew to a close and I had a little bit more money so that I could – within reason – eat what I wanted, have a choice of food, be able to afford to have coffee out regularly (one of my favourite things to do) and I could go to places, I went through a few phases.

I went through a phase of going out and getting drunk a lot because I felt that I had missed out on so much whilst I was 19-23 via not having money followed by being mentally unwell. After a while I realised this wasn’t fulfilling. I was spending a lot of money each week on getting drunk with my friends, but still I wasn’t happy. It also wasn’t doing any good for my mental health and at one point in my journey the decision to really reduce my alcohol consumption was a real sticking point.

I stopped going out with my drinking friends and started to get into other things. I’d buy new things to entertain each fad. I don’t think there is so much wrong with this. I was lost and trying to figure out what I liked and disliked. I had a long journey of finding myself after having lost myself so extremely. I started to exercise, and got into running and OCR. I also bought a saxophone, art materials, knitting bits and bobs, climbing equipment, ukuleles, and so on and so on, all in a bid to find out who I was now. All of these things bring me joy in some way but I essentially live in a bedsit:I have a large bedroom with a kitchen and a bathroom attached.

My bathroom shelves are once again functional, as is my desk. My kitchen is no longer unsuitable for cooking or baking. My space is no longer so much of a health and safety concern; trip hazards have been reduced and I can close my wardrobes. I know where most things are, and am no longer regularly late because I couldn’t find my keys or oyster card. There’s no before and after photo on the way but already I have noticed and felt the difference. Once again my room can be comfortable, useful and practical. I hope it continues. I have learned that spending money on experiences and forming memories are what I value more and I am also more conscious of my spending and buying habits. I now stop to ask, do I really need this? Will I really use it? Will my life be better off with this? If the answer is no then I hold back much more.

Belly and Me Volunteering for Beat Eating Disorder Charity UK

Once upon a time I would regularly stand sideways in the mirror to scrutinise my body. Standing on the end of the bath I would use the huge wall sized mirrors to view myself from every angle possible. I would pick at bits that I particularly hated about myself to really ruminate and focus on, and trust me there were many.

In all of this extensive scrutiny my belly was the main focal point of my relentless barrage of self hatred. From taking selfies on dodgy cameras in the 2000s, to checking every reflection opportunity regardless of how skewed it may have been: the TV screen, changing rooms under dodgy lighting, and window reflections. I wouldn’t call it vanity although I understand that it may sound that way. It was never to admire myself, or to check my make up but instead to check how fat I was, and how much of a failure I was for not having lost any weight.

I used to stand in first position (ballet) and check my belly, my waist and shoulders from the back and side. Eventually I started measuring my waist multiple times a day because in my mind the weighing scales just didn’t show “progress” quite as well. I was in the depth of my eating disorder. Regardless of which eating disorder I was engaged with the same insecurities prevailed; the same poses regardless of how much weight I lost, didn’t lose or gained.

I will never get those hours back. For a long time, part of recovering from an eating disorder is removing triggers from the home: bread, cereal, weighing scales, mirrors, or whatever it is that you struggle with in particular. I only just recently graduated to getting a full length mirror again. I found it helpful in the process of learning to not obsess over my reflection and body shape or size to not have one. With just a head sized bathroom cabinet mirror to check for toothpaste, mascara smudges and whether I could push it another day without washing my hair. I’d consider these the basics. Now I have a full length mirror that I briefly check my overall outfit in sometimes. No belly checks. No shoulder blade analyses. No standing in first position and taking measurements.

I may have gained weight and realising just how much no one gives a fuck is brilliantly liberating. Sometimes now when I’m watching TV, or sat on the bed idle I actually like to rest my hands on my belly. Sometimes it pokes out from under my top in front of my friends and I’m not embarrassed anymore; it’s my belly and I’m healthy. It doesn’t mean anything more or less than that. It doesn’t need to be toned or trimmed or flattened. Sometimes it’s quite comforting to poke and prod my belly whilst sat around. I have no idea why or what exactly caused this seismic shift in mentality, but I’m quite affectionate of my belly and if I see it jiggling in a video it doesn’t upset me like it used to.

 

See here, I am having the time of my life running through ridiculously deep autumn leaves. My belly is jiggling. Yes I noticed it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t but look at that smile; that is more important to me.

