There are so many truly wonderful things about winter. I adore the festive period, and the cosy feeling of contentment that only comes from wrapping presents for loved ones, and spending evenings snuggled up by a twinkling Christmas tree. I love the way the world looks, all warmth and glittering lights. I love the smells – cinnamon, the fresh scent of real Christmas trees, and crisp evening air laced with bonfire smoke. There’s something really special about getting up in the morning and padding downstairs, while the world is still dark and so, so quiet. There’s a stillness in the air that only exists in winter, I feel.

Ho ho ho, no!

That said, winter can also be a difficult time. As an emetophobe, I don’t enjoy the heightened anxiety that comes with flu season. I also don’t enjoy the darker evenings and miserable weather, or the lack of motivation I feel when it’s almost too cold to function. While I love Christmas, I can find it quite overwhelming, what with all the socialising, planning and people-pleasing.

With the shorter daylight hours and colder weather, many people (myself included) can be prone to the winter blues – not to be confused with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is a type of seasonal depression.

Whether you struggle with Christmas-induced social anxiety, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just find this time of year a bit grim, there is one thing that will always give you a boost: a good night’s sleep. When I spoke to my doctor about my mental health, one of the first things he asked me was how well I sleep at night. Sleep, he told me, is when the mind and body get a chance to heal themselves. I’ve found several things help me to sleep better – fresh bed sheets, a nice cool room, and rain sounds, to name a few – but the one thing that has made the biggest difference was getting a new bed.

Choosing the right bed

When we moved house, we were excited to have the space for a king size bed. Our previous mattresses were either bought for us, or came with our rented uni rooms, complete with all sorts of stains I don’t like to think too much about. So this was our first time picking our own, which was quite exciting.

With so many options to choose from, we were quite fortunate that we had a good idea of what we wanted already. We knew quite a few people who either had full TEMPUR® mattresses, or memory foam toppers, and we were pretty sure that’s what we wanted as well. My mum got her first TEMPUR® mattress way back in the 90s, and I remember her calling it her astronaut bed, and explaining to me that TEMPUR® was invented by NASA.

It was surprisingly fun going from shop to shop, sitting on different beds, and we took our time, because we knew this was something we needed to get right. Eventually, we found a lovely memory foam mattress and pillows (sadly at the time, TEMPUR® was out of our budget, but next time we will definitely go for it as it is DREAMY). I had a great time choosing covers to suit the style of our new bedroom and, let me tell you, that first night sleeping in a brand new bed with all new brushed cotton sheets was nothing short of glorious.

We all love fresh bed sheet day, but this was fresh everything day. After months of stress and hard work, we were finally in our new home, sinking into that lovely, perfectly firm foam, as a satisfied sort of exhaustion loosened our limbs and pulled us into a deep slumber.

That bed remains one of my favourite things we bought for our house, and I can’t recommend memory foam enough. Gone are the days of lumpy mattresses and springs digging into our ribs. It’s like falling asleep on a cloud.

The quality of my sleep has improved immensely, and I’m almost certain this is one of the reasons my mental health has been so good since we moved into our house.

Here are some ways you can improve your sleep quality:

  • Invest in a good quality mattress, pillows and covers. Factors to consider when choosing a duvet include filling (synthetic or down) and tog rating (warmth).
  • According to the Better Sleep Council, mattresses should be replaced every 8 years for optimal comfort.
  • Memory foam needs to be cared for differently to traditional spring mattresses. Be sure to ask how to get the best out of your mattress.
  • If you struggle with SAD, it could be worth trying a natural daylight alarm clock, like the Lumie Bodyclock. A lovely blogger friend of mine shared some of her own tips for coping with SAD. They can be found here.
  • It might sound obvious, but you should avoid caffeine in the evenings, and try to cut down screen time before bed.

Struggling this winter?

More information about SAD can be found here. Be sure to visit your GP if you have any concerns.

My bed, my happy place

One of my favourite things is a good Sunday morning snuggle in bed. Dave, the cats, and a nice cup of coffee – perfect.

Edwin bed frame, £649, Made

DISCLAIMER: This post is in conjunction with TEMPUR® but all thoughts are my own.

