Mental Health Awareness Week

I’ve been thinking about mental health a lot this week. Particularly apt due to it being mental health awareness week.

Everywhere I’ve turned there have been reminders about looking after our mental health. Social media has been full of interesting quotes and articles, and celebrities as well as us ‘normal’ folk have been talking about our own mental health.

I had an interesting conversation with someone yesterday who said they feel as though everyone has mental health problems these days, and that sometimes it feels as though people are just ‘jumping on the bandwagon’.

Whilst I’m not sure people are ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, it certainly does feel as though more people have mental health problems these days. However, I’m not sure that this is true either.

What seems to be true, is that more people are opening up and talking about mental health.

Radio 1 have done a great job at allowing people to open up and talk about their mental health, frequently talking about different ways to cope, and just allowing people to air their problems.

Celebrities too have been opening up about their mental health experiences, which somehow makes it easier to discuss things. By opening up and telling us their stories, they are letting everyone know that it is ok to not be ok.

Workplaces too are taking a tougher stance on mental health, ensuring staff know what to do if they are experiencing problems, or by simply making staff more aware of the signs that one of their colleagues maybe struggling so they can help, or find someone who can.

I too created The Mindful Musings of a Gingernut as a way of managing my own mental health. I often struggle to put things into words when speaking out loud, but writing my blog helps me to have a voice, and to say the things I often wish I could say in person. It also helps me to reflect and to make sense of things.

Yet, I can’t help but feel a sense of bittersweetness when we talk about mental health.

In a couple of months time it will be the anniversary of my best friends suicide.

I often wonder, if there had been more publicity about mental health back then, if there had been easier access to information, support groups etc, whether she may still be here.

We’ll never know.

What I am grateful for, is the fact that times are changing.

Mental health has a growing voice.

Mental health is finally being listened to.

Amen to that!

🙏🏻

Is self care easier if you’re single?

A few weeks ago, I attended a friends hen party. The hen party was fun. But something was troubling me.

I was staying in a hotel that night with another friend. While we were busy getting ready for the hen party, she started pouring her heart out to me. It appeared that her marriage was on the rocks. Whilst I was shocked to hear this, I was not entirely surprised.

As my friend continued to tell me her problems, it occurred to me that all she might actually need was a little bit of time out for herself. From where I was standing, the issues they faced as a couple were largely down to the fact that my friend did not take much time out for herself. Not only did she seem trapped by being mum to her two children, her vibrations also constantly seem to be low.

So I decided to try and talk her into creating some time for herself.

The trouble is, she wasn’t ready to hear what I had to say. She wanted to blame her husband for everything that was going wrong. She couldn’t see that by taking a little time out for herself, it might actually help her to look at things more rationally, and generally make her feel a lot happier.

This really got me thinking about self care. Does being single make it easier for me to ensure I spend time on my self care? Perhaps it is selfish of me to think that self care is possible for everyone to maintain. Perhaps it is harder for couples with children, and even more so for single parents.

I decided to explore these thoughts further. So after finding some willing friends, who are parents of children ranging from a few days old to 4 years old, I asked them some questions to get an understanding of how they feel about self care, and how they fit self care into their routines, if in fact they do.

What does self-care mean to you?

I thought it would be really good to understand my friends views on self care first of all.

Answers ranged from:

  • To stop overthinking about other people and carving out something just for you
  • Remembering you’re still a person with valid thoughts, desires, emotions and feelings, despite having children
  • Looking after yourself (d)
  • Taking time out to do things for me, to look after my physical and mental wellbeing (d)
  • Time to focus on myself to make sure I am ok (d)

What is reassuring in their responses is that whether they are male or female, they understand what self care is and the importance of it.

The interesting part for me is the different responses from the mums v the dads. The dad answers marked with a (d) come across as a lot more matter of fact, whereas the mum answers had much more of an emotional connection.

As a parent, how do you create time for self-care?

From experience, even as a singleton, self care doesn’t just happen. You have to create time for it. However, on the other hand, it also shouldn’t become a burden. It’s too easy sometimes, even for someone in my situation, not to bother. But it’ salvo really important not to beat ourselves up about it if life does get in the way. What’s important is when you do find time for self care, to store up those self care points to help get you through the days, weeks or even months when self care time just cannot be squeezed into busy lives.

Even for me, with working long, unsociable hours at times, keeping the flat clean, and trying to maintain some sort of social life outside of working hours, I sometimes have to force myself to check in to see how I am.

So how do my friends who juggle parenting on top of work, manage to create time for self-care?

