Slow-down hacks for a simpler summer

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It’s been a whole month since my last post, so I’ve been desperate to get back to the blog. How are you all?

The reasons for my silence are twofold: Mr G has been jetting around Europe for work (Warsaw twice; Prague once), so life’s a bit different when he’s not around (all you single parents out there, you have my utmost respect).

Plus, I’ve been spending some extra time during the evenings, sitting alongside our 17-year-old in the car, to enable her to practise her driving skills. Having past her theory test, she now has her practical booked for next month, so we’re keeping everything crossed.

Happily, after what has also been a very intense period at work, I’m really looking forward to the summer. It’s a great time to slow down and simplify life a little bit, so here are some hacks for you that I’m going to be putting into practice once school’s out.

Switch your mode of transport

Even when you’re at work over the summer, if your journey permits it, try changing your mode of transport. My workplace is just 5 miles away, so I’ll be dusting off my bicycle and whizzing to the office via the cycle paths. I don’t want to cycle all year round (the route is not fully lit), but when the mornings and evenings are filled with sunlight, it’s lovely being able to arrive at the office feeling oxygen-filled and energised by a bike ride.

I met another Sixth Form parent on Thursday who told me that she’d recently taken part in the school’s 100 mile charity bike ride in France; she suggested I go along next time. I don’t know about that, but I might just manage 10 miles a day!

Eat simply

Did I tell you that I’m loving Madeleine Shaw’s cookbook, Ready Steady Glow (recommended to me by fellow blogger, Glamour in the County). Full of easy-to-make, tasty and nutritious recipes, Shaw’s way of cooking has me getting meals on the table – from start to finish – in less than half an hour. Even better, I’m going to be choosing her simple salads to throw together during the week this summer. That will leave the weekends for some more self-indulgent and time-consuming culinary creations.

Dine outside

Talking of food, we love eating out when the weather is fine. Last year’s heatwave saw us making very good use of our patio set. This year, so far, we’ve had a very wet June but I live in hope that the weather during the school holidays will be kind to us.

Today is going to be the hottest yet and I am – unusually – at home entirely alone. Mr G has taken our teen to a university open day and Ollie-bobs (cockapoo) is at the groomer’s.

Invite others

I’m hoping to follow in the footsteps of inveterate people-gatherer Sarah Harmeyer of www.neighborstable.com whose story I read about in the latest issue of Simplify Magazine.

Harmeyer’s welcoming ethos is an inspiration to us all; keeping it simple, but extending the hand of friendship to all-comers is something I’m going to try to do more of during the holidays.

Get those jobs done

This week saw the start of a series of household jobs we’ve been meaning to get done for some time. Somehow it seems easier to be doing work on the house when the weather is fine.

Plus, we’re doing some jobs that really should be done in the summer months. First up, we’re replacing our home’s 30 year old gutters and drainpipes and repairing a part of the roof. We’ll be glad we did this come the autumn.

Get your sea fix

This year, we’re visiting the Northumbrian coast for the first time. Fellow cockapoo owners have recommended some dog-friendly places to visit (and eat) and we’re staying in a cottage that’s managed by an award-winning lettings agency. It’s my dream to one day visit places such as New England. In the meantime, we’ll take the simpler route of jumping in the car in ‘old England’ and heading north. We should be there in around 4-5 hours and are looking forward to the slower pace of coastal living.

Dress simply

The loveliest thing about summer is being able to slip on a dress, dig your feet into sandals (or trainers if the weather’s a bit inclement – I’m loving the white trainers trend), grabbing a bag then heading out of the door. I don’t know about you, but I also think that summer is a time when you can afford to dress a little more casually; be comfortable; and be a little more sartorially relaxed.

What are your favourite summer hacks? Do let me know by replying in the comments below!


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Declaring email bankruptcy

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There’s something distinctly unfunny about writing a whole blog post on managing emails, only to make a monumental error and lose the whole post. That just happened to me!

So, this feels a bit like having to re-do a piece of homework, but I hope that – on reading this post – you’ll feel it was worthwhile topic of conversation.

Simplifying your inbox

So much of our working lives revolve around composing, reviewing, reading, forwarding, saving, filing, retrieving – or even recalling – those little electronic postcards we call email.