Using my body to feel good and strong is more important to me. Wearing clothes that are comfortable and I feel nice in is important to me but the size label in them isn’t. I am proud of my recovery from my eating disorder. It was one of the hardest battles of my life and an experience I will never forget. This experience fuels my passion for nutrition, health and empowering others to make peace with their bodies and food. Soon, my belly and me are going to start training to be a Beat online mentor.

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There’s serendipity in this. Maybe all those hours I spent body checking, weighing and measuring myself wasn’t a ginormous waste of time. Something good can come from this in relation to my purpose on this earth; from that experience I have gained a passion, a purpose and a drive to help others. I feel that this is finally going to start happening in real terms with this volunteering opportunity and I’m really proud of that, perhaps more proud of that than my little belly.

 

The Human Interaction Conundrum in The Information Age

As humans we have evolved over the discourse of millions of years. There have been generation after generation before us through which we have evolved for the greater survival of our species. In recent years technology built the internet and made it accessible to most of us most of the time, introducing The Information Revolution. We are now more globally connected and informed than ever: we’re in group chats that are kind of like hanging out; we’re in Facebook groups of people with similar interests to us, most of whom we’ve never met; we follow people’s lives on social media, especially Instagram which is largely based on visuals that we come to feel like we know these people whose content we follow, comment on and share when we really don’t know them at all.

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Tea for One

In becoming more connected with others via technology we are less connected in reality as we use our smart phones to for more and more tasks. Gone are the days of asking someone for directions, of going in person into a cab reception and making conversation whilst waiting, and now coffee chains have even made it possible to order without talking to anyone via our phones without having to even speak or look at another human being, all of which allow for as little human interaction in person as possible (Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017). Unfortunately, this trend bucks our evolutionary DNA for healthy fulfillment; social interaction has long been an established an innate human need, and is central to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ((Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017). Although originally considered to be related only to close relationships such as family, partners and close friends it has transpired over time that the little interactions with strangers as we go about our day are also important (Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017).

I am very good at spending a lot of time on my own. I can go a while without really seeing anyone and only realise on day 3 or so. The downside to this is that I am quite a socially anxious person. I wouldn’t go as far to suggest I have social anxiety but I get overwhelmed for sure. I get so much anxiety in my stomach when I need to leave the house to go somewhere where I may meet or talk with others so intense that I frequently freeze until it’s too late to go anymore. So when my psychiatrist says to me that I need to get out and interact with people more, in person and preferably doing activities that aren’t solitary, it feels like a the hardest of recommendations to accomplish. It’s a tall order when just being around others can make me cry even though I k now it’s irrational. Consequently, I miss many social plans. Each time gives me a short space of relief but in the long run my anxieties just deepen and grow. It’s fair to say that I’ve been letting anxiety physically stop me from giving myself a chance at getting my human needs met.

So here’s the challenge for the next year or so:

  • Go to more social activities, will opt for sports closer to home to begin with.
  • Use mindfulness and breathing exercises to remain calm
  • Try to scowl less when I am out and about. Apparently this makes me seem unapproachable.
  • Use mood monitoring app to record anxiety levels around social events, whether I succeeded in going or not, what went well and what didn’t.

 


Sources:

Kushlev, K., Proulx, J.D.E. & Dunn, E. (2017) Digitally connected, socially disconnected: The effects of relying on technology rather than other people. Computers in Human Behaviour. 76pp.68-74. (Link)

The September Issues in Marrakech

[When I wrote this] I was supposed to be relaxing in a gite in the Atlas Mountains of Morrocco. The people who I met the previous Sunday and shared an evening meal with will have been doing exactly that after summiting the highest peak in Northern Africa, Mt Toubkal. Instead I am at home in London, having slept for the majority of the last few days.

There are a few times of year that are particularly difficult for me with my mental health: March/April and September in particular. I have a feeling that it is related to the changing seasons, and others have theories that it is a result of my daily stresses and goings on each time. It could even be related to historical events playing with my memory and emotions on a subconscious level. There really is no knowing of the exacts except for that they happen, and they happen at these times of year. After a number of years I have named them the Spring Bounce and the September Issue. I am not the only one to have such a pattern to their moods and well-being, it turns out that a lot of people, particularly those with mood disorders like Bipolar, struggle immensely at the onset of spring and autumn.