  • With difficulty…snatched time
  • By sharing duties
  • By staying up later than my partner and watching tv
  • By scheduling it in
  • By being organised. Self-care can only really begin once our evening routine is complete. There’s usually a window once our son is in bed, where I can check in with myself to make sure I am ok.

The key point for me is having a healthy relationship with your partner. By understanding that you are not just parents, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to have time out from this role, hopefully goes some way to stop parents from feeling that guilt they so often endure for leaving their child in someone else’s care, so they can spend some time looking after themselves. Being a parent is one of the most important roles you will ever play. It’s really important therefore that you do create time for you and to recharge your batteries, so that you can give your children the time and energy that they too deserve.

Two of the friends I spoke to, who are both married (not to each other!), have recognised that by sharing child duties as well as social time, helps matters. For Elaine, being in a 50/50 relationship , her and her husband spend an equal amount of time with their daughter, but also recognises when each of them needs a break from playing mum or dad. For Elaine, self-care can take as long or as little as it needs, in order to help remind her that she is still Elaine regardless of her role as Mum. Depending on her needs and the time she has, Elaine’s self-care can be as fun as a few drinks in the pub with friends, or as simple as relaxing in the bath bath and having an early night.

Lewis on the other hand, who is now a father of two, and shares childcare duties with his wife Jen, recognises the importance of scheduling self-care into busy days. Lewis told me that most of the time his self-care takes place at home after his boys are in bed. However, recognising that it is important for both him and his wife to still continue with their hobbies as well as time away from parenting duties, they also schedule in a weekday evening and a weekend morning each, that is allocated free time to themselves.

In the case of both Elaine and Lewis, it’s not just about finding self-care time for themselves, they also understand the importance of freeing up their partners time to look after their own self care too.

Do you have any self-care rituals you would care to share for other parents out there?

Whilst there were few self-care rituals people wanted to share, those that did, ranged from simply sitting down and having a cup of tea once the kids had been put down for a nap, to completing outstanding tasks for the day whilst carrying out some mindful thinking, and ending the day with toys being put away to allow for a fresh start in the morning.

However, Lewis may just’ve stumbled across the most fun self-care ritual I have certainly seen for parents to try. Incorporating self-care and time with the little people, Lewis has introduced his boys to the world of Cosmic Kids Yoga Videos. This great concept allows parents to carry out a quick yoga session whilst keeping the little folks entertained!

If you don’t have any self-care rituals, would it be something you would like to know more about?

As much as some of my friends find it hard to fit self care into their routines, they seemed to have a good understanding of what they can do, and where to find more information on self care, should spare time be created.

Do you think self-care is easier for women than men?

This was my final question to the group. Having reflected on whether self care is easier for singletons compared to parents, I then started to wonder whether men and women viewed self care differently.

The answers were varied, and again, there was quite a difference between the views of men and women, with the men’s answers appearing once again with a (d) next to them:

  • I don’t think it’s about gender. I think it’s about mindset (but being in a same sex relationship might give me a different perspective). I think it’s easy to put it down to gender but I see huge differences in our approaches to it in my relationship
  • I think self care is just as easy for women as it is for men, if you let it be. Too many women are martyrs who feel that it is their duty to care for their children and not themselves. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. There’s nothing wrong with sharing the load. There’s nothing wrong it’s looking after yourself.
  • It’s easier fo men because it’s often harder for women to admit they need time away from their child (d)
  • I think it’s down to the individual and their circumstances (d)
  • Honestly – I don’t know. Everyone had busy lives and finding time to make time for yourself is probably hard regardless of sex (d).

Conclusion

The purpose of asking these questions, hasn’t really been about finding the definitive answer to whether self care is easier if you are single.

It was an idea that got me thinking about self care and the difference of approach between a single 30 something (me) and my friends, who are all doing tremendous jobs as parents.

The process for me has been fascinating. Peoples opinions vary so much.

I think if anything, the men I spoke to have surprised me more. The support they give to their partners to allow them to create time to be themselves away from being mum or dad, as well as their matter of fact approach to self care, has been surprising, and lovely to hear.

I also want to give my friend Elaine a special mention too. The relationship she has with her husband is refreshing. Being able to recognise when your partner is struggling is not only difficult for many people to recognise, but when they do recognise it, they don’t know how to react to it. Elaine and her husband not only recognise when each other needs time out to be themselves, away from mum and dad duty, but also manage to maintain a 50/50 approach to bringing up their beautiful daughter. On top of that, Elaine gets that it’s ok to not be ok. That if she needs to ask for help, that that’s ok. That looking after yourself is key, not only to a happy marriage, but to happy parenting.