Like me, if you have already been successful in simplifying other aspects of your life, applying some organisational principles to electronic mail is another step towards minimalism.

Emails falling like raindrops

On Bank Holiday Monday (Memorial Day to my lovely US readers), I spent some time that morning sitting at my breakfast bar, catching up on work emails.

Whilst it could be argued that I shouldn’t be doing this, the reality was that I’d had a very full diary during the preceding week, so there were quite a few emails that needed even just a little attention. This quiet couple of hours, with a lovely cup of coffee at my side, meant that I could regain a sense of overall control and feel positive about resuming work the following day knowing that I was on top of things.

Is email ‘real’ work?

If you listen to Laura Vanderkam’s Before Breakfast podcast, you may have heard the episode in which Laura suggests allotting specific time slots during the day for handling email correspondence.

This is a good idea, as you can then close your mailbox when undertaking other focused activities and avoid the lure of dealing with a quick message as soon as it arrives. In my case, I have switched off notifications and I try to make sure I’ve retrieved anything I need from my mailbox, before embarking on a non-email task.

Interruptions are sometimes welcome, but the reality is that they are such a distraction that we can take some time to recover and re-focus on the task in hand.

That said, email isn’t just ‘noise’. In my organisation, it is “real work” so we can’t ignore it.

Managing the inbox

I’ve written about this before, but when I’m having a proper sprint through my inbox, I’ll intentionally sort received items by Subject. This way, if there’s been a conversation on a particular topic, I can delete all but the very latest message and see the whole trail in one email.

I’m now also much more inclined to press ‘delete’ on as many messages as possible and don’t need to file anything that’s just a casual ‘thank you’ or acknowledgement.

Surely, there are other ways to communicate?

I work in Higher Education, so some of my colleagues with teaching-focussed roles find that handling email becomes even more of a challenge for them, as they aren’t seated at a desk all of the time. Recently, we’ve been discussing how we can improve internal communications to this group of staff, so that they perhaps receive a digest of items on a regular basis, rather than a drip-drip-drip of regular emails.

For my own part, wherever possible, I pick up the phone to speak to someone, rather than sending yet another message.

What do you do in your workplace?

What about personal emails?

I use gmail for personal mail, but I want to avoid it becoming ‘grrr-mail’. I want to read ‘good-mail’!

So, I have deliberately and very intentionally unsubscribed from practically all the marketing emails that I used to receive. This way, the only mail that comes through my virtual letterbox is genuinely useful, informative or necessary.

Listening to one of my favourite podcasts recently, I was struck by a suggestion that a great happiness hack would be to ‘declare bankruptcy’ on a mailbox that had simply got out of hand. Surely, this is the ultimate digital declutter?!  I find the financial analogy amusing but could we (dare we) go that far?

Have you ever done that? However tempting that may be, I don’t think I’d delete an account (or walk away from it), unless I’d really wound it down properly.

P.S.

Of course, the irony of this is not lost on me; I know this post is likely to be coming to you via your own inbox (and I’m glad you’re there!). So drop me a line via email (ha ha!) or reply to this post by clicking on ‘reply’ below. I’d love to hear from you.


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An Easter staycation

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This Easter, I’ve taken a whole week off work and it has been a real joy. It’s been several months since we have been ‘away, away’ but I enjoy pottering around at home and taking things slowly.

I would call this ‘staycation’ a ‘slow-cation’. It’s not that I haven’t done anything, mind you.

Gin & Book Club

On the evening of my last Friday of work, I got straight into holiday mode. This particular occasion saw the second gathering of a recently-formed ‘Gin & Book Club.’

This ingenious ‘books plus booze’ combination is the idea of my friend, Zoe. Following her 50th birthday last autumn, Zoe (with our help) has been sampling her collection of specialist gins that she received as gifts.

Sharing in this way has enabled us to sample all kinds of flavours that we might not otherwise have tried including marmalade, lemon drizzle and grapefruit. To this, we add our favourite tonic water, plus herbs, to make a lovely, refreshing drink.

