Today is Blue Monday – the day of the year when, scientists say, we’re at our most depressed.

What a lovely thought.

It’s fuelled by the crappy weather, high debt levels, the Christmas comedown and flailing motivation to stick to our New Year’s resolutions – basically we’re bored, poor and want to start eating chocolate again.

Although I’m not 100% thrilled with the idea of Blue Monday – sometimes I think that telling people they’re really depressed can be a bit self-perpetuating – it’s fair to say this isn’t the jolliest time of year.

So here are 18 little things you can do that will make you feel instantly happier…

If you have… 1 minute

1. Text a friend you haven’t spoken to in ages

There’s nothing like catching up with a close friend, or just letting them know you’re thinking of them, to make you feel all warm and fluffy inside.

2. Make a cup of tea

Oh god the amount of times I’m at work thinking ‘I’m dying for a cuppa’ but convince myself I can’t possibly tear myself away from my desk for one minute to make one. Life is ALWAYS better with a tea on the go (plus health experts say we should be getting up from our desks regularly) so just move yo-self.

3. Water your plant

Looking after nature is, in itself, therapeutic – researchers have found that having plants around you improves feelings of wellbeing and reduces anxiety. Plus, let’s be honest, there is nothing more depressing than realising you’re the type of person who can’t keep a pot plant alive – get watering!

4. Give someone a compliment

Sorry to sound slushy, but making other people feel good makes you feel good. It’s time to tell that person you work with that they’re looking damn fine today (in a less creepy way).

5. Spray yourself with your poshest perfume or aftershave

The one that makes you feel like one of those fancy, gorgeous people on the fragrance adverts, who for some unexplained reason are zipping around Venice on a speedboat or wistfully rolling around under a translucent bedsheet.

6. Google ‘cute baby elephants’

And spend 60 seconds looking at cute baby elephants. Their trunks! Their ears! Their sweet, fluffy heads!

If you have… 5 minutes

7. Listen to your favourite upbeat song

NO weepy stuff. Whether it’s the Bee Gees or Beyonce, make sure you dance, sing or strut with full vigour.

8. Book yourself in at a restaurant you really want to go to

Snap up a table and then think about who you’d really like some quality time with.

9. Reply to the email you’ve been putting off forever.

You will feel so relieved afterwards that your mood will instantly be lifted!

If you have 15 minutes…

10. Browse the web for a really great birthday present for your friend/family member 

There’s always another birthday coming up, and all too often you find yourself chucking some last minute purchase at your mate or telling them (untruthfully) that you ‘left the present at home’.

The thing is, it’s really nice giving people good presents – ones that you’ve really thought through – and you’ll feel instantly more cheerful once you find the right gift.

11. Eat your favourite chocolate bar

And do it absolutely guilt-free. Rather than just scoffing all the crap food that comes into the office, and feeling bad for it, save yourself and sit down for 15 minutes with a cup of tea and your favourite chocolate. You deserve it!

12. Start planning your next holiday

There’s nothing better to lift the spirits than having a Google for flights and hotels. Even if you’ve got a tiny budget like me, there are so many cool places on Europe you can travel with EasyJet. I’ve just booked Italy for June and seriously, it is seeing me through the January blues!

easy ways to feel happier

13. Call your mum

Some of you will read this and be like ‘What, I already call my mum like 16 times a day anyway?’.

But there are others, like me, who sometimes realise they haven’t phoned their parents for weeks, so give them a quick ring (this obviously only applies if you have a good relationship with your mum to begin with!)

14. Pop out and get a coffee

I’m a simple soul and I’m not ashamed to say that a skinny cappuccino or latte brings me joy (#basicbitch). Just remember, those takeaway cups they give are NOT recyclable (they contain plastic) so for extra happiness points take a reusable mug – I’ve got an Ecoffee mug which does the job perfectly (and sometimes in Pret they give you free coffee for being eco-friendly!)

cappuccino brickwood clapham

If you have… 30 minutes

15. Watch an episode of your favourite comedy

From Game of Thrones to Westworld, so many really popular TV shows these days are just a bit… serious. And violent and scary. When I’m stressed out or low there’s nothing better than watching a few episodes of Peep Show or The Royle Family to get me back in a good mood.

16. Switch your phone off and read

If you’re already feeling down then scrolling through endless pictures of people having fun on social media or freaking yourself out by reading all your work emails is not going to help.