Self care may not be the glue my friend needs in order to keep her marriage together. However, I stand by the fact that with a little bit of time out for herself, she may start to feel better about herself and the situation she is in. With a little bit of self care, a sprinkling of self love and some time to think, I hope that she finds the answers she needs, whether that’s keeping her marriage alive, or simply, by learning to love herself a little bit more.

Knife crime, dirty laundry, and self care

The last couple of weeks have made me realise just how important it is to have a self care bank.

If I hadn’t been able to cash in on some of my self care reserves, I definitely wouldn’t have got through it as well as I have.

Most of the drama that has unfolded, has been out of my hands.

Sadly we’re living in a city where knife crime is a reality. It’s almost becoming the norm. Yet twice, in the space of just a few days, knife crime got closer to home.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s my country bumpkin background that makes me more shockable when these things happen.

The guys I know who have lived in and around London for most of their lives, tend to just shrug it off and tell me ‘that’s life’. I guess this isn’t the first time they have dealt with knife and gang crime. It’s not like it’s a new problem, but with the news and social media platforms we use these days, perhaps it just seems worse because it’s talked about more.

Whatever’s going on, when it impacts people you know, as well as the work you do, it starts to feel like it’s getting a bit too close for comfort.

I’ve also still been having problems with my ex. I’m not going to air my dirty laundry on here, but it’s something I could do without.

I’m also trying to spend some time forging new, exciting friendships/relationships with people. It was one of the things I wanted to accomplish this year. It’s early days, but it’s kinda fun wondering whether these people are here for a reason, here for a season, or here for a lifetime.

I haven’t even had time to head home lately. Weekends have been filled with hen parties, friends and family visiting, and work. And there’s still more busy weekends to come.

I’m certainly not complaining, but my body and mind are starting to tell me I need some R&R.

Today, I listened to my body and did bugger all. After working all day on Saturday, I needed some time to just vegetate today. I only left the house to grab some food for dinner, and barely left the sofa. I used to hate days doing nothing. But I’ve learnt that when my body says rest, I need to listen to it, otherwise I run the risk of burning out.

Heading into a new week, I need to make sure I focus on getting back outside for some exercise, as well as creating some time to bank some more self care points, in order to replace those I have used over the last couple of weeks.

Fingers crossed for a more peaceful week ahead…

Praia Santa Eulália, Praia da Oura and Alfagar II Aparthotel

I’m now back in gloomy, grey, England after a beautiful few days in Portugal.

The flight into Gatwick yesterday was slightly unnerving, as we landed in high winds. There were gasps, followed by a few expletives from passengers as we made our descent, but thankfully, our pilot got us back safe and sound (and without the drama this plane had trying to land at Heathrow yesterday – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-47177383/plane-struggles-to-land-in-strong-winds-at-heathrow-airport).

Thursday was my last full day in Portugal. I had intended on having a rest day, but I also wanted to get back out to see what else was around, close to where I was staying.

I had been staying at the beautiful Alfagar II Aparthotel, which has private access to Praia Santa Eulália. Although I had taken a walk down to the beach on the day I arrived, I really didn’t explore that much. So, I decided to pack up my rucksack and head down to the beach armed with my book and my beach towel ready to explore Praia Santa Eulália.

View from Alfagar Resort
View from Alfagar Resort
View from Alfagar Resort
View from Alfagar Resort
Private access path down to Praia Santa Eulália.

Once I arrived at the beach, I noticed the tide was out, so I decided to keep walking and followed the beach around towards the next cove. The beaches around this part of The Algarve are stunning. They are rugged and wild, but magical and serene at the same time. The cliffs were something else, and their colours are just beautiful.

As I continued my walk around to the next beaches (Praia da Oura Leste and Praia da Oura), I turned back to look at the view. It was such a stunning spot. So it was there that I sat and read my book until lunchtime approached.

After a spot of lunch by beachside restaurant Vivaldo’s it was time to head back to the hotel to enjoy my last afternoon poolside.

The view from Vivaldo’s

As the evening set in, it was time to reflect back on a fantastic trip.

I booked the entire holiday (flights, hotel and transfers) through easyJet, and I couldn’t fault any of it.

The hotel was absolutely stunning and spotlessly clean, the staff were really friendly and helpful, the food at the Buganvilla Snack-Bar where I ate my evening meals was fantastic. The portions were huge, with a wide selection of starters, and main meals. The apple pie was to die for, and the chocolate mousse was simply divine! The evening entertainment was on the cheesy side, but I guess you expect that in resorts, and in actual fact, holidaying in February, I was probably lucky that evening entertainment was on the menu! The little supermarket in Alfagar Village was well stocked with everything you could wish for, including fresh bread, a butchers, and plenty of wine.

