Is Your Work Environment Toxic? How to Identify The Signs

toxic environment

Pre-pandemic I was working in a company where the culture was particularly toxic. They had the biggest turnover rate I’ve ever seen and the level of frustration / unhappiness among my colleagues was over the roof. I suppose I have that company to thank for because it triggered my desire to quit my job without anything else lined up, just to travel. How often do you have the opportunity to take a break for several months in life? I believe everything happens for a reason and if I was happy at work I wouldn’t have had the occasion to make this incredible trip in Southeast Asia & the Pacific. Life is too short! It’s never been so important to work in a healthy and supportive environment, so watch out for these signs:

Employees are desperate to impress the boss

If there is a “brown nose club” (as I affectionally call them) whose sole purpose is to be noticed by the boss, it’s a strong sign of individualism. Not only will it impact the trust between people, but unnecessary energy will be spent on office politics. Collaboration will reduce and everyone will look at what’s best for themselves… Not exactly a type of environment you can thrive in! I remember having the feeling I had to watch my back and worry someone would throw me under the bus if that allowed them to shine brighter. Stupid.

Results are more important than employees’ wellbeing

In my previous company, an easy way to be “valued” was to forget about your work-life balance and spend as much time as possible in the office. Presence and commitment were important factors, but it was not exactly a give and take situation. It felt like the business mattered more than our wellbeing… It didn’t bother anyone to see an employee not taking any lunch break and working all weekend, every week. I think it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, you don’t own the business. The business doesn’t own you either. You’re entitled to use your free time for whatever makes you happy: hobbies, family time, etc. Otherwise, watch out for that burnout!

Examples of other red flags: if they discourage you to take a lunch break with your teammates (“divide to conquer” approach) and are being difficult with your holiday request(s), approving them as late as possible.

Employees don’t feel like they have a voice

If you think you might as well keep your thoughts to yourself because you’re afraid to speak your mind, it’s a pretty good sign you don’t feel “safe”. Working in an office where you’re terrified of looking stupid or making mistakes is not good for your self-confidence. You shouldn’t feel punished for raising concerns! It also makes innovation impossible. If they don’t want to hear about your ideas, give them to someone else who will listen to you.

same shit different day

There is toxicity at an individual level

A toxic employee can spread fear or negativity and drag down morale for the entire team. I remember working with a very insecure woman who was clearly in search of power. She was very aggressive and liked to humiliate people by email or in meetings, usually with an audience. As a result, most people were scared of her. Unfortunately, she contributed to the overall toxicity like other senior managers. Culture starts at the top, so if you feel like there is no hope for improvements, just run away and don’t look back.

The company is reluctant to pay for bonuses

Here’s another sign that something is wrong. As an employer, why wouldn’t you want to reward your biggest asset (aka your employees) when they have been working hard to hit their target? If the bonus structure they give you is blurry to say the least, or includes variables you don’t directly have an impact on, it probably means they want to find an easy way to underpay you. Same if they reward you for hitting your target by doubling it the following month and make it impossible to achieve. Again, I speak from personal experience. My advice would be to look for a company who is more than happy to reward you, because you deserve it. And after all, it’s the best way for them to guarantee they’ll keep happy employees who will do their best to perform.

Is your work environment toxic? Or are you lucky enough to work in a healthy and supportive environment? I’ve started a new job 4 months ago (hence why my blog has taken a back seat for now, sorry…) and I can tell you I feel much happier now. It’s a great way for me to confirm what I already knew: my previous workplace was impacting me negatively, even outside of business hours. If you feel it’s also the case for you, leave me a comment below. I would love to hear about your own experience!

Big Girl x

How To Make Moving Home As Stress-Free As Possible

packing boxes

I can make very organised to-do lists every time I move, it will never make it completely stress-free. I must have moved about 20 times in my life already (not kidding) and yet I can safely say the last one has been the most painful. It just doesn’t get any easier with time! It also took me a while to recover and settle in my new place… So I’ve been forced to take a break from the blog for a few weeks. After enjoying a nice bank holiday weekend, now is time to get back to business! What do you need to know to make such a life event as smooth as possible?

Do some decluttering first

The best thing when you move is that you get rid of a lot of useless stuff. Unless you’re an expert in minimalist living, you accumulate a lot over time and only seem to realise it when it’s time to pack everything up. Surely you don’t want to carry unwanted items with you, so start fresh beforehand and declutter to free your mind:

  • Sort out your wardrobe. How many times have you worn that dress? Have you ever had the occasion to wear that expensive pair of high-heel shoes that you might not even be able to walk in? Clothes bank, charities, second-hand shops, the possibilities are endless to get rid of what you don’t need.
  • Go through big items in your garage. Is there anything that has been packed away and never used? Do you really want to keep them in your new home?
  • Check any cupboards prone to stock unnecessary stuff. I’m talking about beauty products, bathroom items, random little things that have been forgotten in a drawer, it could be anything.

It may sound obvious but I was so glad I did this exercise before moving out… Getting rid of half my wardrobe also made me realise I owned way too many clothes. I now have a new policy where I wear anything I want everyday, no more “special occasion” clothes I will never end up wearing. I’m not saying you should wear your wedding dress to go to the supermarket if you fancy, but hopefully you get the idea.

Too many to-do lists will overwhelm you

If you’re like me, you like creating to-do lists for everything. This is usually super useful but when it comes to moving, it could be counterproductive. I ended up with so many lists of things to not forget that I felt my mind was never able to rest… And I ended up tiring myself out as a result. Not needed! It’s like when I go on holiday and I worry about forgetting important things. I use a different mindset now: I just remember that as long as I have my passport and my phone with me, everything will be fine. It’s just a case of prioritising what really matters. What I’m trying to say is: if you forget in what box you packed your sunscreen and the sun is nowhere to be seen, it’s obviously not a big deal.