Instead, put your phone off or in another room and take some time to read offline – I recommend Alexandra Shulman’s Inside Vogue which I’ve recently finished, which shows you what goes into the making the UK’s most iconic magazine.

17. Tidy up

OK bear with me here. I know tidying isn’t everyone’s idea of a laugh, but if you’re the type of person who gets miserable when surrounded by clutter and mess, then spending some time tidying/putting things away/sorting out a charity bag can be hugely therapeutic.

18. Go for a walk with a podcast

Being outdoors has been shown to improve mood, but if you feel a bit aimless just walking around, listen to a good podcast to focus your mind while you get a breath of fresh air. I love Emma Gannon’s IRL podcasts, PanDolly, Jools & Sarah and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour – but whatever floats your boat really!

 

 

at your beat dance class review

What is it?

Fancy yourself as Beyonce’s next backing dancer? Over the course of 1.5 hours, the At Your Beat workshop allows you to learn a choreographed dance routine to some of your favourite artists’ songs, including the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna and Little Mix.

My experience:

Deep down inside all of us is the belief that maybe, just maybe, we’re supremely talented dancers and just haven’t discovered it yet. After all, you think, I can bust a move in da club, so surely with a bit of choreography I’ll basically be Beyonce?

Ready to discover my inner street dance expert, I rocked up to the Drunk In Love – 7/11 – Run The World dance workshop in Elephant & Castle with my friend Rosie, both of us assuming that this would be our jam purely because a) we love Beyonce and b) we strut around like we own the dancefloor on nights out.

I quickly discovered that the main reason I think I’m a fab dancer on nights out is because I can’t actually see myself in the mirror. As the warm-up for our class kicked in, and I saw the reality of my dancing ‘skills’ in the studio mirror, I turned to Rosie and suggested I might be too tall for sexy dancing. ‘I’m very long’ I hissed, while trying to move my gangly limbs in an alluring way.

Clearly the instructor CJ thought we were all a bit uptight too, as she announced that to ‘loosen up’ we would be walking across the studio in pairs doing our best sassy Beyonce impressions for everyone. I kid you not folks.

Luckily, Rosie and I are old and weird enough that things like this don’t embarrass us too much any more, even if our ‘sexy’ walk was a bit more Mr Bean than Queen Bey. And everyone was very supportive and encouraging, particularly of the pairs who decided to crawl around booty-shaking in the air.

Then it was time to get down to the serious choreography; lots of sassy hip rotations, flicking our hair around and complicated footwork. It’s not often you get told to ‘TOUCH YOURSELF LIKE BEYONCE’ but I certainly enjoyed it.

We started off learning each step slowly without the music, then gradually built up the dance. There was definitely a wide range of skill levels in the class, but I felt like the pace of teaching kept the right balance between being too boring for the good people, and too hard for the spatially-challenged (hi there).

After an hour and a half learning the routine, it was time to watch groups performing the dance with full backing track playing. Unfortunately, Rosie and I made the fatal error of choosing the ONE group where absolutely no one knew the dance, which led to a hilarious few minutes as we threw ourselves round the dancefloor, Miranda Hart-style, while everyone applauded politely. Bless their hearts.

However, if you want to get an idea of how well some people managed to learn it, here’s a snippet…

​Good huh? And although I was crap, I certainly enjoyed the workshop, which is one of the more fun ways to get a sweat on on a Saturday afternoon. This is one to go along to with your girlfriends and have a laugh without taking yourself too seriously!

Fitness level:

Any fitness level – this class was really inclusive and there was a lovely feeling of supportiveness between everyone.

I burnt:

200 calories (probably half of which through laughing).

Workshops cost £20. More info here.

1. MASSAGE

What it means to other people: A lovely, relaxing experience where you are gently rubbed with fragrant oils while listening to whale music.

What it means to runners: A grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it feat of endurance, involving a sports therapist sticking their elbow in your bum muscles while you try not to scream.

2. GEL

What it means to other people: A hair product used extensively by 14-year-old boys.

What it means to runners: A energy-boosting substance you squeeze into your mouth during long runs. May or may not give you the sh*ts, which is always a fun gamble.

3. SPLITS

What it means to other people: An impressive gymnastic feat, usually performed at the Olympics or at 2am at house parties.

