Stress really stresses me out

Outsourcing stress

The word ‘busy’ suitably defines my time at work this week. We’ve been working on a tender the size of my backside (which is pretty big). I don’t know what it is about deadlines, but it always seems to go to the wire. Goodbye zen, hello heart palpitations. One part of this tender involved my first major contribution. Lots and lots of writing, and the responsibility for making it sparkle all on my shoulders. That’s pressure. That’s getting so absorbed in something it takes your heart and soul for a little while. That’s stress having its way with your body through pounding headaches.

Believe me, when the pressure is off I know exactly how to relax. I’m pretty good at closing the ‘work’ door of my brain. But when there is work to be done, and a limited time to do it in, I go batshit crazy. Stress seems to control me. And it’s really rather annoying. Annoying to the point that I actually get stressed out at how stressed I am. Yesterday I left work when I simply couldn’t do any more. My brain had frazzled itself and shut down of its own accord – just like my computer does sometimes. I got home, popped some pills (disclaimer: they were over the counter ones) and put myself to bed to try and beat the pain with rest.

But could I rest? No. I was too tense. Too uptight. And then my brain woke up. I can’t complain too much because I ended up being very productive lying there in a dark room; I managed to nail a headline that I’d been struggling with. But that’s not the point. The point is that when stress does rear its silly ugly head, I let it take over. I let it rule everything. And it’s bad for my health, and my sanity.

At university I got so stressed that my hair started to fall out. I took some stress relief technique classes and, although I’m not sure they helped directly, I did get a better grip on coping with stress. At least, I thought I did. It hasn’t felt that way this week. Maybe I’ve just become better at relaxing when I don’t have things to worry about, and then gone into total breakdown when I do. Whatever it is, stress is not conducive to productivity. A little can be helpful, but a lot can send you over the edge.

I need to learn to take a breath and remind myself that stress is not my friend. So I shouldn’t give it the time of day. When it walks down the path towards my front door, I must try not to let it in. But that is so much easier said than done.

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An honest look at 2014

2014 is over. It was a year of changes, choices, risks, mistakes, happiness, tragedy, love and revelations. I feel older and wiser thanks to 2014. Finally I feel I am where I should be. But 2014 has also been a bitch. It has given, but it has also taken away. So despite all of the steps forward I have taken over the past year, I will be happy to leave 2014 behind.

January

When the changes really started to happen. I quit my job as a Solicitor to pursue something more ‘satisfying’. The law firm I worked for had offered me a secondment in one of their clients, an enormous company which, had I wanted to be a lawyer for the rest of my working life, would have provided invaluable experience. But I was petrified. I didn’t want to do it. Doing it would expose me as the fraud I felt like. I couldn’t cut it as a lawyer and soon everyone would know. That’s how insecure I felt in my job. I left it about 10 days before I responded to the offer. Telling my boss I was turning down the secondment because I was resigning was absolutely terrifying. Ironically it was also the day I received a tribunal judgement for a case which I had argued, and won, for the same client that offered me a secondment. At least I was leaving with a 100% advocacy record.

After I had made my decision everyone kept telling me I was so brave. I wondered if I was just stupid. It turns out I was both. You know that little voice in your head? Listen to it. It’s usually right. And so is my mother, but then I always knew that.

February

When I was fuelled by optimism and enthusiasm. I was setting up a new legal division at a recruitment company in Cardiff, despite no recruitment experience. I thought the legal experience would see me through. It did, to a point. But I discovered after a while that ‘recruitment’ is just another word for ‘sales’. And I’m no salesperson. When you have psychological issues with the phone, you know recruitment / sales is not your calling. No pun intended. But I persevered. I had made a huge change and I needed to stick at it. It would get easier. I would get better. Right?

March

When the cracks started to show. There have been many instances in my life where I felt I haven’t really belonged. Like I was an outsider. I’m a friendly soul but I can be socially awkward, and I have been told on more than one occasion that I can come across as cold. It isn’t intentional, it’s just me. I’m very blunt and straight-forward, and some people don’t like that. Anyhow, the recruitment company I worked for was a world away from what I was used to. The people were nice, welcoming, fun. But I knew I didn’t fit in. They were all good at their jobs, so committed and resilient. They didn’t take things personally. I was nervous to make a cold call and if I didn’t get the right results I felt like shit. All I wanted to do was send emails. I was comfortable there, where I could consider my words and construct elegant sentences. I have always loved to write. But sending emails in a recruitment company was not the done thing. My boss told me my emails were written so well he could frame them, but that as a recruiter I needed to refrain from typing and pick up the dreaded phone. This was a slow-burning lightbulb moment, if such a thing exists. Maybe an energy saving lightbulb which takes ages to light up properly. Should I do something with words? Not legal technical words, but creative words?

My cousin also got married in March which was lovely. She looked beautiful. I’ve not been to many weddings so it’s still a bit of a novelty. She’s my age (26) which is a little strange. I’m not bothered about when I get married, I just really hope my grandmothers are alive to see it.

