Is online counselling right for you?

laptop on desk with vase of flowers

Counselling works wonders for the soul, but there are several factors, such as price, availability and waiting lists, which put people off seeing a face-to-face counsellor. This had led to a surge in online counselling services which connect people to counsellors through voice, video or instant messaging.

I’ve been using online counselling on and off since the end of 2016 but I’ve only recently been seeing a counsellor weekly. This kind of service appeals to me because its time efficient, I can schedule sessions during my lunch or after work. It also gave me access to help immediately rather than being stuck on a waiting list for years (not knocking the NHS, just the bastards who cut funding for mental health).

How do you choose an online counsellor?

Choosing an online counsellor is a bit like online dating; you can browse through hundreds of counsellors by age, gender, speciality, qualifications etc. This helps you get more of a feel for the counsellor you’d be happy speaking to. Obviously, you can’t tell that much about someone from their profile but I believe it’s better than being assigned someone randomly.

You can message any counsellors you’d like to speak to and introduce yourself and have a chat about what you’d like to achieve. After this you participate in a taster session to see whether you’d be a good fit and could work together. This is really important because you want to have a good relationship with your counsellor, after all you need to feel comfortable talking to them and feel like you can trust them.

First impressions

The first time I started online counselling I wasn’t really sure what to make of it and to be honest I wasn’t prepared. I found a lovely counsellor and had a few video sessions but I stopped because I had so much to talk about it felt overwhelming. Counselling is never easy and sometimes you need someone encouraging you to keep sharing and pushing through the sessions. I didn’t feel confident directing the sessions and instead of telling my counsellor this I disappeared.

When I returned months later I approached it in a new way and started working with a different counsellor. I was more direct about what I wanted to discuss and told her about all the issues I wanted to talk about from the off (I literally made a list). Since then, we have focused on a particular issue each session and approached it in a structured way which I find really helpful. Counselling is still hard and I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it but it feels like it is helping overall. However, it’s still worth pointing out that you can stop counselling at any time you want.

As someone who suffers with social anxiety, the idea of speaking to a counsellor gives me pangs of anxiety. But I’ve found that speaking to an online counsellor over the phone encourages me to share more in a session than I probably would do face-to-face because I’m not worrying about the social interaction side of things like making eye contact. Don’t get me wrong, I do still feel anxious because I am speaking on the phone, but it’s not as bad as face-to-face and after ten minutes I feel quite at ease. I’m hoping these phone sessions will encourage me to be more comfortable speaking on the phone in general.

The downside to online counselling is that it’s not free. I pay £35 for my sessions which quickly adds up to a lot every month. I’ve had to be more careful with my money and sacrifice things in order to pay for my sessions but I’m lucky enough to be able to do that as I know some people don’t have the luxury to pay for private counselling. The service I use, Plus Guidance, are changing their prices soon so every counsellor will charge £50 instead of their rate so it might be a good idea to find a counsellor you like and then decide a fee with them and go direct.

If you are considering counselling, but are a bit worried, then I would highly recommend online counselling. It has given me access to help when I really needed it and I wish I had known about it when I was younger. Hopefully this post has helped if you are considering it, if you have any questions feel free to email me or tweet me.

Thanks for reading x

7 body positive reasons to love fitness

Girl sat on mountain

So after a lengthy twitter feud debate, it appears that some people don’t understand how you can be body positive, inclusive and accepting, AND be a fitness blogger.

Contrary to popular belief, being body positive and being passionate about fitness are not mutually exclusive. You can love exercising and at the same time not give a tiny rat’s ass about losing weight or fitting into a certain size. Yes, exercise often does lead to weight loss but that is not the sole purpose or reason that you should aim to get your body moving.

This post is going to be about all the amazing outcomes of fitness and physical activity that have nothing to do with your appearance!

1.Confidence

Joining a gym and pushing myself to run faster, lift heavier and embrace what my body is capable of is one of the most empowering things I have even done. Four years on, even on my most self-deprecating days, a good gym session or a long run can give me the boost of confidence that I need.

2. Endorphins

I may be quoting Elle Woods here, but when you exercise your body produces happy hormones and people that are happy just don’t kill their husbands! The hormones, also called endorphins, help to relieve stress and give you an uplifting sensation. I know some people experience these differently, or even feel down after exercise, but personally I feel euphoric after I finish exercising. I feel light, hopeful and…dare I say excited for life, which for a cantankerous sod like me, is a miracle!

3. Strength

Feeling strong is seriously underrated! The feeling or strutting into the weights room and picking up a heavier weight than I was using last week is awesome. So is being able to carry multiple bags of food shopping home from Aldi AND carrying an entire door through my sister’s house during a day of DIY (just some recent examples, I recommend starting with lighter objects than a door if you’re a newbie to strength).