I will even go further and say you actually don’t need to do much before moving, apart from packing. As long as you know when you need to move out and when you get the keys to your new home, this is pretty much it. The rest will naturally follow as you will be able to do them once you’re settled. That would include:

  • redirect your mail
  • update your new address (bank, insurance, driving licence, various memberships, etc)
  • terminate any direct debit you may have (electricity, gas, water, council tax, etc)

I always try to sort things out as soon as possible but then I realise they could also be done on the spot. Most admin things are done by email nowadays anyway, it’s not like people can’t reach you if you move.

Some things can’t be rushed

That is probably the most underrated advice I could give you. I was trying desperately to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible, but all I needed was patience. There’s no point chasing the agency to send you the contract if you agreed on the move-in date weeks ago. No point packing kitchen stuff a week earlier, unless you want to order a takeaway every day until you move. Chances are you won’t get the keys to your new place earlier than planned so no need to wonder how long is that wall in the living room so you can buy a new dining table right away. You get the idea.

I would say the most difficult thing in a move is to stop feeling anxious something will go wrong. You might end up packing something useful too early or forget to clean the oven before you move out, it’s not going to be the end of the world. Just breathe and relax, you will be just fine. Give yourself some time to fully embrace the experience without stressing out, maybe it means taking a week off work for your own sanity. It’s exciting to move into a new place, so you might as well enjoy it!

As I’m writing these lines, I’ve only just started to settle in… All I need from now on is a well organised routine full of good habits. New home, new life, new adventures! Who can relate?

Big Girl x

How to Recognise an Addiction & Recover From It

casino games

I am no therapist but I want to cover this sensitive topic because I’ve been through it myself in a past relationship. One of my ex boyfriends was addicted to gambling and it took me a year to find out. No one knew about it. I remember the shame and guilt associated with his addiction, the multiple lies that led to trust issues, but also how helpless I felt… At his worst, he was able to lose the equivalent of a month’s salary in a few days, simply by gambling it online. I had to involve his family and he never really forgave me for that.

After a year of struggle, I was still clueless what to do to break the cycle so I eventually ended the relationship. Gamblers tend to think they can always earn back what they lost, “hope” is what causes their downfall. It was not an easy break-up but I figured the best way to help him was to “lose” me for good. Today I’m still convinced it was the right thing to do. But you can’t break up with everyone… What if he was my brother, my dad or a close friend?

Are some people more inclined to become addicted than others? Maybe it’s in our genes. Or are we all addicted to something in the end? I don’t know for certain but I’m hoping I can at least shed some light on the matter.

Types of addiction

Some things are famous to easily create dependence:

  • Drugs (illicit or not)
  • Some medication (prescribed or not)
  • Alcohol
  • Gambling

But you can also be addicted to pretty common things… For example:

  • Junk food
  • Your mobile phone
  • Internet or social media
  • Computer games

Whether it’s an addiction to a substance or a specific behaviour, it can be very dangerous and/or unhealthy. If it’s not identified rapidly, it can lead to serious consequences.

What are the signs to look after

Below are some questions you need to ask yourself if you’re in doubt. Are they:

  • Suddenly lacking interest for a hobby that used to be important?
  • Neglecting relationships?
  • Ignoring the negative consequences of their actions?
  • Noticing any distinct change in their sleeping patterns, causing chronic fatigue?
  • Becoming secretive, lying about the amount of substance used or time spent?
  • Going through an abrupt change of weight?
  • Changing moods and showing signs of irritability?
  • Depressed with suicidal thoughts?
  • Lacking concerns over their physical appearance?

Just remember that someone with an addiction will almost always understate the seriousness of their condition. When confronted, they may make excuses and try to justify their behaviour to you. So unless there are any potential medical reasons for someone’s health decline, there’s an increased chance of an underlying addiction problem.

How to help them recover from it

freedom remove handcuffs

If you know someone who needs help with an addiction, keep in mind they don’t always want to acknowledge they’re addicted. Approaching and helping an addict could be a long, challenging, and painful process. Start with a one-on-one conversation, free of distractions or interruptions. If they’re willing to seek professional help, then great. But in some cases, they won’t. If they become defensive instead, let it go for the time being and start involving family members to plan an intervention. And even when they accept to enrol in a recovery program, stay involved with the process and keep giving support. If they’re still reluctant to change, the most difficult part is to strike a balance and set boundaries in the relationship. Unfortunately, sometimes you may need to cut off contact in order to maintain your own emotional well-being, like I did.

Below are some ways you can attempt to help them:

  • Learn more about their addiction (substance or behavioural), document yourself and read about testimonies, successful recovery stories, etc
  • Stay involved but not in a patronising way, show compassion
  • Provide an environment free of possible triggers
  • Speak up and freely express your concerns
  • Look for a rehab facility or organisations that will be able to help manage the addiction

But at the end of the day, recovering from it has to be their decision, not yours. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you didn’t manage to convince them. Have you ever been in this situation? Did you manage to find the light at the end of the tunnel?

“I’m Not Telling You It Is Going To Be Easy, I’m Telling You It’s Going To Be Worth It.” (Anonymous).

Big Girl x

Declutter Your Home to Free Your Mind

couple packing boxes

In less than 3 months from now, we will have to move out because our rental contract is coming to an end and the landlord would like to sell the flat. It’s a situation that could be stressful for some, but this is routine to me. I would need more than 2 hands to count how many times I moved to a different place in my life… I just like a regular change of scenery! Now I can tell you that: it doesn’t matter how many times you did it before, the packing part is always the most painful. In between moves, I always seem to find a way to accumulate too many things.

Letting things go is not an easy task

I have so many clothes that I need 2 big wardrobes to fit everything in. Not because I buy too much but because I never get rid of anything. T-shirts I used to wear 10 years ago (it’s almost sentimental), dresses I never wear (but I might some day, we never know), the list is long. My desk is full of “stuff”, drawers and cupboards are overflowing. A lot of free space represents danger: I will find a way to fill up the space somehow, it’s like a pattern that keeps repeating itself. I now realise it’s very similar to how my mind works: I’m constantly overthinking.