It could be a vast number of things but the experience feels familiar: moodiness, snappy encounters and a general grey scaling of everything: colours, smells and tastes. I need a lot of sleep: this means a long night and 1-3 naps during the day. I need a lot of cups of tea for soothing the soul, because is there anything that a cuppa can’t help with? I have a weird relationship with my appetite. I want sugar and comfort foods, yet at the same time everything tastes muted and I desire much less of it. I am slow. Speaking in sentences can at times be difficult because my words get muddled and I certainly don’t seem very capable of speaking and thinking at the same time. I feel like anyone who laughs within earshot of me is laughing at me after saying mean things. This has resulted in some stern stares to try and figure out the truth and if I need to confront them. Sometimes when this happens I turn around and no-one is there. The sun in the day may as well be night time all the time right now because that is exactly how it feels.

So instead of being up a mountain, hanging out and exploring I have been sat in my flat in London trying to minimise the effects of my mood on others as much as possible.

I was unsure about whether I should go to Morrocco or not and I went anyway with the theory being that I would never know unless I tried. Additionally, it could have gone very well or very badly. When I booked it in september, with the prior knowledge that i struggle at this time of year, I naively thought that having something to focus on and look forward to, and essentially distract myself would end a potentially self fulfilling prophecy of The September Issue’s reoccurrence. Of course, just as with the september issue of our favourite fashion magazines, nothing is going to stop the september issue from launching and being ever so extravagently big and jam packed with chaos, whether its mental health chaos or fashion chaos. I have had a brilliant summer, it’s in the top 5.

Even though I got to Morocco I had a break down on the sunday evening and walked home, having excused myself early from the group meal, crying. I decided to sleep and see how I felt in the morning however, after packing and prepping for the day ahead I just broke down crying. It would not stop. I knew at this point that pushing myself further would not reap any good results. When I cry like this, it is usually only going to get worse until I sleep extensively. It happened in Berlin last year, also in september, and at home. Even this morning, although apparently over nothing I cried and cried and cried until I eventually went to bed to sleep it off. No trigger. No cause. No reason. It just is.

Sometimes the right decision is not the one you want to make. There are many lessons yet to be learned. Even with potentially over doing it on the insight and reflection stance I will probably still make mistakes and much to my dismay, may never be fully in control of all of my mental health shenanigans. Sometimes when you live with chronic mental illness you have to make difficult decisions because ultimately, no matter how much I try, my illness will most likely always hinder me in some way. I won’t let it defeat me. I can’t. Instead all is can do is all that I will do, to keep working on getting what I want from life by working with my illness.

*Trigger Warning* Birthdays, Triggers and “Family”

It was my birthday last week. A number of years ago this time of year became incredibly difficult for me. I’d had a lot of pretty shit things happen at this time of year many times, always involving my parents. You could call it a repetitive pattern of really shit things happening.

Birthday Breakfast of Champions

A few years ago I was so convinced I wouldn’t make my birthday. Many times the reason I held off initially was because of my then girlfriend. She always went way out of town with her celebrations for me, and each birthday we spent together was really special. The formative birthdays however, as with anything in these years of your life, weighed in heavy and hard on me. I remember my not so sweet 16. I was home alone, my parents away with the business. I had been grounded for something I didn’t do over the phone. Some other shit went down and my main memory is right before going to bed the night before, I really wanted to self harm right across my stomach, for some reason on the right side. I didn’t do it but that is the main memory I have of turning 16. I have never told anyone that before. Regardless of the effort made by some of my friends, the main memory is that one of wanting to self harm and really trying hard not to.

The cumulative of these experiences around my birthday, and with the “family business from hell” is that the summer, and in particular my birthday has been really scary for me. The depth of entrenched that feeling hated, unwanted and unloved by your parents goes really far. There was also a particular fall out in 2011 that started in the June of 2011 and didn’t quite finish peaking around September 2011, which led to almost zero contact with either parents for 3-4 years. Triggering isn’t quite the word I’m looking for.

28th Self Portrait

Even last year I went to my Dad’s I had a good 12 hours of breaking down, contemplating killing myself because it basically became trigger central fore the majority of the day. This year felt different though.

On my 19th I remember sacking off my plans in Devon in favour of catching a train to Cheshire to see my then girlfriend ands how she surprised me with the first birthday cake I’d had for years that hadn’t been thrown by one family member at another in a crazy ass fight. I think I cried, or very obviously nearly cried (I’m hard like that). At this point she had no idea… so this is a huge Thank You. Even up until last year for the selfies you sent me telling me to smile and how they broke my tears into a laugh, and this year for not wanting to break tradition and ordering a helium balloon to be delivered in a box because you couldn’t be here in person this year.