4. Focus

Work stressful? Relationship fallen apart? Get your trainers on and focus on something else. During that period, there is nothing else to concentrate on apart from your body and what it can do. Working towards a goal such as a 10k distance, or a new strength PB is a wonderful way to challenging yourself and work towards something positive.

5. Functional Movement

Functional movement refers to the types of activities you do as part of daily life such as bending down, twisting, walking upstairs, carrying bags etc. By developing strength and cardiovascular fitness you can perform everyday tasks more efficiently, which makes your life that tiny bit easier

6. Sociable

I’ve made loads of new friends through exercise and I continue to nurture current friendships through it as well. Last weekend I did Parkrun with friends, I met my flatmate at a fitness bootcamp and a lot of people I talk to on social media I found through their passion for fitness.

7. Mental resilience

You that feeling when you’re running and you want to give up? But you keep putting one foot in front of the other until you’ve reached your destination. You hit the wall where you want to give up but you keep on going. These skills that you learn through fitness can be transferred into everyday life. Life is hard, it’s not fair and sometimes it just sucks, but you’ve got to keep going and putting one foot in front of the other. Fitness has given me the tools to get to grips with life’s challenges and come back stronger.

8. Fun

Find an exercise, or activity, that you love doing and you’ll have so much fun. Whether that’s running, rock climbing, hiking, swimming or dancing, do what you enjoy.

Did any of those amazing things include losing weight, fitting into a size 6 skirt or feeling confident on a beach? NO, because exercise is a celebration of what your body can do NOT a punishment for its differences! Also you can visit the beach any damn time and be happy. Got it? Ok thanks.

Finally, I want to write something about concern trolling. This is people jump in on debates under the pretence that they have genuine concerns for people’s health so that gives them a legitimate reason to shame fat people. You may think that you are being helpful by telling people that they need to lose weight, or by informing them that their lifestyle is unhealthy and dangerous, but you’re not helping at all. Fatphobic concern trolling is causing a lot more damage to society than fat people are. Mental health issues and eating disorders are real and being fatphobic contributes to these more than anything else. Plus, it makes you a shit person so just don’t do it people.

How to support someone who has anxiety

girl holding water melon

TW: anxiety, panic attacks.

As it’s mental health awareness month, I wanted to write about a topic that I am very familiar with; my old buddy anxiety.

I’ve suffered from generalised anxiety disorder for most of my teenage and adult life. I take medication to deal with it daily, which generally keeps it at bay, but sometimes it does flare up and cause my to feel very anxious which can even lead to a having a panic attack. Panic attacks are different for everyone but I believe they are universally dreaded by every anxiety suffer, even as I’m writing this I’m worried I am going to trigger one from just thinking about it so I will stop!

Anyway, I digress. The point of this post is not about me, but about being supportive towards others who have anxiety. Many of my friends also have anxiety and there are often times when I need to help them out (just as I’d hope they would do the same for me when I feel anxious) I understand that it can be overwhelming and difficult to discuss anxiety if you don’t suffer from it yourself but the worst thing you can do is to ignore them and pretend it isn’t happening. Anxiety is extremely isolating and scary and you need all the support and help you can get from the people that mean the most to you.

Here are my tips for supporting someone with anxiety, from personal experience and from things my friends have recommended.

Keep communication short and sweet

When I’m anxious I really struggle to reply to things, texts and emails can build up and I’ll feel very overwhelmed. Don’t even get me started on missed calls and voicemails! At the same time, I feel incredibly lonely when I’m at this stage of anxiety, so I need to keep communicating but not allowing it to overwhelm me.

Receiving a short text from a friend saying something simple like “I’m thinking about you” or “You’re going to be ok. Get in touch when you want to” is enough to make me feel loved but not enough to make me fret about replying. I will reply once I get back to myself and my friends know that. Alternatively, if your friend would be more relaxed receiving a phone call then sometimes hearing a loved one’s voice can massively ground you. Find out what works for them.

Don’t search for reasons why

Anxiety doesn’t discriminate, it can affect anyone at any time and there is often no logical reason for feeling that way. If someone feels anxious then you should talk to them about how they feel but don’t ask why they feel like that (unless they want to talk about it). The main thing is not to judge, pressure them to open up, or make them feel guilty for feeling that way.