Everything happens for a reason so I’ll use my next move to declutter properly. There’s no better motivation to make a start than when you have a countdown hanging over your head. There is only so much I can procrastinate this time, I have no choice but to do it! And the last thing I want is to fill the emptied space with more things again. My new objective is to keep a more minimalist approach to life. Because at the end of the day, you don’t own things, they own you.

Why should you declutter and learn how to live with less?

Below are some good reasons why:

  • It’s an excellent exercise to learn how to let things go (physically but also mentally) – You will get more space to move around.
  • A home with less stuff will make you feel more calm, peaceful and relaxed – Your energy levels will rise.
  • It’s easier to clean and tidy up when there is less stuff – You will have more time for yourself.
  • Choosing to own less means choosing to buy less – it will also save you money!
decluttering: less is more

In so many ways, decluttering your space will help free your mind and have a positive impact on your wellbeing. Not only you’ll clear up the mess but it will force you to come to terms with things you subconsciously link with the past. And who knows, maybe you will find some hidden gems in the process too: things you forgot you even had under that pile of clutter!

Tips to make a good start

From my own experience, this is what I would suggest:

  1. Break down your home into smaller areas
    • List what requires decluttering: closet, desk, bookshelves, etc
  2. Start with small and easy things you can get rid of easily
    • What doesn’t have any value and is utterly useless, contributes to the mess and doesn’t make you smile when you look at it
    • No difficult decisions at this point
  3. Prepare 2 boxes: one for unwanted things you want to sell, one for unwanted things you want to give away
    • Does it have monetary value? Put it in the “to sell” box
    • Do you have someone in mind who could use it? Any charity who could benefit from it? Put it in the “to give away” box (to prioritise if you don’t need the money)
  4. Ask yourself the right questions
    • When was the last time you used the item? What are the odds you’re ever going to need it again? What do you feel when you touch the item?
    • Remember you need much less than you think you need
  5. Don’t stop until your space looks spacious and harmonious
    • Organise what’s left to keep the space clean

How to do it in a sustainable way

Going through a big decluttering will help you realise how much you own but have never used, and will prevent you from doing the same thing again. By consuming less, you’ll reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to a greener world. Not buying things that are unnecessary helps improve the environment!

“As consumers we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy.”

Emma Watson

REUSE
Before you make a purchase, you should commit to using what you have first. Do you really need to buy this new jumper? Does your kid really need this new extra toy? Some things are obviously reusable, but some others would need a bit more imagination. Look at them with a creative eye: maybe that old piece of linen can be used to wrap up a gift?

DONATE
Some things you own might not be of any use to you, but someone else will definitely use it. Whether it’s a family member, a friend or someone you don’t know via charities, it’s definitely a good thing to do. What’s a better feeling than supporting local non-profits in your community? This is also probably the best chance to give your unwanted items a second life.

RECYCLE
If there’s no better option than discarding it, do it the right way. Recycling stuff will reduce the amount sent to landfill, and make use of resources already available. Remember to keep your cardboard and other recyclables clean and read your local recycling guide.

If you are thinking of decluttering too (whether you’re moving out or not), I know it can seem daunting but you can do it!

Big Girl x

How to Identify Your Time Robbers and Take Back Ownership

time management

We all have the same number of hours in a day, yet we don’t manage this precious resource the same way. Before the pandemic happened, we all had the excuse of being “busy” with work, not fitting everything in the schedule because of many other commitments. Would you say things have changed since we suddenly had a lot more time for ourselves during lockdown? Chances are you still caught yourself saying: “I didn’t have time to do this!”. Is not having enough time really the issue? Or could it be something else stealing your time away?

Identify what are your hidden time drains

Now, your go-to excuse has been exposed as a lie… Even if it’s socially acceptable to say you didn’t have time, you know it’s not true. It’s not that easy to identify what’s sabotaging yourself as you’re probably not aware of it. Below are a few examples of possible reasons:

Procrastination

This is probably the most common thief of time… Sometimes it’s necessary to procrastinate, if you feel you don’t have what you need to complete a specific task (lack of information, energy, input, etc). But if it’s avoidance, it’s often a response to uncertainty and fear. Whether it’s a fear of failure or a fear of success, it protects you from disappointment. People who procrastinate the most are anxious people who have a vivid imagination of all the things that could possibly go wrong. Is that you? If so, try and welcome your thoughts and emotions next time you feel like procrastinating. Be kind to yourself and remember that you’ll feel more motivated after you’ve started.

Overcommitment

Having too much on your plate is for sure going to affect your wellbeing over time. People who overcommit are often people pleasers who don’t know how to say no. They enjoy helping others and don’t want to miss out on opportunities and life events, they simply like being “busy”. But if you recognise yourself here, make sure the bulk of your time is spent on your own priorities. You don’t want to feel busy and stuck at the same time, otherwise it will create anxiety because you’ll feel that life is passing by too quickly. Make sure you schedule time for yourself too, protect that space and resist the urge to fill it up with something else.

Overthinking

Another big time thief would be overthinking. Do you spend an insane amount of time ruminating things from the past? Recent events, conversations where you wish you said things differently, decisions you didn’t take, etc. Overthinkers struggle to switch off at the end of the day, their mind is always busy. Are you one of them? I know I am… I sometimes get stuck in preparation mode. It doesn’t show because I appear calm but it wouldn’t reflect what it’s like in my head. If you’re like me, bring your focus to the present next time you catch yourself in an overthinking spiral.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism is the enemy of good, you could get stuck on the same task for too long if you’re not careful. It’s fine to have high standards but what if it actually works against you? Perfectionists want to do things properly, they give 100% whether it’s a small task or a big one. Do you set the bar too high? If yes, then maybe you need to be careful about not postponing any enjoyment in life too much. Don’t wait until “you have time” to fully appreciate time for yourself, or you would run the risk of burnout. Learn how to accept “good enough” instead of “perfect”, so you can find more time in your day for more fun stuff.

self care isn't selfish

Timekeeping tips to make space for what really matters to you

It’s all about self-awareness. Do you make enough time for what truly matters to you? Unlike money, which you can save for a rainy day, you can only either use time or lose it. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. Below are my few tips to help on the matter:

1. Divide your time into units

Break down your day into smaller segments. Make a list of non-negotiables first: sleep time, commute time (if applicable), cooking time, etc. Then reflect on the previous day, fill the rest of the time with everything you’ve actually done vs what you planned to do. Did you underestimate how long you needed to complete a task? Did you spend a long time doing unnecessary things? This process will help you identify where you’re wasting time and give you tools to better manage your time.