Around my 21st

The act of feeling cared about at an otherwise scary time of year, over all the years I’ve known you have really helped finally re-shape how my I view my birthday emotionally. These feelings and associations annoyingly are not voluntary. I often just get really unsettled and wanting to self harm a lot around this time of year. This year I haven’t and even though you’re my ‘then girlfriend’ I just want you to know, and for others who have partners or friends with similar issues, just how much these acts including the small ones such as silly selfies, really do make a difference.

This year I haven’t had the same dread of the past yet. I think gaining distance between the present and those moments of the past has helped. Additionally, the huge effort my then girlfriend put into trying to change this memory and association with my birthday has started to pay off as I put less focus of worth in my life on feeling valued by my parents and more on the people who actually enjoy having me in their life. People always raved about how blood is thicker than water, but when blood is making you cry tears that only your friends and partner help mop up, then blood don’t mean shit. I do love my parents in some weird way that means proceeding with absolute caution and cynicism at the best of times but relying on them in any way to emotionally support and validate me is something I’ve learned to leave in the past in my hopefulness of youth.

21st

I don’t wish to change them anymore simply because I have accepted that I cannot. What I have learned though, is that the people who value you and appreciate you in their life, they are the ones worth putting in the effort and emphasis for.

How Gratitude Can Help Improve Body Dissatisfaction

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The power of practicing gratitude has the potential to be something quite incredible. Culturally in the West we are conditioned almost to always want for more, or with our bodies ironically we want for less. Less waist, less weight, less is more when it comes to beauty and looking good, or so we are told. We are primed to be perpetually discontented, dissatisfied and looking to others who always seem to have more of whatever it is we want: friends, tech, clothing or, ticking more beauty standard ideals with their appearance.

Like any other skill in our tool box of tricks to get us through our days reasonably content and in one piece, it takes a bit of practice in order to change our thinking patterns. The good news is that it can be done and that it can be an effective tool to develop a healthier relationship with your body and body image.

In a study conducted by Armstrong State University, USA, gratitude and cognitive restructuring were compared for effectiveness in reducing body disatisfaction amongst college age females. The group studied had not sought clinical help for body disatisfaction and eating disordered related issues. The importance of body image and dissatisfaction is that the feelings we have towards ourselves often permeate other areas of our lives: body disatisfaction has been associated with depression (Jurasico, Perone & Timnko, 2011) and social anxiety (Cash, 2011) for example.

Cognitive restructuring is a CBT technique. CBT is an established treatment for many mental health and well-being complaints including: bulimia, anxiety, depression. SOURCE THIS. By comparing a gratitude based intervention to an established intervention such as cognitive restructuring, the effectiveness of each intervention on body dissatisfaction can be compared.

The strength of using gratitude based interventions for body dissatisfaction is that it increases appreciation for non-appearence based aspects of one’s self and life: gratitude interventions have been found to be causally related to improvements in intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of well-being including: increased happiness, decreased depression, improved pro-social behaviour, decreased aggression, improved sleep and concentration (Watkins, 2014).

There does need to be more studies in order to confirm or dispute similar findings. However, with this in mind gratitude is a promising intervention for people experiencing body dissatisfaction without a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder.

Gratitude works is by changing perspective on what is important in life and how and what we judge ourselves and ourl ives to be worthwile. This study illustrates the potential effectiveness that can be had from introducing and working on gratitude in order to improve well being and happiness.

With this. Line of thought fresh in my mind, and my own practicing of gratitude lately I will be exploring some personal experiences of gratitude and how practicing gratitude has helped me alter my automatic thought patterns over time. As a disclaimer I am not suggesting gratitude is a cure-all, but more of a handy tool to help contribute to a changing way of relating to the world around us.


References:

Cash, T. F. (2011). Cognitive behavioural perspectives on body image. In T. F. Cash, & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image, A Handbook of science, practice and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 39-47). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Juarasico, A. S., Perone, J., & Timko, C. A. (2011) Moderators of the relationship between body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Eating Disorders, 19, 346-354. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2011.584811

Watkins, P. C. (2014). Gratitude and the good life: Toward a psychology of appreciation. New York, NY: Springer Science

Wendy, L. Wolfe & Kaitlyn Patterson (2017) Cpmparison of a gratitude-based and cognitive restructuring intervention for body disatissfaction and dysfunctional eating behaviour in college women, Eating Disorders, 25:4, 330-334, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080.10640266.2017.1279908