Another positive is that we have not only renewed old friendships and nurtured new ones; we have also begun to enjoy literature that we might not otherwise have found. Our latest book was Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. It’s odd, a little dark and – at times – very funny.

Zoe has also negotiated a discount if we want to buy the books we’ve chosen at our local bookshop. I turned up there to buy book number 3 (Tangerine by Christine Mangan) and it was gratifying to see how busy it was in there.

Shopping local?

Buying locally brings me onto a theme that I’ve been thinking about a lot. In spite of a healthy population of over 20,000 residents, Kenilworth has seen the closure of a number of independent stores in recent months. It also lacks some of the high street names that would be a draw to youngsters who want to shop; they have to go further afield.

It’s hard to reconcile the desire to support local retailers whilst being very intentional about what I buy. If I do need something, I will pop into town (garden rake, £7.50, Wilco’s), but it’s true that – as a family – we spend very little locally.

Going further afield

Friday was a mum and daughter day in Oxford. We took the train from Kenilworth (my first time since the station re-opened) via Leamington. Door-to-door, the whole journey was around an hour. I wish I could tell you that our objective in the ‘city of dreaming spires’ was to explore the historical architecture or take a trip on the river. Alas, it was to replenish Amy’s depleted wardrobe, as she finds the choices locally to be very limited (see above!).

In shopping with Amy, I have discovered the joys of reading on a smartphone whilst waiting for the ‘trying on’ to happen. I know I spent at least an hour in TopShop, during which time I read several chapters of Jenni Murray’s Memoirs of a not so dutiful Daughter. 

Oxford, it would seem, recognises the benefits of providing seating for those doing the waiting; it gives them more staying-power in support of those doing the shopping!

Being anti-social with digital media

This week, I have also remained largely immune to the lure of social media. Twitter seems to have got very shouty and political; Instagram more fun and supportive but still a potential digital rabbit-hole. So, whenever I have felt the twitch to check my phone, I’ve simply got back into my book, which has been far more rewarding.

Although I’m still dipping into Facebook from time to time, I’ve seen a number of people come off social media recently (some for good). What’s your take on it?

Getting my steps in

Alongside a couple of evening activities this week, Mr G and I have also started to do a bit more walking. We plan to invest in some new walking boots this spring, which is necessary for me; I had to consign my old ones to the recycling centre, as they were letting in water.

Since major back surgery last month, my husband is now on the BLT Plan: No Bending, No Lifting, No Twisting. That means that he is limited – especially during this period of recovery – in what he can do for exercise. His surgeon advises walking – and lots of it. So, we have started to venture a little further afield.

Yesterday, we started at The Red Lion at Hunningham, taking in a circular walk through the countryside via Weston-under-Wetherley and Cubbington before heading back to the start for a well-earned drink in the pub garden in the sunshine beneath the large umbrellas.

Today’s walk was just an hour’s circuit of the Millennium Walk round the Castle, so we have earned a little bit of Easter egg today.

One of the members of the ‘Gin & Book Club’ plans to walk the Cotswold Way next month, doing 10 miles per day over 10 days along with her family. I think I’ll need to walk a lot further and for longer before I attempt that, but I’m tempted…

So, what have you enjoyed this Easter? If you’re local, I’d love to know. If you’re further afield, what do the Easter holidays look like for you? Happy Easter, whatever you’re doing.


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Overbuyer or underbuyer? Either way, you might be cluttered

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I’ve just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s latest book: Outer Order, Inner Calm.

As I mentioned in my April Community Newsletter, there aren’t many books I’ve not read on decluttering (see my Resources page if you’ve signed up to join the community for a list of some of them). Rubin’s twist on the topic is that she links the idea of clutter, wellbeing and happiness. That builds on the enduring theme of happiness about which she has written plenty.

Hands up, all you ‘under-buyers’? You may hold onto stuff because you seldom purchase something new. Perhaps you’re an ‘over-buyer’? If so, then you’re likely to stockpile things you don’t need.

I thought it would be interesting to explore this idea a bit further.

Overbuyer?

Courtney Carver is a self-confessed classic overbuyer; she would shop for fun, to fill an emotional void or as a way of treating herself. Did Carver need even more clothes? Of course not. But, as she wrote in her book, Soulful Simplicity, her un-intentional spending habits resulted in piles of debt, piles of clothes (still with labels on) never worn, and piles of stress.