2. Don’t make yourself excuses

A lot of things can disrupt your day: a notification flashing on your phone, an email reminder you need to reorder some food for your pets, your social media feed, etc. And that’s how time is easily stolen away from you. Don’t make yourself excuses and take back ownership of your time by removing any distractions when you need to be focused on a specific task.

3. Start with what’s difficult

It’s always tempting to start with what’s quick and easy. But if at the end of the day, you didn’t manage to complete the difficult tasks, it will stay in your mind and even overwhelm you with guilt, anxiety, stress… By “difficult tasks”, I mean anything you absolutely have to do, but really can’t be bothered to do (it could be anything, really). If you can’t tackle it in one go, aim to at least make some progress on it. It will make you feel good about yourself!

4. Identify when you’re the most productive

Are you an early bird or a night owl? When do you feel like you have the most energy? Know yourself and identify when is the best time of the day for each type of activity. If you’re unsure, try and experiment to find out. For example, if you’re performing best with admin tasks in the morning, don’t plan to spend time on the phone with a friend instead. It’s ok to set some time zones as off limits in your diary!

5. Stick to only a couple of goals a day

As much as everyone loves ticking things off the list, it gives you more focus to have only one or two key objectives for the day. Identify what’s really important and everything else will get done as a bonus. You can keep a long to-do list if that helps, but accept the fact that most of it will not be completed today or tomorrow. That way you won’t get drowned in your own mess. It comes back to your priorities and what you know needs to be done first, not what you want to do first.

Conclusion

There are so many time thieves in our day-to-day lives, it’s crucial to be aware of them to manage our time more efficiently. This is applicable to everything in life of course, not only at work. Among big projects in my life right now, I have to organise a move to another flat in a few months (with all associated admin tasks you can imagine) and plan a wedding (with the added challenges, due to COVID). It keeps my excitement up for what’s coming next, but I know I’ll have to be organised!

Have you identified what are your main roadblocks?

Big Girl x

How a Powerful Mind Can Turn Any Failure Into Success

How a Powerful Mind Can Turn Any Failure Into Success

Everyone has experienced failure at some point in their lives. What matters is how you react and what you learn from it. After all, many successful people have failed big time before succeeding. Some famous examples include: Walt Disney, Stephen King, Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling or even Bill Gates. And there are many others… You might not necessarily aim for so much fame (I know I don’t) but this is applicable to everyone!

Failure is part of success

I think it is actually very important to fail in life. It helps you build strength and resilience, which are amazing qualities to have. The world is full of “successful failures”. So let’s just acknowledge it when it happens and turn it into a positive. My life is full of failures… Although I feel a lot more proud than ashamed when I look in the rear-view mirror. Let me give you 4 examples from my personal experience.

1. I’ve been in several long-term relationships

For some it would actually be an achievement, especially for those who don’t manage to keep a relationship alive for a more than a few weeks. But if you invest several years in a relationship, how can you not see it as a failure when it ends?

I had to recover from 4 difficult breakups in my adult life. Each time, I initially thought they were “the one”. But then I eventually walked away when I realised the relationship was broken, I didn’t see any way to turn things around. It was like the candle in my heart suddenly stopped burning. To me, it was always a brave decision to make, because society constantly pressures you to be in a relationship. As a result, some people would avoid being single at all costs. I’d rather be single than with the wrong person by my side.

My learnings? My past experiences taught me so much about what I wanted and needed, but also what I couldn’t tolerate in a relationship. I met the one who was “husband material” to me, hence why I’m marrying him (hopefully) this year!

2. I never managed to keep the weight off

Now this could be the situation most people can relate to. Who can “naturally” maintain a healthy weight anyway? Not many. In my situation, I succeeded in losing more than 20 kilos 4 times in my adult life already. Is that a success or a failure? Probably both.

I would consider it a full success when I manage to keep it off permanently. I wouldn’t have had to do it all again if I didn’t put the weight back on… 4 times. But I never gave up or accepted to stay overweight. I never gave myself excuses, such as: “Oh well, maybe some people are not meant to be lean”, the classic “I have heavy bones” or even “I’d rather eat whatever I want, even if it means I put my health at risk”.

My learnings? I’ve just lost 20 kilos in the past 6 months. Yes, it’s the 4th time I’ve done it. But this time, I know it’s different. I learnt from my previous experiences and identified why it never lasted long. If you’re following this blog, you already know what long-term eating habits I’m putting in place to stay healthy. Stay tuned for more weight loss & weight maintenance related posts in the coming months!

3. I changed my career path several times

I grew up being convinced I wanted to become a doctor. So when I finished high school, I knew exactly what university to go to. But I failed the 1st year final exam and at the time I was devastated. It felt like my childhood dreams were all my pure imagination, I didn’t turn them into reality… I then realised I failed because I didn’t want it enough. I was young and immature. Why would I even want to become a doctor? In hindsight, I was living a lie. I liked the honourable aspect of this occupation, but I couldn’t have coped emotionally with everything it involves. Today the pandemic has confirmed what I already knew: I’m glad I’m not a doctor.

But finding my way wasn’t straightforward. Initially, I turned to programming, thinking: “At least if a computer dies, it’s not a big deal”. Truth is it’s extremely difficult to know what you should be doing when you’re in your early 20s. I found myself in a geek world I didn’t feel I belonged to. Was it still not the right path for me? It is even harder to accept you’ve made the wrong decision when it’s the second time already. After that, I had no choice but to make it right. Finally, I opted for sales & marketing and 5 years later I completed my Master’s degree. I was 4 years older than my schoolmates.