April

When the cracks turned to holes. I knew things were not right. They were really rather wrong. But what could I do? I had made my bed, I was supposed to lie in it. But I only tossed and turned. I was beyond miserable. I was scared of going to work because of what I would have to do and how much I knew I hated it. I wondered what had happened to the enthusiasm and the positive attitude. I was failing at something that others found easy. Granted, it was a process driven job and I bore easily. But I was still failing. I was astonished at the treatment I received. Rejection is one thing, but being spoken to with a lack of respect and being hung up on for simply doing my job is another.

May

When I resigned. After a wonderful birthday weekend in Barcelona courtesy of Olly, I realised recruitment was not for me. My boss realised that too. Although I had set some really good foundations for the division, it was not something I had passion for. I had no other job lined up. Going back to law was not an option. My parents told me categorically I couldn’t quit a job without having another one to go to. ‘You have a mortgage to pay’, they said. Well, I ignored them and handed in my resignation. My boss was not surprised. He told me to find something I loved. The question was, what? I had a week of garden leave. I needed to find out. It took me a couple of days to admit to my parents what I had done. And I didn’t even have the balls to call them. I sent an email. Classic me.

Quite by chance, my parents had booked a cottage in Exeter for a week. I joined them to try and figure things out. Fresh air, countryside, time with the dogs. Perfect. During this time, I arranged to go for a drink with a contact I had made a couple of years previous. He was the Director of an advertising company. When I was back from Exeter we met and I explained my circumstances, expecting nothing but hoping for something. Some advice. A work placement perhaps. A few days later the unbelievable happened. He offered me a permanent job.

June

When I discovered the world of advertising. Starting at the agency was a revelation. Not least because I could go to work in jeans. Jeans! Already it was more me. The people were, and still are, great. I seemed to fit in. I was actually enjoying going to work each day. Immediately I started a large copywriting project for the Welsh Government. That’s a pretty big deal. I felt like I had got really lucky. It was a right place right time situation. Or was it fate? Could I actually have found something I both loved and was good at contemporaneously?

July

When my whole world fell apart. The month started so well. Olly and I spent a beautiful week exploring the island of Sardinia and my new job was still the best decision I had ever made. And then the worst possible thing imaginable happened. MH17. It took the lives of my witty, wonderful Uncle Andrew, beautiful, intelligent Aunt Estella, and two little cousins, Jasper (14) and Friso (12) who had their whole lives ahead of them and were excited to live them. It’s impossible to put into words how this unexpected tragedy of global magnitude affected me and my family. And it will continue to do so forever. The loss was so enormous. And so unnecessary. I’ve been through every emotion. Disbelief, despair, anger, sorrow.

When we were sure that they had all boarded the plane, and so were never coming back, I went home for a week. It was splashed all over the news and I became PR handler for the family. We were hounded by the media. A journalist from The Times had tracked down our house and was knocking on our door for a story before it had even been announced on the news that Andrew was one of the 10 Britons who died. When we refused and shut the door in her face she sat in her car which was parked round the corner, wrote a letter explaining that it would be better to give the true story rather than have something printed which was inaccurate, and posted it though the door. Again we ignored it. My mum and sister then went out in the car and she tailed them. It was a disgrace. She was one of many. Eventually we decided it would be best to release a statement and a photo of the family and leave it at that. Seeing it all play out on the television was heartbreaking. I bought all of the newspapers the following day, their faces splashed across them. I wondered why I did it to myself.

One positive which came from the month was that I started this blog. It gave me something to focus on.

August

When I tried to live normally again. Olly was my rock. It was a low place to be and I felt guilty for smiling or laughing. We attended the remembrance service of my family which was overwhelming. And to make things worse my beloved dog Hollie passed away. She was our first dog and was 12 years young. I busied myself with work and blogging. The blog was supposed to be all about good things. Things that made me smile. Positively. Happiness. I wanted to prove that you could find some light in darkness. I baked a little, tried something crafty, went wake boarding. The idea was to make more of life and to ensure that life was a content one.

For the bank holiday we went away to Pembrey with my sister and her boyfriend and played endless games of Articulate.

September

I genuinely can’t remember anything noteworthy about September.

October

When I tried new things. At the start of the month Olly’s parents took us to Malta for a week. Sunshine and sea. It was so good to escape. We did three scuba dives which were incredible. When home, in my pursuit of contentment I decided to push myself out of the comfort zone. To discover my inner crafter I started a pottery class at Cardiff School of Art and Design. A very therapeutic activity. I now have the finished results and I must say I impressed myself. All family members got pots for Christmas. I also joined the local circus, as you do. My aerial skills improved but still leave a lot to be desired. I found my discipline though (I think) in the flying trapeze which I will be continuing in 2015.

November

When I felt like I found my stride. Work was becoming more comfortable in the sense of having a clue what I was talking about. I even bagged my first client. A pretty impressive one. I sort of shrugged it off though but work seemed chuffed, told me I was being too modest, and bought me gourmet pastries which included egg custard tarts. Winning.