Stockpiling

Of course, not all overbuying is about clothes. As Rubin writes, you’re likely to be an overbuyer if you stockpile stuff like toiletries; if you buy gifts for others without an intended recipient; or if you end up throwing away food or medicines because they’ve passed their use-by date.

Food waste

Food waste – an unintended consequence of overbuying – is a massive global problem. According to Friends of the Earth, the average UK family spends £470 annually on food that is binned. Even more shocking is that one third of all food produced around the globe is lost or wasted.

Inadequate storage

In terms of clutter, according to Rubin, overbuyers feel stressed because they end up being surrounded by things for which they have inadequate storage and feel hemmed in by all the stuff they’re holding onto.

Whilst I would probably class myself as a natural ‘spender’ as opposed to being a ‘saver’, I would not put myself in this category.

Underbuyer

Underbuyers may buy too little, so they’re unlikely to be prepared for bad weather or end up shopping for summer holiday clothes when the autumn/winter season stock has already hit the shelves.

Oh, that’s me!

Resisting replacements

Whilst I don’t resist buying the essentials, I do resist replacing worn out items such as household linens. Since we’ve been on a journey to improve our finances since January 2018, this has been largely cost driven, but I recognise the feeling of being stressed because I don’t have something suitable to wear for a special event.

Last minute shopping panics

There have also been times when I’ve had to rush out to get something for a holiday because I didn’t have the basics. This trait has clearly been recognised by others; my mother included a pack of tea-towels in my holiday gifts at Christmas!

Underbuying and clutter

If you’re an underbuyer, Rubin suggests that your distaste for shopping could actually contribute to clutter. This sounds counter-intuitive but it might be possible that you dread the idea of needing an item (thus being forced to go out and buy it) that you hold onto things, no matter how useless. That has certainly contributed to my clutter in the past.

Get Uncluttered

So, do you fall into either of these categories? And, if so, have they caused you to become more cluttered than you would like to be? If so, do take a look at my previous posts on how to tackle clutter. For some accountability and regular input, check out Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered Course, which is now open to new enrolments. Readers of my blog can now get 25% off the $89 dollar registration fee, so drop me a line via email if you’d like to benefit from this.


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Digital Minimalism: Staying Mindful in the Digital Age

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This is a guest post from freelance writer, Johanna Cider, who is based in beautiful New Zealand. 

Digital Minimalism: Staying Mindful in the Digital Age

In a world where everybody is glued to digital screens, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to live in the moment. We spend so much time on our devices that we become disconnected from our real-life surroundings. As a result, our state of mind can become fragmented, and we lose focus on things that matter.

So, how do we stay mindful in the digital age? It’s certainly not impossible. All you have to do is make a few simple adjustments to how you live your life. Follow these tips to build a mindful state of mind.

Turn Off Your Digital Devices

Taking a digital detox is the first step in living a mindful life. If you’re constantly attached to your phone, how can you expect to live in the moment? When you’re not working, turn off your computer and put your phone away. Challenge yourself to be in the moment more. Be grateful for the people and the world around you. Listen more to what people have to say instead of letting your mind wander. Invest more time engaging with people face to face, instead of talking on the internet. With no digital distractions, you’ll end up noticing all the little things that really matter.

Connect with Nature

Spending time in nature is healthy for your mind, body and soul. Nature has no distractions. Being in such a calm and peaceful environment helps to encourage a state of mindfulness. In the natural world, there’s nothing to focus on but your senses and your thoughts.

If you want to live a mindful life, you need to prioritise how you spend your time. Instead of spending your free time browsing social media, venture into the outdoors. Go to a quiet beach, take a hike in the woods, or just hang out in your garden. Pay attention to what you can see, touch, smell and hear. Use this quiet time as an opportunity for self-reflection.

Make Exercise a Priority

Exercise is one of the best ways to relax your mind. Intentional physical activity can reduce stress, boost your mood and improve your sleep patterns. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine will help inspire mindfulness in your life. Over time, you’ll feel greater awareness of your body and mind. Just make sure to stay consistent with your routine, and to track your process.