My learnings? I strongly believe that because I failed before, I had even more to prove. I enrolled in a sandwich course, alternating between studies and apprenticeship every year until graduation. It was hard but it was the best way to get work experience and also start my life without debts – the companies paid for my school fees. This is not something I would have even considered doing if I didn’t go through my previous disappointments.

4. I failed a job interview last month

When I quit my last job in September 2019, it was to travel in Southeast Asia & the Pacific. It was supposed to be a 6-month sabbatical only (it’s been more than a year now). Of course it was a risk, you never know what to expect upon your return. How about a worldwide pandemic? You get the picture, the job market is not what it used to be.

I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I don’t have to rush to find a job. So I’m focusing on finding the right job that will positively impact my mental health. I thought I found it when I was interviewing for this company recently. I got to the 4th and final stage of the process, but a few days later I found out I didn’t get the role.

My learnings? It’s a normal reaction to be disappointed and feel discouraged when you receive bad news. This is my most recent failure. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, it still hurts every time you do. But I know better now, my mind is powerful and I’m not going to let that negative experience impact my energy. And I do believe everything happens for a reason.

“As I look back on my life, I realise that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.”

Steve Maraboli

It’s too easy to enter a negative loop

Not everyone has the mental strength to keep trying until they succeed. The way I picture it is a bit like Alice in Wonderland when she falls into that never-ending rabbit hole. If you let negativity take away the best of you, it becomes even harder to recover from failure. I know that if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s definitely not easy. But it’s a learning curve.

Last week, I received an email from a recruiter. She was asking me if I was interested in one of the vacancies she was working on. I never get too excited when I receive emails from recruiters, because I know from experience they never fully grasp your profile. So of course the vacancy didn’t fit my skills whatsoever. Something in her signature made me tick though. There was a quote saying: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”. Life can send you signs… You just have to be attentive and notice them.

If you fall, get back up right away

My piece of advice will not be rocket science I’m afraid. I’m sure you’ve heard of the proverb: “If you fall off the horse, get back on every single time”. I would like to insist on how important it is to keep going in life. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many times you fall. What matters is that you got back up one more time than you fell…

Who needed to hear these stories today? Don’t forget to share it to whoever needs to stay motivated around you!

Big Girl x

How Pets Can Significantly Improve Your Mental Health

how pets can improve our mental health

We all know how lockdown has affected people’s mental health this year and pets may have played a key role in our wellbeing. Pets could indeed be lifesavers through a period of social loneliness, but not only then. In so many ways, they can help us live mentally healthier lives! The healing power of the human-animal bond is real.

My story

I was only 22 and still a student when I adopted Miko (the tabby cat in the picture below). I was in the middle of a crisis in my life: I was just back from Australia (I lived 6 months in Brisbane), feeling nostalgic about my experience over there and started to question some of my life choices: Was I studying at the right school? What exactly did I want to do with my life? Where did I see myself in the upcoming years? I didn’t have the answer and I felt lost. Suddenly, the opportunity presented itself to adopt a cat, a friend of a friend didn’t know what to do with their new litter of kittens. We had cats in my family when I was younger so I felt educated enough on the matter, I didn’t hesitate and decided to adopt one of them.

miko and luna in their cat tree

It gave me stability

Another living being was now depending on me and I had no choice but to be responsible and take ownership of my life decisions. Since then, Miko has been the stability I didn’t have with my nomad life: I’ve moved 9 times in France and England within the last 13 years. Cats are creatures of habit and don’t usually enjoy changing their territory so regularly, but he has never seemed too bothered. Or maybe he knew it was my style. He’s the one who picked me after all, not the other way around, and that makes a huge difference.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

Two is better than one

Now that he’s a senior cat (13 cat years is equivalent to 68 human years!), I thought it would be nice to give him a feline friend… A human’s company doesn’t always compensate the special bond they develop with each other. If you think cats are solitary animals who enjoy spending time alone, you couldn’t be more wrong.

I had to separate him from his sister when I adopted him, because I couldn’t afford both of them at the time. She was all black, that’s why I started to look for a similar cat online and found our second cat Luna. Sometimes I wonder if he knows exactly why I picked her. These two are so happy together now, it fills our hearts with joy every time we look at them. Of course they also fight sometimes (like siblings would do) but I know it was meant to be. Do you also believe everything happens for a reason?

miko and luna on the sofa

How pets help you make healthy lifestyle changes

Among all the things I can think of, they:

  • encourage you to exercise and help you lose weight (in case of dogs)
  • encourage playfulness and laughter
  • can make you socialise with other animal lovers (I strongly believe someone who loves animals can’t be a bad person)
  • give you a healthy routine (I have to wake up every day at the same time to feed my cats – no matter what my mood is…)

How pets impact your overall health

And they also:

  • are a great motivator
  • relax and calm your mind when you stroke them
  • can lower your blood pressure in stressful situations
  • are great company and give you a sense of security
  • fulfil the basic human need for touch
  • make you feel needed
  • increase our sense of self-esteem and wellbeing
  • teach you how to live in the moment (they don’t worry about the past or the future)
  • teach kids empathy and sense of responsibility, as well as building better relationships with other people
  • are great help to people in later life, but also to children with ADHD or autism

Note: By no means I recommend you to adopt a pet as the solution if you’re temporarily feeling anxious, depressed or lonely. An animal is a huge responsibility and it’s important not to take this decision lightly. A good animal charity would ensure your home is suitable for them. They’re not “just for Christmas”, or “just for lockdown” either.

Do you believe in the pet effect and the human-animal bond? You can get involved, support HABRI (the Human Animal Bond Research Institute) by: donating, becoming an advocate or simply staying informed!