 

Haskins Garden Centres are encouraging gardeners to get out into their garden to combat any undue stress over the festive season.

Haskins recommends the following gardening activities for mindfulness and enhanced wellbeing:

  • Plant potted bulbs for spring colour as the perfect antidote to winter. Tulips are ideal to plant in November and can often boast a rainbow of colours.
  • Plant Daffodils in preparation for their sunny yellow to grace the garden in spring.
  • Simple, manual tasks such as deadheading and weeding can help calm the mind and lift the spirit.
  • Scent is a powerful sensory that can help connect the individual with nature. Roses and Lavender are soothing and have been proven to help lower blood pressure.
  • Create a mindfulness journal by taking a break in the garden and writing down what gets noticed – this might be the passing of a bee or droplets of rain falling off a leaf.
  • For those without a garden, make the most of a balcony, patio or kitchen window by creating a small herb garden. Picking these herbs will help the individual connect to the plants.
  • Choose houseplants such as Calathea and Aloe Vera to remove toxins from the air and Cccti to help aid restful sleep patterns.
  • Ignore the clock – don’t set deadlines to achieve gardening tasks. Use the time to distract from the time-poor strain of modern life.

Lisa Looker, brand director at Haskins, commented:

“We’re firm believers that gardening brings endless benefits to the gardener, both mentally and physically. It’s the perfect antidote to the stressful world we live in today, especially when the festive season can seem overly fast-paced and pressured. Just getting out into the sunlight can improve your mood, due to enhanced exposure to vitamin D and fresh air is also good for your health. Take a break from Christmas planning, shopping and wrapping and enjoy some peaceful time in the garden.”

Lisa added: “Let’s not forget that real pot-grown trees and real cut trees when added to a living space, are proven to have a beneficial effect on health and wellbeing. So even when we’re suffering from festive stress and colds, Christmas trees can help clear the airways, helping us to breathe more freely. The aromas of native plants such as evergreens have a soothing and rejuvenating effect and introducing holly into the home can help ease hypertension and high blood pressure.”

Real cut trees will be available from Monday November 19. For customers that prefer artificial trees, these are also available.

Why I love Haskins

Like Zoella, I’m a huge lover of Haskins, especially at Christmas time. It’s so magical and it’s where we go with Dave’s family to pick out their tree every year. They have a lovely restaurant as well, where you can enjoy a festive Costa hot chocolate and cake, or a delicious freshly-made pizza.

Same Zoë, same.

I had a little dig through my hard drives and found these photos of me at Haskins in 2011!

 

I adore Lush products and I love Christmas, so naturally I was super excited to spend an evening in their Bournemouth store, checking out their seasonal range – and even having a go at making some myself!

I struggle a bit at events with a lot of people I don’t know, and I found this one, in particular, quite difficult. There were a lot of people packed into a fairly small space, and it was – as Lush stores often are – quite overwhelming, with the combination of strong smells and relentlessly cheery staff (as lovely as they are!).

We began the evening with an icebreaker, which was getting into pairs and giving each other arm massages. I was thankful to be paired up with Tara, who I both know well and feel comfortable with. Even so, I wasn’t expecting that level of physical contact, and it put me slightly on edge. I nervously swigged my Prosecco, which we were served in Lush’s classic black pots – a really cute touch.


I gradually eased into things, and enjoyed leisurely checking out all the new products.

We were given the chance to have a go at making our own bath bombs and fresh facial cleanser. I haven’t actually used my bath bomb yet, but it’s this one, and it’s so pretty!

The cleanser is called Bûche de Noël and features festive ingredients including cranberries and brandy. It even has little bits of gold leaf in, for an even more decadent treat. It smells absolutely wonderful and, let me tell you, makes my skin feel AMAZING.

The cleanser is wrapped in Nori seaweed sheets. So much fun to make!

I sampled and smelled loads of lovely products, and treated myself to some gorgeous things too. I bought my first Lush fragrance, the sweet and delicate Amelie Mae.

I love the subtle sweetness of this perfume, and the scent of almond oil transported me back to my recent, wonderful holiday in Greece.