Learn about anxiety

There is still SO much stigma around talking about mental health conditions, but the more we learn and talk about them, the more helpful we will all be for those who do suffer. When I first told my sister about my anxiety she didn’t really understand it, but she took the time to learn about it and I think that helped her understand what I felt a little bit better. Do as much research as you can about anxiety and read about people’s personal experiences with it. Even though they won’t be the same as your friend’s experiences, it will give you a glimpse of what they might be going through.

Offer to spend time with them 

Groups of people intimidate me, even if its friends I’ve known for years I can still feel anxious about being in a group with them. If your friend is hesitant about social situations like this, offer to meet them before you meet the group and go with them to take some pressure off. If they really don’t want to do anything involving a group, arrange to spend time with them alone so they don’t feel left out.

Don’t pressure people to feel better

While it’s really positive to try and help people take their mind off things, you shouldn’t expect them to instantly feel better. Anxiety can effect people constantly, or only at certain times, it’s totally dependent on the person. Likewise, don’t say things like “Don’t be silly, you shouldn’t be anxious!” or “It will pass soon just forget about it!” because it makes the person feel like their feelings aren’t valid.

Stop mixing up nerves with anxiety

Feeling nervous about things is natural. Situations like going on a date, starting a new job or doing a presentation will generally make most people feel nervous, but this is different from having anxiety. Saying ‘that gives me anxiety’ when you really mean that it makes you feel nervous is so frustrating to someone when their life is controlled by anxiety. Most people don’t mean to offend when they say stuff like this but it’s always something to bear in mind.

Quick list of things friends can do to reduce anxiety

  • Sending/receiving cute letters or cards
  • Providing sweets/chocolates or any delicious food
  • Going on a long walk and talking (sometimes reduced eye contact is good)
  • Having a film night – especially old films you love and find comforting
  • Playing with animals/visiting animals
  • Doing something active together like a run or a swim
  • Doing a project like colouring in, painting, tidying or making something

Hopefully this post helped, as I said this is from my personal experiences with anxiety and things that have helped my friends so they might not be for everyone. Have you got any things that help yourself or a friend when they feel anxious?

What being body positive means to me

neon lighting

The body positive movement aims to end the negative relationship we have with our appearance and accept ourselves for who we are naturally. It is inclusive of everyone, no matter how you look you deserve to be loved and to love yourself.

Body positivity isn’t just about weight, it’s about feeling good in the body you are in. It’s about focusing on yourself as a whole and challenging society’s perceptions of beauty. You are worth more than how you look.

It’s not apologising for having a double chin in a photo. It’s not worrying about how your cellulite looks in natural light. It’s enjoying what your body can do for you, instead of chastising it for not looking a certain way.

Body positivity and me

Body positivity is a relatively new concept for me, having only learned about it over the last 18 months. After years and years of self-hatred and insecurities, the idea of loving my body unconditionally seems like both a breath of fresh air and a rope to hang myself with.

Many of us have been conditioned from an early age to believe that we need to be smaller, symmetrical, perfect versions of ourselves. If we only squeezed into a smaller size our lives would be better. This is not true, and the only reason we are subjected to this kind of thinking is because companies want to make us spend money on products we don’t need and they need to keep feeding our insecure to get us to splash out. As an intelligent woman, I know this is true, but after 25 years of body shaming myself, it’s difficult to kick the habit.

Being body positive can be more challenging than you might think. As with most things, there is a steep learning curve. I have many days where I stare at my reflection in the mirror and tell myself I am fat, ugly or disgusting. Irrational thoughts consume my mind, ‘What if I gain loads of weight and no one likes me anymore?’, ‘I can’t wear that because my legs are too fat’ ‘My nose is so big and ugly’ etc. The fact that I have these thoughts is evidence enough that I need to embrace body positivity and self-love.

Fitness and body positivity?

Some people reading this might be thinking I’m being hypocritical because this is a fitness blog after all.

I hold my hands up and say in the past I was not being body positive, through a lack of education and knowledge. Once you open your eyes to how much body shaming is around it’s quite shocking. Even this year when I decided to embrace the body positive movement I still had a lot of setbacks. In my Grace Fit Guide posts I get carried away with how my body is responding to the guide looks wise and began to feel very critical of myself once again.

I would love to be in a place where I feel 100% happy with my appearance, not because I have achieved unrealistic beauty standards, but because I love and accept myself the way that I am. My goal is to stand naked in front of a mirror and honestly say that I don’t care how my body looks and that I am just so grateful to have it. You can be body positive and into fitness and health, it’s a celebration of what your body can do after all.

Our society is becoming more image obsessed by the day and humans are already hard wired to respond to images. Self-hatred is accelerating; depression and eating disorders are increasing and it’s only going to get worse unless we teach each other to think differently. Nowadays, people are celebrated purely for their looks, while intelligent, funny, kind, courageous and artistic people are valued less.