Big Girl x

How to Look for a Job That Will Positively Impact Your Mental Health

How to Look for a Job That Will Positively Impact Your Mental Health

Last year I was working in a finance company where the culture was really bad: ignoring people’s work-life balance, asking employees to work during the weekend without any compensation, expecting us to arrive at the office as early as possible in the morning and leave as late as possible in the evening, not to mention taking a lunch break was frowned upon.

But maybe the worst was the fact that meetings (especially between heads of departments) were emotionally difficult, one of us would expect to be mentally beaten up and humiliated in front of everyone else without warnings. It resulted in an atmosphere where we were scared to speak up (in case we said something silly), always kept on our toes and desperate to impress the most influential people within the company. Staying in their good books was essential to survive and I hated witnessing “brown nose clubs” doing whatever it took to be on the “right” side.

This experience was a great school of life though, I stayed 2 years in this company until I realised I needed to reassess my priorities. I then decided to quit and go travelling for 6 months.

Why you should always prioritise your wellbeing

I think you can see where I’m going with it: it’s great to have a job that pays well… except if it impacts your mental health, which will also affect your overall health. In response to stress, I found comfort in food and gained more than 20 kg during these 2 years. I’ve never seen so many unhappy employees. The turnover rate was so high that most teams were completely different between when I joined the company and when I left 2 years later. I left with no other job lined up, nothing else than a travel plan and yet I know I made one of the best decisions of my life – even if I’m still unemployed today.

Define what values are the most important to you

Of course I didn’t think I would struggle to find a new job upon my return when I decided to do a short career break. I’ve never found it hard to find a new job in the past, I’ve never stayed in the same company for more than a few years. Things are different in 2020 though. The economic impact of COVID is real and the unemployment rate hit its highest level in 3 years. But at least now I know my priorities in life, I had a lot of time to reflect and think about how I need to pick my next work opportunity. Below a few values I overlooked in the past but won’t in the future:

  • strong leadership that empowers employees
  • fun and modern company culture
  • good employee retention
  • respect of work-life balance
  • flexibility on work schedule and possibility to work from home
  • healthy environment at the office

Get a better idea of what your dream job would be

Starting this blog also helped me narrow down the industry I ideally want to work in. As a marketing professional, I have worked in many different industries because it never really mattered to me what I had to sell, I liked the variety. Marketing is a tool and the techniques stay more or less the same between companies. But now I’m starting to realise how much it actually matters to personally have an interest in the company’s business. So I would love my next job to be in health, wellbeing and/or fitness industry. Have you ever noticed how much you could influence your future with a clear plan in mind and a positive attitude?

The new “normal”

Old fashioned companies like my previous one are thankfully less common nowadays. Mental health is an important topic, we spend way too much time at work to tolerate a toxic atmosphere. Even the worst companies had to adapt during lockdown, allowing employees to work from home (that would have been unthinkable for some in the past). Nowadays, more companies realise they can trust their employees to do their job, without having to micro-manage them. This pandemic definitely had some positive influence in some areas. But it’s too soon to tell if the change is going to last after it’s all over…

How did the pandemic impact your work life?

Big Girl x

12 Things To Do To Avoid Completely Losing It

Once again, everything escalated very quickly over the weekend and a second national lockdown has been announced in England. Other countries in Europe have already made this decision so it was only a matter of time for us to follow. Is there anything more terrifying than announcing it on Halloween day? I doubt it… So if you’re freaking out and don’t see the end of this pandemic, just inhale slow, exhale slower, and have a read through my ideas below to avoid completely losing it.

At least an entire month not being able to do anything but the bare minimum – on top of depressing weather and temperatures going down every day – is not going to be easy. This time we’re facing a lockdown during cold months though, we could use it to our advantage. Think of bears, they hibernate several months during winter, a lockdown would be ‘easy peasy‘ for them!

  1. Take a hot bath and relax
    • Use a nice bath bomb or anything with a lovely smell
    • Why not using some candles for a cosy ambiance?
  2. Apply a face mask
    • It’s getting cold and your skin can get dry very quickly
    • You’ll do yourself a favour and it feels nice
  3. Focus on your hair
    • Split ends? Dull hair? It takes time to properly take care of your hair… So this is the occasion!
  4. Don’t forget about your feet
    • They’re often overlooked and they need attention too
    • Apply a nice pair of moisturising socks and leave them on for as long as needed
    • Buy yourself a comfy pair of slippers
  5. Apply moisturiser on your whole body
    • Exfoliate your body and love yourself when doing it
    • It’s an excellent way to maintain good mental health
  6. Sit down and drink your favourite beverage
    • How about a hot chocolate under a warm blanket?
    • Close your eyes and enjoy, put your phone away, no distraction
  7. Read a good book
    • Even better if it’s a book that empowers you or takes your mind off the real world
  8. Cook your favourite meal and eat it mindfully
    • Take the time to enjoy every mouthful
    • Don’t eat in front of TV (or any screen)
  9. Write about your feelings
    • It doesn’t have to be in a public blog, you can write in your own private journal, just for yourself
    • It’s very soothing to put down your emotions and acknowledge them
  10. Make a list of things you feel grateful for
    • It’s easy to feel low about tough situations but don’t forget to practise gratitude about positive things too
    • I’ve done that exercise already when I was going through a difficult time back in March this year and I regularly come back to my lists as a reminder
  11. Prioritise your sleep
    • Make sure you get enough sleep to guarantee a sane and healthy brain
    • Take the time to dream, feel cosy under your duvet, forget about your potential issues, don’t think about work (or try not to)
  12. Listen to your favourite playlist
    • Finally, if you feel like you need something to spend your energy on rather than relax, you can always dance like nobody’s watching to your favourite tunes (yes, it counts as a workout and it’s more fun)

That’s pretty much how I spent my day yesterday… Today I feel better and ready to kick start another week! We’ll get through this, we’ll fight this shitty virus together and we’ll come out of it stronger than ever before. And don’t forget, you got this! Keep in mind that one day this period of your life will be in the past and you will look back at it when it’s all over. What do you want to remember?