December

When I had some quality family time. Work was really busy. I had a lot of responsibility and quite a lot of authority too. I officially passed my probation which was super news. I know this is where I should be for now and I am so relieved to have realised that. Having said that, when Christmas break came – almost two weeks off! – I was bouncing up and down. Spending quality time with the people closest to me in spirit but not always in distance was a joy. Early morning frosty walks with mum and dad (and Benji the dog obviously), lots of tasty food, more games of Articulate, catching up with my old-school girlfriends, necking vino. Olly and I spent New Year round a camp fire at the top of my gran’s garden with a load of her neighbours drinking mulled cider and eating sausages. Amazing.

2015

Now it is 2015 and I am back to work tomorrow. I’m not dreading it, but I am dreading the alarm. I haven’t really set resolutions, but I want to make it a good year. Put it this way: I don’t want to be in exactly the same place as I am now this time next year. I want to push more boundaries, keep trying new things, see new places, be better at my job, continue sustaining a great relationship, keep old friends and make new ones. And lots of other things.

I can never forget 2014 – 17 July will forever be part of me – but I’m ready for 2015 to bring it on.

Meet Monty the penguin – nice one John Lewis

Monty 3

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when people complain at those who mention Christmas is on its way, the time when you have to choose your menu for the work Christmas meal, the time when Secret Santa’s are organised, and the time when the Christmas adverts come out. For me, I really feel the Christmas spirit when I see the Coca Cola advert, but I haven’t yet. What I have seen however is John Lewis’ new gift to the nation. And it involves a penguin. Called Monty. A PENGUIN CALLED MONTY.

John Lewis always have a touch of magic about their Christmas adverts. I particularly enjoyed last year’s animation (which involved a bear and a hare – see a theme there?) because the concept was so clever. If you don’t recall, the bear always missed Christmas because he was hibernating, so the hare – being a wonderful friend – bought him an alarm clock to go off on Christmas Day, so he could spend it with the other animals. Touching, personal, SIMPLE.

I came in to work this morning and my boss played the new advert to a few of us – I work for an advertising agency, so it’s not unusual to do this. With a soundtrack by Tom Odell, it starts off featuring Pingu, so naturally I was hooked from the off. I used to love that show. But what I love most about the John Lewis adverts is the story which they tell, this time through the eyes of a young boy. He has a best friend, Monty the penguin, who he goes everywhere with. At the start I wondered where the advert was going – and what it had to do with John Lewis – but it all unfolds beautifully. By the end, my eyes were a little glassy. I am not ashamed to admit it. My boss took the piss, but was equally as complimentary about the advert as I was. And it only cost John Lewis £1 million to make!

Advertising which has an emotional effect is, in my opinion, the most powerful. Add to that humour, a cute kid, an even more cute animal, and you have a winning formula. Animals, or ‘cute looking things’ like Zingy are particular popular – look what Aleksandr the Compare the Market meercat did? Some clever advertising created a whole new business stream.

Having said that, some charities really play on emotional advertising and I often feel uncomfortable watching those. They are designed to make you feel bad, whereas I challenge anyone not to feel at least a little uplifted by John Lewis’ new offering. It’s just an advert, but it unlocks feelings in me. Perhaps I’m emotionally vulnerable, in a way, but I like that. I like being able to feel. And everyone loves a good story.

Other company adverts which have really impressed me of late are Marks & Spencer – serious food porn, nailed – and Lidl, which is doing an impressive job of changing perceptions. Lidl have just released their new Christmas advert which is in the link.

What kind of adverts get you engaged? What do you think of the Christmas offerings so far? And, most importantly, how much do you love Monty?

I am a mouse potato

mouse potato edits

Mouse potato.  Yes.  This is a real word.  Well, two words, but who’s counting.  As it is an informal term I won’t put it in my word of the week series, but The Oxford Dictionary defines it as:

A person who spends large amounts of leisure or working time operating a computer.

I AM A MOUSE POTATO.  My eyes spend the majority of their working days staring at a small screen, gradually getting more and more sleepy.  Not only that, but it makes my head go thick and fuzzy.  Then, when I get home, I curl up with my ipad or laptop and mouse potato myself some more, whilst sat in front of another screen, the TV (he’s called Sammy).  This is not good.

I’m pretty sure that others will be feeling the effects of this problem too so, for my fellow rodent spuds out there, here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure you get fresh air on your lunch break – this makes my lungs happy and helps clear my head
  2. Keep hydrated – I have a bottle of water on my desk which I top up through-out the day
  3. Go for little strolls round the office every now and then – this gets the blood pumping again
  4. Set yourself some time when you get home to do anything except look at a screen
  5. Switch off a sufficient amount of time before bed – this applies to screens and brains

Give it a try and see if it helps you feel a bit less like a mouse potato.  I’m the worst one for following my own advice, but please excuse me while I enjoy some fresh air during my lunchtime stroll.