8 lovely, simple ways to embrace autumn this year

I don’t know about you but I love autumn. Knitwear, hot chocolate, an excuse to fill my flat with candles and spend evenings reading under a pile of blankets… But more than this, it’s the natural, seasonal changes that I love the most. Darker evenings, crisp mornings, the turning leaves, seasonal vegetables (especially apples, I love in-season apples). There’s a huge trend on Instagram at the moment about embracing seasonality, and I really think it’s wonderful – it inspires people to get out and enjoy nature in different ways, depending on the time of year. Spending time in nature is phenomenally good for our wellbeing, so I thought I would share some of my favourite ways to embrace autumn, but not just outdoors: indoors too (because let’s face it, those cosy evenings inside are THE BEST).

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Get crafty with a cosy homemade project

Recently I’ve spent a few evenings upcycling a rarely-worn jumper into two cuddly hot water bottle covers, and I’ve also made several vanilla and cinnamon soy candles – I used vanilla extract and cinnamon powder, which smells UNREAL. It’s not that much cheaper to make your own candles really, especially if you use baking ingredients for the scent. But it’s incredibly satisfying and there’s less waste when you’re reusing using old candle glasses. There are so many other things you could try as well – did you know that Flying Tiger (or Tiger? Not sure what they’re called now) sell watercolour colouring books? So you don’t have to be able to draw to use watercolours! And there are dozens of embroidery kits out there too, which is something I’ve got my eye on right now. Whatever crafts you choose, it’s really good to spend a little bit of time focused on creating something. And if you’re feeling daring you could always make a coffee table like I did last month 😉

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Seek out seasonal foods…

…and cook with them, of course! Supermarkets make it easy nowadays, there’s always a union flag on products that have been produced in the UK. Plus, here’s a great website to help you find seasonal foods. Apples are in season now in the UK, I really have a soft spot for seasonal apples because my family used to grow and sell them. But butternut squash, leeks, kale, shallots, beetroots and more are also all in season in autumn too so get cooking!

Try baking something cosy too

Gingerbread loaf, apple pie, pumpkin tart, carrot cake, cinnamon apple cake, honey cakes… are you salivating yet? I certainly am. It’s not just the joy of eating baked goods of course, it’s also the process of baking that gets you into the autumnal spirit. The spices, chopping and stirring, the oven making everything warm, the smell of a cake as it cooks… it’s all so homely! I love it.

Find a cosy book to curl up with 

There’s the obvious, but still lovely choice of Autumn by Ali Smith, or a modern classic like The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. An exciting new release like Melmoth by Sarah Perry or a brilliant work that’s stood the test of time like Frankenstein by Mary Shelley or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (one of my all time faves). I mean, let’s face it, autumn is the perfect time to spend a rainy day reading that book you’ve always meant to read, with rain hammering against the windows and a hot chocolate in your hand. Here’s another blog post I wrote about brilliant books everyone should read, to get you even more inspired!

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Make more plans 

A tried and true method that Norwegians use to get through the dark (and in Norway it gets reeeeally dark) months of autumn and winter is to make plenty of plans. You don’t need to have a buzzing social life or huge friendship group to do this so if you’re socially anxious don’t panic! Just make plans to do specific things with people you like, with your partner, and even with yourself. It will get you out of the house, and make you feel like you’re making the most of your time.

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Make your home a nice place to be

Making your home a nice place to be is essential during autumn and winter, so that you can really feel relaxed and at ease when the weather is raging outside. There’s a reason that Scandinavians take their homes seriously, and this is it – you need a good base camp to cope with cold, stormy weather. When you’re out on a cold walk, or your feet are soaking from the rain, or you’re at work with a winder cold, you need to know that you have a cosy space to come back to. The first step is to make sure your home is actually warm. Even if you’re renting and can’t really control the insulation or heating system, there are things you can do such as using blackout curtains, which will keep the heat in at night, and picking up some insulating strips to use on doors and windows. Next, get yourself some candles. Nothing makes a home cosier than candles! Wilko do a great selection of affordable ones, or if you live near an Ikea, go wild in their candle section too! Lastly: blankets. Don’t skimp on the blankets. And some soft, brushed cotton bedding, too! James and I have just bought this set, because we live right next to one of London’s deer parks and we can watch the deer grazing from our living room window, so it seems appropriate! Wilko, again, have a fantastic selection of cosy blankets and bedding, and they’re great quality for the price, too. You don’t have to spend a fortune on making your home a cosy, calm space. Even just tidying up can do wonders for that ‘hygge’ feeling!

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Go for an autumn walk

Not to get too simplistic on you here, but if you haven’t yet then get to your nearest botanical garden, nature reserve or park and enjoy the changing leaves, look for squirrels and breathe in that autumnal air. An autumn walk is a magical thing, just make sure you dress appropriately – bring a bag that will fit your coat in if you get too warm, but also bring along a waterproof, gloves and extra socks, because autumn gets cold, it gets wet, and it gets unexpectedly warm too. If you’re well prepared, you’ll be able to enjoy it no matter what. Also – here is a directory of accessible walks across the UK, for people who are disabled.