Big Girl x

What Impact Can Horror Movies Have on You?

horror movies for halloween

Halloween is coming up!! I’ve always loved it because of all the treats, the fancy dress themed parties and all pumpkin style candles. But… I will try and avoid too many sweets this year (losing weight, remember) and I have no intention to dress up to go to a Halloween party either (thanks to COVID-related restrictions, etc) so all I have left is carving my own pumpkin and watching horror movies on TV.

I love horror movies, always have, even if most of them are really bad and the end always very predictable… Some people don’t enjoy horror movies though, it’s either you love it or you hate it. For those of us who love them, is it because we take it with sarcasm (“haha it’s not real, it’s just tomato sauce, not real blood”), because we like being scared (just for fun) or because of the adrenaline it generates? I did notice it affects the way I think sometimes, there is a fine line between “imagination” and “paranoia” or “anxiety”. So my question is: Do horror movies affect our mental health?

It could be a traumatic experience

I remember I was 17 when I went to see Halloween H20: 20 Years Later at the cinema with a couple of friends. For several days I was scared of my bathroom mirror, just in case someone suddenly appeared behind me. I’ve seen many horror movies but this one left its mark on me, probably because of the story line and the fact that the killer is a close relative to the main character (Jamie Lee Curtis). 10 years later, it’s the movie Mirrors who made me jump at the cinema. I found it hard to watch because of all the suspense that made the experience almost real. After this, I think I’ve only watched horror movies at home.

Horror movies can create or worsen anxiety

I find horror movies very similar to theme parks, where you can feel terrified but know you’re safe at the same time (even though I don’t enjoy rollercoasters as much as I used to when I was younger). I wouldn’t recommend horror movies if you’re already struggling to fall asleep, as it could keep you awake at night. Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep are directly linked to mood swings and the ability to process emotions… Which can lead to mental health issues. I doubt this could be good for people already suffering from anxiety either. Anxiety is caused by unwanted fears and intrusive thoughts, so best to stay away from this type of “entertainment”. Unless you want to face your fears and use the opportunity to endure unpleasant distress without it being dangerous… Sounds a bit extreme though.

But they can still be enjoyable

I think it’s worth saying all horror movies are not the same. Some are just gore and graphic, not so scary but there is blood literally everywhere. Some don’t necessarily involve a lot of dead bodies but play with your mind. The music plays a bit part in it too, I’ve seen my sister covering her ears but keep watching for example. It made me laugh at first but it makes complete sense when you think about it. The most enjoyable part for me is probably to buddy up with someone who also loves this movie genre and laugh about it. I wouldn’t watch them on my own, except maybe the Saw Saga that is one of my favourites. Set your own boundaries! Getting in the Halloween spirit is fun, but taking care of your mental health is far more important.

Do you like horror movies? If yes, what are your favourite ones?

Big Girl x

How to Deal With Uncertainty

If you read about my Fijian experience, you know how I found myself stranded in a foreign country far away from home, not knowing when I’ll be able to leave. I had to take a step back from the situation I was trapped in and learn how to appreciate the good things, I had a lot of time to reflect. The uncertainty was the hardest part but that was also an opportunity to test my ability to chin up and not fall into a black hole.

Besides the panic and anxiety level rising quickly, I felt powerless and vulnerable, caught like a rat in a cage. What can you do to preserve your mental health in this situation? Below are the 3 lists I made for myself at the time.

Things I felt grateful for:

  • A roof over our heads
  • No need for medical assistance or medications
  • Access to food and water
  • Some money in our bank accounts
  • Internet to stay in touch with the rest of the world
  • Friends and family
  • My fiancé

Things I missed / wished we could do (so I can appreciate them better when I’ll be able to do them again):

  • The most obvious one was our liberty of movement – Just being able to book a flight and go wherever we wanted…
  • Open the windows wide and get some fresh air (it was very hot and humid, sometimes stormy, in Fiji during wet season)
  • Go for a long walk
  • Shop online (it’s silly but I missed Amazon Prime)
  • Go to the restaurant (or order a takeaway – Pizza!)
  • Bake a nice cake
  • Go to the cinema
  • Watch movies on Netflix (or just UK TV channels)
  • Take a warm bath
  • Sleep in our own bed
  • Cuddle our cat (I missed my feline friend so much)
  • Feeling at “home”

My learnings from this whole experience:

  • Don’t postpone things too much, we never know what happens in life
  • Don’t wait until it’s too late to do what makes you happy
  • Don’t “save the best for last”
  • Identify who you need in your life and who is toxic to you
  • Prioritise your health, you owe it to yourself
  • Going through challenges together makes your relationship stronger
  • It doesn’t take much to be happy, it’s all about simple things
  • Be thankful for what you have, every day
  • You’ll never get back the time you wasted
  • Don’t force yourself to do something you don’t want to do
  • Don’t think “it’s not going to happen to you”
  • Mental health has a strong impact on your immune system
  • Even when you feel lonely, you’re not alone
  • There is no rainbow without any rain…

It’s important for me to go back to these lists regularly and remember nothing can be taken for granted. Everyone should have the chance to realise how lucky they are because their situation can change anytime, without notice.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other one is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do, and mostly live.”

Dalai Lama

What have you learnt since the pandemic started?

Big Girl x

Stuck in Paradise? Not Really…

Stuck in paradise

Let me go back to the most traumatic experience of my life. It was something that on paper most people would probably dream of… Which makes it even worse. Let me explain.

Earlier this year my fiancé and I were travelling. We were in New Zealand when the pandemic was officially becoming a worldwide problem. Our next destination was Fiji and they had no case at the time. We thought we would be much safer there, perfect occasion to rest a bit before our last destination (Japan). But things didn’t go as planned and everything escalated so quickly… We didn’t see it coming. Maybe we underestimated the danger at that time. Maybe we didn’t feel anxious enough to make a better decision (the right dose of anxiety can be useful sometimes!). But most importantly, we refused to let go so easily on our once-in-a-lifetime travelling experience. We paid the price for it though, we got stranded for 3 weeks in Fiji.