Try a New Hobby

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There are many fun activities that promote mindfulness. Creative outlets like painting or journaling can be healing for the soul. These relaxing hobbies can help put your mind at ease.  If you’d prefer to get active, try an outdoor pursuit like fishing.  Fishing offers opportunities for self-reflection and mindfulness. As you wait to catch a fish, there’s nothing to do but stand still in nature. This gives you time to think, reflect and take in all your senses.

Practice Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing trains your body and brain to relax. It’s an important technique to have in your daily life, especially during periods of stress. The practice of mindful breathing isn’t difficult. It’s all about giving full attention to your breath and taking back control.

To start, spend some time each day focusing on your breathing patterns. Ideally, this should be done in a quiet place with no distractions. The moment your mind goes somewhere else, bring it back to the present. Focus on connecting to your breath instead of thinking about anything else.

If you practice mindful breathing on a daily basis, it will soon become a natural part of your life. You’ll learn how to calm yourself down, take control of your emotions and be in the present.

About Johanna:

With a career that requires long hours of research and editing in front of a screen, freelance writer Johanna understands that smelling the roses – literally and figuratively – takes time! Bill Watterson, the creator of one of Jo’s favourite comics, Calvin and Hobbes, wisely said: “We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.” Find more of her published work on Musings of Johanna.


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Clutter is costly

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My other half has just received a copy of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. This is interesting and timely for a number of reasons, not least because my next post (a guest blog) will cover this very topic.

Plus, wait…., my husband has bought a book with minimalism in the title!

The first page we opened when Newport’s book arrived contained this phrase: Clutter is costly. This set my brain whirring. For me, this phrase suggests that clutter – when seen as excess – is not only costly on the wallet, it’s literally costing the earth.

Clutter is costly on the wallet

Whenever we buy stuff we don’t truly need, we’re spending money to satisfy a fleeting desire when these funds could be saved for a short-term financial goal or even invested for the future.

I recently pre-ordered my (digital) copy of Gretchen Rubin’s forthcoming book, Outer Order, Inner Calm. As part of a package of pre-order bonuses, I’ve been receiving some daily ‘outer order’ challenges via email. Today’s suggestion speaks directly to this theme.

Rubin asserts that impulse shopping is a “serious happiness stumbling block.” In her eyes, buying on impulse (so easy to do in the era of one-click shopping), creates unnecessary clutter. I’d go a step further and say it has a serious impact on your budget, too.

Costing the earth….

This week, there were more news stories on fast fashion and its negative impact on the environment. The UK Government was said to be considering a number of measures to tackle this, including the possibility of adding a 1p tax on every item of clothing sold, the revenues from which would pay for improved recycling solutions. This seems like a no-brainer, especially if it’s true that around £140m worth of clothing is going into landfill every single year.

Style not fashion

One of the problems with fast fashion is that it appeals especially to teens and youngsters who don’t have the means to invest in good quality clothes that would last. And why would they want to? When brands like Zara are bringing out new ranges every other week, my daughter’s generation are not going to be interested in saving up for something that would count as ‘investment dressing’.

Still, it’s good to remember that the late Karl Largerfeld, who died this week at the age of 85, said, “Trendy is the last stage before tacky.” That’s fine with me; I’m not a great follower of trends and have always been a late adopter when it comes to the novel or new (particularly when it comes to technology).

Declutter your life and save money

So, consider these tips to avoid costly clutter. We can all do more.

  • Get rid of the excess and you’ll be able to see – and enjoy – what you already have, before you buy more
  • Make money from selling unwanted stuff (especially higher-value items)
  • Remember the 3 Rs: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
  • Consider ‘style’ over ‘fashion’ for long-term investment dressing (quality over quantity!)
  • Spend out! That is, use up all those consumables you already have and see how much you’ll save

So, what about you? Have you let go of clutter and reaped the benefits? Have you changed your clothes-shopping habits to create a more sustainable wardrobe? I’d love to know; do comment by replying below.


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Wellbeing week and the menopause

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Following my last post, which started a bit of a ‘wellbeing’ theme, I recently attended a seminar on Menopause, Stress & Nutrition.