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Get in the bath

Of course, it wouldn’t be autumn without a hot, candlelit bath, and it wouldn’t be my blog without me recommending one, would it?! Check out this other post I wrote about the best bath products I’ve ever used (out of like, hundreds of products guys, when it comes to baths I do not mess around).

Happy autumn everyone!

 

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Self Care Ideas That Don’t Cost Any Money

In today’s world, self care is essential. It can be as simple as remembering to drink water, or as elaborate as a seven step skincare routine followed by 40 minutes of yoga. The type of self care you need depends on the level of wellbeing you are currently at. You shouldn’t feel pressured to engage in mindfulness meditation when you can’t even get out of bed! And you certainly should never feel obligated to spend money on making yourself feel better, despite how many magazines and websites say otherwise. Even the most well meaning self care ‘listicle’ is only really there to sell stuff. When brands are saying that you *need* the latest luxury bath salts or £40 face mask, it’s really just regular old marketing, re-spun, so that instead of saying ‘you’ll look better!’ they’re saying ‘you’ll feel better!’ Capitalism has taken the concept of self care and resold it to us as a commodity.

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You can absolutely look after yourself without buying anything new. I’ve complied a list of free ideas for people who can’t splash out, or are suspicious of the idea that self care should cost money. Obviously these are some of my personal favourite ways to look after myself, but I thought they might also be helpful as inspiration to get you thinking about creative ways you can rest and recharge on your own terms:

Turn your headphones off when you’re walking home in the rain – Listening to the rain is one of the most effective ways to soothe my brain and always has been, ever since I was little. I love walking home listening to the water hitting my umbrella. Perhaps it’s the same for you, or perhaps you love the sun and could try crossing the road whenever you can to walk on the sunny side. Or if you love the wind you could go to an open space on a blustery day and let it whip up into your hair and blow the cobwebs away.

Water and tend to your plants, then sit with them for a while – I have an enormous family of plants in my flat and I always feel more positive and recharged after I’ve spent a little time checking in on them; watering, dusting their leaves, repotting etc. I talk to them too. Houseplants are inexpensive, and do not take a huge amount of time to care for. If you don’t already have one, bringing some greenery into the home has been demonstrated time and time again to have lots of positive effects!

Read to your partner and have them read to you – James and I absolutely love doing this together, and usually read a few pages at a time before swapping. It’s lovely to do this while snuggled up under warm blankets and pillows, with bedside lamps just bright enough to read by. Everything you remember about how nice it was being read to as a child will come flooding back and you and your partner will be left feeling warm and fuzzy.

File the dead skin off your feet – Gross, fun and sooooo satisfying. Set aside 20 minutes for this, get right up in there with a pumice or file, then have a shower to wash it all off, and finish the job by rubbing in some body lotion, if you have any!

Cook yourself food and allow yourself to enjoy it – Anyone who has ever suffered from stress, exhaustion, physical or mental illness or financial difficulties will have been through a time where cooking food and letting it nurture them was impossible. I’ve been to that place. There are hundreds of reasons why someone may not have eaten properly for a while. If that’s you, when the time does come to give yourself a hot meal, try this method to make it as restorative as possible: Choose a meal that you know how to cook, and get the ingredients out before you start. While you cook, focus on the way the food feels in your hands, how it smells, how much you’re looking forward to eating it. Wash things up and clean as you go so you don’t have a pile of pots to tackle after you’ve eaten. When it’s ready, pour a large glass of water and bring your food to somewhere you find comfortable. Put some music on; don’t watch your shows while you’re eating today. Eat it slowly, let yourself enjoy the warm feeling that food can bring you. Drink your glass of water as you eat.

Make taking a shower into a cleansing ritual – For some, the simple act of getting in the shower is a taxing enough act of self care, and they should be proud to have managed to do that for themselves. But for other people, the way in which you shower can have a powerfully energising, restorative effect. It’s very basic, but the act of focusing the mind on something simple is so good for us. This is how I like to use my shower time to rest and refocus my mind: Get in the shower, squeeze out a generous amount of body wash, and massage it into every inch of your skin, from your toes to your neck. Pay attention to soaping up every part of your body, bit by bit. If you have a body brush or scrub, do the same with that and exfoliate your whole body. Just focus on the sensations, the smell of your shower gel, the heat of the water, the softness of the bubbles. If you want to, wash your face and hair too with the same degree of care, and finish by giving yourself a thorough rinse, letting the water wash everything away, leaving you shiny and new.

Get everything ready for bed, then run a bath and read in it for ages – I particularly love to do this when I’m reading a book I’m really enjoying. Get the washing up done, get your bag ready for work tomorrow, teeth brushed, alarm set, phone on charge, bed made. Then run a hot bath, put some bubbles in, soak and read away, until you’re ready to dry off and slip into bed.