I got myself a little bottle of Snow Fairy shower gel to use at Christmas, because I just love it.

I fell in love with Christingle, a limited edition body conditioner that feels so cooling on the skin, I just knew it would be perfect for days when I’m feeling hot and flustered (most of the time tbh!).

One thing I really like about Lush is the little sinks they have, where you can try the products on your skin. It was there that I enjoyed a really lovely arm massage from one of the members of staff. Again, I felt a little nervous at first, but it actually felt great.

“You have so many knots,” she exclaimed, as she rubbed firm but soothing circles in my skin. “Let’s get rid of some of that tension!”

All in all, it was a really lovely evening. I went in feeling tense and anxious, but left feeling pampered and refreshed.

A huge thank you to all the wonderful staff at Lush, who made me feel relaxed and at ease.

Some other products I loved

These are sort of hideous, but I love them!

How great is this packaging? Scent wise, would have gone for Vanillary.

Looks like cheese. Enough said.

These are just adorable!

As some of you may already know, I’m not a religious person. I’ve spoken about my beliefs (or lack thereof) in the past, and shared my experience of not being accepted as a result.

I’ve been interested in Humanism for a while now. Humanists believe in morality without the need for religion and, in their own words, aim to “create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail” – Humanists UK.

Doesn’t that mean that all atheists are humanists?

Not necessarily, no. The chances are that many atheists subscribe to a humanist way of life without realising it, but Humanism UK, as a charity, goes further than that. They campaign for a fairer society and for the voices of non-religious people to be valued as much as those who believe in God.

Why does Humanism appeal to me?

In a word, community. One thing I always envied about my church-going friends was that sense of community and support. I loved that they had a place they could go, where they could discuss their beliefs with like-minded people.

I signed up to join the Dorset Humanists when I came across their stand at Bournemouth Pride. I’ve since found out that they hold regular discussion groups, social events and even lectures from historians and scientists about the ways in which religion has impacted the world. It warmed me to see that this was a group of intelligent, curious people, who wanted to broaden their understanding of the world, engage in lively debate, and above all, practice kindness.

What Humanism isn’t:

  • A cult. Believe it or not, this has been suggested to me.
  • A “fingers up to religion”. That’s not the point of it at all. The way I see it, it’s an opportunity to meet people who share my beliefs, and explore the world in a way that’s meaningful to me.
  • Sad, empty or meaningless. I shouldn’t even have to defend this one, but contrary to what some people might think, meaning doesn’t only come from believing in God.

Other things you might not know about Humanism

One of the other things I quite like about Humanism is that it offers ways to celebrate important milestones in a deeply personal and meaningful way.

For example, Humanist celebrants can perform weddings and baby naming ceremonies. If Dave and I were to have children, I quite like the idea of having a little naming ceremony in our back garden. Humanists also have “guide parents” (in place of Godparents), which I think is a lovely idea.

I didn’t grow up with religion, but I was given the guidance I needed to become a good person. As a result, I’m a firm believer that God doesn’t necessarily need to play a part in a person’s “moral education”, so to speak. I like that Humanism nurtures the very best aspects of human nature, and encourages people to seek out happiness and fulfillment.

I’m not trying to throw anything in anyone’s face, or make a statement. All I want to do is explore the world in a way that makes sense to me.

Isn’t that all anyone wants?

 

The Bluewater Spa, part of Bournemouth’s 4-star Connaught Hotel, recently hosted a party to celebrate the launch of its Temple Spa product range.

The Connaught Hotel

Champagne

We were welcomed with a glass of Prosecco, and enjoyed a lovely evening of canapés, live music, and a tour of the gorgeous spa facilities.

Relaxation room

Can I move into this relaxation room please?!

One of the treatment rooms.

We were given samples of some of the Temple Spa products to try, and I’m in love – they feel wonderfully luxurious, and smell gorgeous. The spa itself it beautiful, and I’ve already bookmarked some pages of the brochure, which I’ve left out strategically for Dave to find before Christmas.

Thank you so much to the lovely staff at The Connaught, and Sunny Bird PR for inviting me – I will definitely be back!