I didn’t use all the facilities on site (there is a car rental office on site – not sure I trust myself to drive on the ‘wrong side’ of the road yet!), but those I did use were superb. The gym, the spa, the pools, as with the rest of the hotel were spotlessly clean and well looked after.

On my first day, I had a slight problem with my lights not switching on in the apartment, however, I called down to reception, and within 15 minutes the maintenance guy was at my door, ready to fix it for me. 2 minutes later, I had light and had no further problems throughout my stay.

Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel

I had also booked my transfers through easyJet. Finding the meeting point at Faro airport was really straightforward, and only took 30 minutes to get from the airport to the hotel. On the return journey, thankfully I was early, and already in reception, because the transfer was a good 10 minutes early picking me up. We got to the airport early which at least meant I had a bit more time to look around duty free!

And despite landing in windy conditions, both flights were excellent.

All in all, a fantastic holiday!

Where to next I wonder?

(All photos in this blog are my own)

Olhos de Água and Praia da Falesia

After my relaxing day on Tuesday, yesterday I was back into explorer mode.

This time I decided to head east of the resort, and headed to the beach at Olhos de Agua. Again, I chose to walk, as good old Google maps told me it was only a short walk away.

20 minutes later, I arrived at the beach. Olhos is small fishing town where the local fishermen still pull their boats onto the sand when they arrive back to the shoreline with their fresh catches. It’s a much quieter town than Albufeira, but lovely if you have a young family and aren’t looking for somewhere overly commercial.

As there wasn’t an awful lot to do or see there, I decided to head down onto the beach to see if I could walk round to the next Praia (beach), Praia da Falesia.

(All photos in this post are my own )

If you are lucky enough to get down to the Praias on the Algrave’s south coast when the tide is out, it is really easy to walk from many of the beaches to the next without too many problems, albeit over a few small rocks. However, once the tide comes back in, these parts are pretty much impossible to reach by foot.

Luckily, the tide was out when I arrived in Olhos de Água, leaving a clear path right i round to Praia da Falesia.

As soon as I walked around the corner of the cove onto Praia de Falesia, the view took my breath away. Seeing the vivid orange colours of the cliffs and the distinguishable layers of rock, made my inner geographer do a little back flip of joy!

I must’ve walked down almost the entire stretch of the praia with a massive grin on my face. Every new section of cliff face I came to had something different to offer.

As I continued to walk along the beach, I realised how light and carefree I felt. I felt more relaxed and content than I have done in a long time.

As I walked along, I did a lot of thinking. I started to make a lot of sense out of things on that walk, putting some things into perspective, letting other things go, and thinking about some of the changes I need to make in order to create more happiness and feelings of being carefree, on a more regular basis.

I will share some of my thoughts with you over the coming days, but for now, it’s time to pack and wave goodbye to Portugal as I have a flight back to London to catch tomorrow.

Miss Explorer v Miss Relaxation

Since I arrived in Portugal, I’ve been feeling torn.

My intention was to get away, relax, get some self care points in the bag, and to have some much needed reflection time.

However, my inner explorer keeps trying to lure me away from this.

So, I’ve compromised, alternating each day. A day of exploring, followed by a day of rest and relaxation.

Thankfully the facilities at the hotel are great. With a gym, tennis courts, indoor (heated) and outdoor pools, and a spa, it means that I don’t have to wander too far from my apartment to enjoy some of these little luxuries.

As yesterday was my first proper rest day, I got up, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the restaurant, and then headed back to my apartment to catch up on some blogging (Albufeira was the result!). It was then time to check out the gym facilities.

I don’t think I’ve ever been on holiday and used the gym before, or even taken my gym wear away with me, but as I am becoming more aware of my health, as well as the mental and physical benefits of exercise, I came away with every intention of using the facilities.

Luckily, as with so many other parts to this holiday, I had the gym to myself.

I didn’t go too crazy, as I haven’t used a gym in around 3 years, but managed a good spell on the treadmill, the recumbent exercise bike, as well 3 x 10 reps on the lat pull down machine.

I say I didn’t go crazy, but I managed to work up a really good sweat, and came out of the gym feeling really good.

I had booked in for a full body massage in the spa for 2:30pm, so it was time for a light lunch back at the apartment before heading down to the spa.

I don’t remember the last time I had a full body massage (I normally stick to a deep tissue back massage to sort out the terrible knots I get in my back!), but it was lovely to switch off and relax. I must’ve fallen asleep a couple of times, as I remember dreaming once or twice! My only criticism was that the lady was too gentle. I like someone to really work on my knots when I’m getting a massage. However, it was relaxing, and it was lovely to just lie there and enjoy getting some pampering, breathing in the aromatherapy scents and thinking of little or nothing for 50 minutes.