Listen to an entire album that you love from start to finish – I suggest putting your headphones on for this, and lying on your bed. While you listen, try to focus just on the music, the emotions it stirs in you and any happy memories it may bring. Calmly but firmly steer your mind away from negative thoughts or worries that will try to creep in during this quiet time. This isn’t an opportunity for you to mull things over, make plans or ruminate – this time is for you and your brain to hang out together with something you both enjoy. If I do struggle to stop my mind racing, I say this to myself: “No. I’m not thinking about that right now. I don’t need to and I don’t want to. I am going to enjoy Zaba by Glass Animals until it is finished, because that is what I set this time aside to do.” Then, I will focus on the lyrics or pick out different instruments and follow them through the songs until my mind quietens down again.

Ecotherapy – Being out in nature is clinically proven to help improve mood and reduce stress. Jump at any chance to simply be out of doors, even better if you can take your shoes off and put your feet on the ground! In Japan this is known as ‘forest bathing’ and is regarded as essential, particularly for those living in densely populated urban areas.

Move around – Exercise is a personal thing and I don’t like to talk about it because it has the potential to make people feel bad when they haven’t done anything wrong. But still it seemed weird to leave this off the list, as it really does make a lot of people feel a bit better. If you’re able to, and you want to, I would definitely suggest trying exercise when you’re feeling down. It can be as simple as going for a walk or run, or you could try one of the millions of workout and yoga session on youtube. All completely free!

Some of these methods may seem trivial or pointless, and some of them might seem silly to you, but remember that I’ve tried to create a list that will inspire everyone, no matter what life situation they might be in. Whether you’re a student, a new parent, physically or mentally ill, in financial trouble or stressed at work, you are allowed to spend time on yourself. It’s not just nice to do, it’s necessary for your wellbeing which means you should never feel bad for taking the time to do it. Spending money doesn’t validate your self care, and doesn’t necessarily make it more effective either. The most important thing is that you approach your self care with the intention of taking some time to look after yourself, because you, just by virtue of existing on this planet as a human being, deserve it.

How to talk to a doctor about your vagina

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Women everywhere are taught that their bodies, sexuality, and as a consequence, genitals, are dirty. We’re taught that enjoying our bodies is sad and wrong, that periods are disgusting and that unless you’re as trimmed as a porn star, no man will ever eat you out. So it’s NO SURPRISE WHATSOEVER that it’s hard to talk to a stranger, face to face, about an issue you might be having between your legs. I’ve been there – and I broke through the apprehension, so I thought I’d share with you how I did it…

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  1. Be honest with yourself. I don’t mean that in the sense of asking yourself why you’re nervous about talking to a doctor about your vajajay. What I mean is DON’T put off seeing a doctor. Don’t tell yourself that it’s nothing. If you are worried about your body, then you have a responsibility to yourself to do something about it. Make that appointment!
  2. You can always request a female doc if that makes you feel better. If it does, go for it! For the record I’ve had a lot of male doctors and nurses talk about/look at my vag and it was exactly the same. They all have the same level of education, they all ask you the same questions.
  3. The hardest part of talking to a doctor is the beginning. When you start, you’ll get a twinge of ‘oh god what if I blush’, but just push through. Even if you do blush! Like, they’re a doctor, they probably won’t even notice because they’ll be listening to you describe your symptoms.
  4. Remember that you do not need to feel ‘bad’ or ‘guilty’ talking to a doc about your vagina, or even asking them to look at it. Yes, you CAN ask a doctor to look at it. It is EXACTLY the same as asking them to look at a mole. Every GP in the world has has been elbow deep inside a human body on multiple occasions. I cannot begin to express how unfazed they will be by your vagina.
  5. Make eye contact. If you pretend that you aren’t feeling awkward, then it magically becomes not awkward. Honestly! If you don’t have a problem with eye contact usually, then this is a really useful way of forcing yourself to be comfortable.
  6. It’s normal to feel exposed or uncomfortable on an exam table. Especially if it’s cold! Just remember that feeling a bit uncomfortable is worth it to know that everything’s fine, and even more worth it if everything turns out NOT to be fine.
  7. If you’re having an examination, relax your muscles, control your breathing and count the ceiling tiles. You’ll barely even notice that speculum going in! (Jokes)
  8. Even if you can’t make yourself feel at ease, it doesn’t matter. A doctor sees people at the worst times in their life. Elderly people who can’t remember where they are. Women who have just lost a baby. Alcoholics with liver cirrhosis. I’m not belittling your concern (remember, I’ve been there), what I’m doing is reminding you that being able to walk in, tell a doctor what’s happening and have them look at it? That is a privilege. Even if you have to stare at your shoes the entire time.

I wanted to write this post because I know a lot of people are worried about discussing their vagina with a stranger. I hope this made you feel better and inspired you to book that smear test, get that lump looked at, or ask your doctor why you’re having pain during sex. You have a right to free healthcare, and your vagina is damn important!