Our first days in Fiji

For the first few days we were in a rather empty holiday resort. Their first case of coronavirus was diagnosed a day after we arrived. Day after day, everything closed down: the gym, most of the restaurants, even the swimming pool. Of course no activity was available and the number of employees at the resort was decreasing quickly. It was pretty scary and we started to feel like we shouldn’t be here. 3 days later, our flight to Japan was cancelled. We had to accept the fact that we had no choice but to go back home earlier than planned… Although it was not so simple.

How we tried to leave

We booked ourselves a last minute flight to London via Brisbane and Singapore. But once at the airport and ready to leave, we found out Singapore has closed its borders, even for people transiting only. We were also informed we needed an authorisation from Australia to stop there too, which contradicted what the British embassy told us the day before when we called them for reassurance. So we couldn’t board on that plane and there was no other flight available for us. Breathe… The next day, we came back to the airport and talked to the embassy again. They were clearly overwhelmed by the situation. A handful of trapped tourists was doing the same thing but no one had any idea what to do.

stranded in Fiji

How we got stranded

A couple of days later, the Fijian Government made the decision to close the airport completely. No planes were authorised to fly off abroad. That’s how we got trapped in a tiny island far far away from home. It was not pleasant at all, we didn’t know how long the situation was going to last… The uncertainty was difficult to cope with. It wasn’t like we could ignore the situation and enjoy our holiday no matter what, everything was closed and the atmosphere not so good.

So we rented an apartment near the airport and stayed inside all day, only going out for necessary food shops around the corner (our diet was mainly based on rice, tuna and sweetcorn). We were using our free time to reflect on things we were grateful for, things we wished we could do (so we could appreciate them more once back home) and what changed in our mindset. The list is long but the main thing we took out of this experience is that when everything is uncertain, everything that is important becomes clear. I’ll come back more in detail to the entire list in another post.

How we finally escaped

It’s actually a tropical cyclone that saved us. The Fijian Government wanted to protect their brand new planes and agreed to let them fly abroad, using desperate tourists to absorb the costs at the same occasion of course. That day was 6 months ago today, the day we finally escaped that nightmare. I feel like I can relate to people who have been released from a foreign prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

This experience taught me many things. Sometimes you just don’t know what people are really going through. I heard so many times: “Well I would love to be stuck in Fiji, it doesn’t seem so bad!”. Although I can understand why some people would say that, I think it’s also particularly inappropriate and shows a lack of empathy. It made me become less judgemental and more understanding of others. I don’t make the mistake anymore to underestimate the impact that words can have on people. We need kindness now more than ever. Stay safe all!

Big Girl x

How to Deal With Anxiety

I would have never described myself as someone anxious by nature. I always saw anxiety as a form of weakness. A couple of years ago, one of my friends suddenly cancelled all the upcoming plans we had together, including a weekend in Iceland. She said she was going through a lot of anxiety and panic attacks. At the time, I pretended to be understanding but in reality I couldn’t really understand what would cause this behaviour. We haven’t seen her for a couple of months and one day she said she wanted to meet up again. I found her slimmed down a lot (she was already slim) but back to her normal self, almost cried when she said “Girls, you don’t know how happy I am to see you again today”. What was that invisible monster who did that to her?

Now I know better. Anxiety is not a form of weakness. Anyone can experience anxiety at some point in their life. Like I said, I would have never described myself as an anxious person… Until this year. For example, I experienced anxiety twice already in the last 2 weeks:

Situation 1 – Going out with friends for lunch

I had this lunch planned at the restaurant with 2 ex-colleagues I haven’t seen for a year. It required using public transport as we live opposite sides of London. I was really looking forward to seeing them but I was scared of travelling by myself. I already postponed this lunch several times and I wanted to see them before another potential lockdown.

Environment

We were officially entering a second wave of covid19 infections, new rules have been put in place in restaurants and public places. It’s allowed to meet up with people from different households, up to 6 people max.

Thoughts

I have not taken the tube by myself this year… And we’re already in September. Scary stuff. What if I lost my independence and self-confidence since this pandemic started? Would I know how to react if something unexpected happened?

Physical Reactions

My guts were in the front line in the battle with my anxious thoughts. I was constipated all week until the day when I couldn’t stop going to the loo, something that looks like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). My guts are like my second brain.

Situation 2 – Going to the dentist

I lost a filling on one of my teeth when I was stuck in Fiji during lockdown. I was obviously very anxious back then because I didn’t have an easy access to medical facilities, it didn’t cross my mind to try and go anyway. I just thought I would be careful when eating and just wait until I’m back in London to go to the dentist. It took me 6 months to motivate myself to book an appointment… And the day finally arrived last weekend.

Environment

Same period, same regulations. My dentist has reopened for several months now and is reassuring when it comes to safety measures and hygiene.

Thoughts

I really need to get my tooth sorted out even if I don’t feel any pain. Isn’t a dentist the last person I want to see though? What if I get infected there? I’ll be vulnerable with my mouth open and this virus is invisible…

Physical Reactions

IBS symptoms again.

What I learned…

So, can I still say I’m not an anxious person? I guess not, not after that. These 2 situations would have never been a source of stress for me until this year. Perception of danger is very subjective after all. We make judgements about danger and our ability to cope every day. But sometimes when we feel too anxious, we overestimate danger and underestimate our ability to cope. It’s that balance we need to maintain to avoid unnecessary “what if…?” questions.

If I listened to my anxiety and let it dominate me, I would have avoided these situations in a first place: I would have cancelled on my friends and make up an excuse, and I would have convinced myself I didn’t need to go to the dentist. Instead I decided to be brave and it boosted my self-confidence. I feel less anxious about going out, although I still prefer staying home as much as possible because it feels safer. It wouldn’t be a good thing to not experience anxiety at all nowadays, it would lead to stupid behaviours like thinking bad things never happen to you.

Have you experienced anxiety lately because of the pandemic? If yes, how have you overcome it?

Big Girl x