Once I had finished in the spa, I had just enough time to sit by the pool and read for an hour before heading back inside to get ready for dinner.

It’s very easy on holiday to spend every waking moment on the go, and that’s understandable. Perhaps we spend all year saving for our holiday, and it may be that we only get one a year. However, it’s also really easy to burn yourself out when you go away. The last thing I want to do is go back to work next week feeling as though I’m not rested. I know I haven’t been performing my best since Christmas, and I need to listen to my body and my mind, in order to make sure I’m ready to hit the ground running when I get back.

So as much as my mind keeps trying to lure me into Miss Explorer mode, my body is fighting back and making sure I get lots of rest and self care opportunities too.

Albufeira

Yesterday was my first full day in Portugal. I am staying around 4km outside of old town Albufeira but I was keen to go and see what the town had to offer.

Whilst there were the options of getting a bus from the hotel at 10am, or a local taxi, I decided to walk instead.

I often find that we are so busy focusing on where we want to end up, that we fail to notice what’s on our doorstep, or in the surrounding area (something that can be said in all areas of life, and not just during travel!). Walking gives us a real opportunity to see what’s around.

Having never been abroad in February before, it was hard to know what to expect weather wise, and equally hard knowing what to pack. Whilst the days can be warm in the February sun, the nights can still be quite cold.

The weather was looking great yesterday, so I headed out in a thin jumper, T-shirt and jeans.

The walk into Albufeira isn’t the prettiest, and whilst the road takes you close to the coastline, you can’t see the sea until you reach Albufeira itself.

However, it gave me the opportunity to see where the Albufeira ‘strip’ is (I don’t think it matters where in Europe you are, if you’ve seen one party area, you’ve seen them all!), and to be grateful that I wasn’t spending my week there. Don’t get me wrong, I love a night out, and maybe I’m being very stereotypical here, but they just seem to be tackier versions of the clubs we have back home, with the main aim being to get so drunk you are sick, and to end up in a bed that isn’t your own. Spending all that money doing what you could be doing back home, seems a bit daft to me, or perhaps it’s just me getting old!

It took me around 50 minutes to walk into town, and when I arrived, I wasn’t disappointed.

Albufeira Old Town – all photos in this blog post are my own
Albufeira Old Town
Albufeira Old Town

By this point the weather was really warming up. Off came the jumper, along with thoughts of, why didn’t I pack any lighter trousers!?!

I’ve barely seen a cloud in the sky so far, and when you’re in the sun, even at this time of year, it’s hot enough to make this gingernut start to change colour (of course I mean red rather than a nice glowing golden brown!).

Once I arrived, I decided to take a walk straight up into the old town. It wasn’t quite lunchtime, so I had some time to explore before I needed to start looking for a pit stop. As I walked into the old town, there were signs that read Miradouro, which means viewpoint in English. I began to follow these signs to see where they lead.

Once I reached the Miradouro, there were spectacular views that looked over the bay.

From the Miradouro, I could’ve taken the lift down to the beach. However, I decided to keep walking as I had spotted the signs for the marina ahead.

I was quite conscious as I walked towards the marina that there were fewer tourists along this route. So I made the decision to walk to the next Miradouro and then head back into the old town to find somewhere to grab some lunch.

On my way back, instead of walking through the old town, I headed down to the beach.

The beaches here really are stunning. Everywhere I have been so far has been spotlessly clean. The sands are golden and pebble free, barely a sign of any rubbish or even seaweed lying strewn across the sands.

I wished I had worn my sandals instead of my trusted Nike trainers, so off they came, allowing my feet to breath and to enjoy the feeling of the sand between my toes.

As I got closer to the main hub of restaurants along the seafront, I decided to head off to find somewhere for lunch.

One of the many perks of holidaying in February means that it’s easy to get into restaurants at any time of day! I managed to get a table in the sunshine, in the first restaurant I stumbled upon. After an offer from the waiter to join me for lunch (I turned him down of course, but it was very flattering to get the offer), I settled down to look through the menu choices and to read my book.

Before coming to Portugal, I had read that they are big on their fish, especially sardines. I had never eaten fresh sardines before, but decided to give them a go. I hadn’t expected them to arrive with their heads on, and I had no idea which parts to eat, and what not to eat! But after a quick google, I tucked into them, loving every bite. Afterwards, I washed them down with one of my favourite cocktails, an icy cold Caipirinha.

After lunch, it was time to walk off those sardines with the walk back to my hotel, in time to spend a couple of hours by the pool and finishing the day off nicely in the indoor sun heated pool ☀️