This session was part of a series of events for Wellbeing Week at the university where I work; it proved to be extremely popular. There were around 100 women in the room and – to his great credit – a single male who had come along to find out how he could support female staff in his team who might be experiencing the menopause.

What is menopause?

We all think we know what it is, but menopause (literally the cessation of menstruation) only lasts a single day. That is, it’s the day of your very last period. What we understand by menopause may fall more squarely into the peri-menopause, the phase leading up to the menopause itself.

Why don’t we talk about it?

I still think menopause is a little-understood – even taboo – phase of life. In the workplace, we generally fail to acknowledge it, but it may affect things like concentration, memory, mood and confidence. Other symptoms may include mood swings (including rage!), the interruption of sleep, weight gain and something the presenter of our session called ‘brain fog’ (e.g. losing keys, forgetting people’s names) (I already did that!!!).

So, whether you’re a manager, team leader, colleague, line report, co-worker, business partner, husband, child or friend, you’ll know  – or be close to – someone who’s right in the thick of it.

Triggers

I didn’t know this, but stress is a key trigger for menopause symptoms. Whether it’s your lifestyle, food, exposure to toxins or exercise that you might consider improving, these things all contribute to stress. So, we were told to choose just one thing that we might want to change and track our habits around that particular issue.

Diet

This is the part where we hear what we already know, but just had to have it from an external source.

The good

“Love your liver,” said our guest speaker, which meant including lots of good things in our diet such as hot water and lemon in the mornings; lots of greens (broccoli, kale, spinach) and foods such as salmon and avocado. In particular, foods containing phytoestrogens are said to be particularly helpful (I note with some enthusiasm that oats – my favourite grain- and coffee (!) are on the list).

The not-so-good

However, any food containing more than 10% sugar is a no-no and caffeine – which takes 72 hours to leave your system – may be a trigger. Alcohol may not be best idea, either, as it raises our core body temperature. Humph!

If that all sounds a bit too ‘goody two shoes,’ there is a positive in all of this: Prosecco is best, as it’s lower in sugar. Who knew?!

Exercise

Running

As I wrote in my last post, I’m in the midst of working through the Couch 2 5K programme. I can’t say I’m finding it terribly enjoyable, but it does tick the box when it comes to exercise. If you have any ideas how to make it more fun, please do tell me. I ran for my first full 25 minutes yesterday, but I am not yet experiencing ‘runner’s elation’.

The dog seems to find the jogging quite good fun, although it’s quite tricky to run when you have a dog lead in one hand, ABBA in your ears and the lovely Jo Wiley encouraging you – via her narration on the BBC app – to “keep going”.

Stretching

Earlier today, I also tried out a new class called Barre. Using a ballet barre, this class is the perfect complement to running, as it incorporates stretches and ballet movements. I enjoyed it! Let’s see if I’m still enthusiastic about this the day after tomorrow (I always find that it’s not the next day it gets you; it’s the day after that).

Of course, both running and stretching require some focus on the breath. That’s fabulous when it comes to the menopause; focussing on lengthening the out-breath at key times can be just what we need, so practising controlling the breath can be a quietly powerful tool.

Sleep

A lot of what we heard in this week’s seminar chimed with what I wrote about in my last post. Getting outside during the day – or even being close to a window – is a very good idea. Likewise, softer lighting in the evening and a darkened bedroom are also what we need to promote good sleep.

Clutter and the menopause

So, what about clutter? As a minimalist, I already know that clutter can contribute to anxiety, so maintaining a minimalist space can be incredibly helpful when it comes to supporting our wellbeing.

On Friday, after a particularly trying week, I decided to take some time at the end of my working day to reduce some no-longer-needed paperwork and straighten up my desk. When I return to the office tomorrow, it’ll be shiny as a new pin, which will set me up for a more positive week ahead.

The M Word

So, if (like me) you’re a woman of a certain age, get out there and use the M word at least once over the next 24 hours. It’s not about singling us out for special treatment, but it’s about mutual support, awareness raising and understanding. And that can go a long way towards engendering a more positive environment for everyone, be that at home or work.


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