Thanks for reading this. If you’re interested in more body positive posts my friend Vicky wrote a really interesting guest post for me which you can find here or you can visit her blog which is body positive.

It’s ok to feel overwhelmed

beautiful sunrise

As I get older, I’m adding more responsibilities to my ever-growing to-do list and sometimes this can make me feel very anxious and overwhelmed. Let me give you a little peek into my mindset:

Simple tasks suddenly start to pile up and I become very aware of how much I need to do. This awareness turns to full blown anxiety and my defence mechanism kicks in. Instead of calmly completing my tasks in order of priority, I ignore all of them. I completely stop doing anything (apart from scrolling on my phone which has apparently become part of my subconscious) This is fine for a day, maybe even two, but after that I have well and truly fallen behind and made life very difficult for myself.

Because of this I have piles of work to finish on the same day, my flat is a mess and I have no clean clothes or dishes. I haven’t been to the one place that will de-stress me (the gym). I don’t have time to see my friends; but I also haven’t cancelled on them because I didn’t want to let them down, so they will be annoyed when I do cancel because now its last minute. My bills are overdue and I owe friends money because I can’t bear the thought of logging into online banking and seeing my balance. I have no food in the house because I never do a proper shop, so I just buy biscuits instead and feel ill. My blog hasn’t been updated for a week, and anyway all the content I do produce I dislike because it’s never good enough. I need to go to bed earlier because I constantly feel exhausted but I have too much to do at night.

What else?

As you can see, it’s pretty easy to become overwhelmed. None of the things I worry about are ever that difficult to do and I know a lot of them will sound silly, its not like I have a child to care for or anything. But even the smallest things become huge in an anxious mind. When I’m feeling like this I can’t have my phone near me because the idea of people texting me and then having more texts to reply to fills me with so much anxiety it makes me feel sick and I prefer to just pretend it’s not happening, same with checking emails.

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is to be honest, I don’t have any solutions for overcoming anxiety and feeling less overwhelmed. I just wanted to write something about the subject because it’s having a big effect on my life at the moment. It’s quite ironic that it’s happening because I’ve been really happy lately but I guess that’s anxiety/depression in a nutshell – it doesn’t care who you are or what’s happening it just pops up whenever it chooses to!

I just wanted to say that it’s ok if you feel like this, because it will pass eventually. Make sure you talk to people that you love and trust about how you are feeling and get some help if you can.

Hannah x

Self-care and taking a moment to think

northern ireland
northern ireland

My great uncle’s farm in Northern Ireland

Hello lovely people, apologies for the lack of recent posts (again) blogging always seems to take a back-seat when other areas of my life get stressful.

Which leads me nicely onto this post…

When you’re going through a rough time in life, you’re often told to ‘keep busy’ and ‘hang in there’ but I believe that isn’t the best way to deal with your feelings.

Trust me I understand why people tell you that. If you fill up your diary with activities you’ll have less time to dwell on your thoughts, right? Now I think about it, this sentiment is very British, the whole ‘keep calm and carry on’ thing. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that people were urged to keep things bottled up and NEVER talk about their problems. God forbid they opened up about mental health!

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Sources of inspiration when you feel like sh*t

coloured crayons on paper

Photo source: Daniel Watson via Unsplash

Sometimes it can be really difficult to generate a drop of positivity, let alone a glass half full. There are times when all those cute memes telling you to sparkle, be a unicorn, and have a cup of positivi-tea, will make you feel even worse than you already do.

It may also make you throw your phone across the room in rage, there’s nothing worse than people who don’t understand what you’re going through telling you to ‘keep your chin up’.

I’m sure they mean well, but it’s still annoying isn’t it?

I’m not here to tell you to ignore your feelings, in fact I say embrace them. Sometimes one of the best things you can do is listen to your emotions. Get angry, scream, cry, throw things around the room if it gives you a release.

Sometimes it’s fine to not feel ok. Continue Reading

Using exercise to heal

person standing infront of waterfall with rainbow

Apologies for my lack of recent blog posts.

The last month of my life has been heartbreaking to say the least and I would have felt inappropriate writing about something trivial during this tragic time. I’ve been debating channeling all of my feelings into a blog post, but honestly I will never find the right words to express what has happened, nor would I be happy about sharing it with the world. Maybe I will feel differently in a few months, but right now I choose to keep it private.

However, this blog has always served as an outlet for my emotions. Although I have never used it to delve into a darker side of my life, I have always found writing cathartic, even if it’s just by making sense of words written down on a page. Writing helps me to become present in the moment and puts the brakes on my troubles for the time being.

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