What it means to runners: The time is takes you to run a certain distance – doesn’t prove quite so interesting as the gymnastic kind at social gatherings.

4. CAKE

cake for runners

What it means to other people: A special treat.

What it means to runners: An ESSENTIAL.

5. RECOVERY 

What it means to other people: The day after a heavy night on the town.

What it means to runners: The day after a heavy run.

6. ROLLER

What it means to other people: An little cylinder you put in your hair to produce Cheryl-worthy curls.

What it means to runners: An instrument of torture; made of foam you use this to ease out muscle tensions while gently screaming.

7. PB

What it means to other people: Peanut butter – for the true American. PB & J sandwich, anyone?

What it means to runners: Personal best. To you this figure  is very important and interesting, but all your friends and family are like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ when you start talking about it.

8. BIB

What it means to other people: What babies wear when they eat. Catches all the dribble.

What it means to runners: What runners wear when they participate in mass races. Again, good for catching dribble.

9, RICE

What it means to other people: Delicious carb that you eat with curry. YUM.

What it means to runners: The stages you follow when you’ve pulled a muscle: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Except you only remember to do this about three days after the injury has occurred…oops.

10. STREAK

What it means to other people: Running around naked. Highly entertaining.

What it means to runners: Running every day for a certain period of time. Much less entertaining .

11. HIT THE WALL

What it means to other people: A physical act we all try and avoid while parking the car.

What it means to runners: An experience that occurs during a marathon. Specifically the bit where you suddenly start promising yourself you’ll never do this again because you’re so exhausted you can hardly breathe/blink.

12. WATER

What it means to other people: What you drink when you’re thirsty.

What it means to runners: Something you spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about before you do a long run. Will I be too thirsty? Can I carry that much water? Will I drink so much my brain explodes? Will I need the toilet halfway round and ruin my time? Etc etc etc.

13. CHIP TIME

What it means to other people: Only the best bloody evening of the week – time to hit the fish and chip shop! (Side note – I’ve noticed people in London don’t do this is as much, but where I grew up in South Wales Friday night was chip night).

What it means to runners: Your finishing time in a race, recorded by a tiny ‘chip’ on your shoe or bib.

14. WAKING UP IN WINTER

What it means to other people: The hardest thing in the whole goddamn world.

What it means to runners: Even harder, because you know you have to go OUTSIDE and run around.

15. SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT

What it means to other people: Something you feel occasionally at work or at home when you make a really good lasagne.

What it means to runners: A feeling you experience EVERY TIME you run *high five*

16. RUN

What it means to other people: A horrible activity you only do when you’re absolutely forced to i.e. running for your bus.

What it means to you: An exhilarating activity you CHOOSE to do several times a week even though you have no bus to catch, much to the confusion of your non-running acquaintances.

 


Whenever anyone’s asked me what my New Year’s Resolution is for the past few years, I’ve said “to be perfect, obvs”

What I mean by is, to become one of those flawless girls who does yoga and makes smoothies every morning; who always has shiny, straight hair and clean shoes.

Obviously I’m half-joking when I say this – no one is actually perfect, and if they were, they’d probably be completely boring. But these days, there seems to be so much pressure to be doing EVERYTHING in an idyllic and photogenic fashion, from eating breakfast (#smoothiebowl!) to being in a relationship (#spoilt #soblessed) that you  do sometimes feel as if everyone else is living in a dream world that you’re somehow excluded from (and it’s probably your fault for being so goddamn lazy).

It’s not just relationships, interiors and fitness regimes these dream girls seem to excel in, it’s also their careers. I read a brilliant piece recently by The Pool’s Amy Jones this week where she talks about feeling under pressure to achieve great things in the digital sphere alongside her day job.

“I took a scary new job, which I threw myself into headfirst, revitalised my food blog, started a newsletter, looked into podcasting, began writing a book. I took on every project that sounded interesting in my new job, woke up early to work on my side projects and spent my evenings and weekends running around London or in front of a laptop” she says.

Reading this was like scanning a list of all the things I feel I should be doing. After all everyone else seems to have 20k Instagram followers, a perfect flat in Notting Hill, an award-winning podcast and at least 13 holidays a year, so why haven’t I? The idea of ‘perfection’ is so visible these days that it’s easy to feel like you’re failing to achieve the same things as everyone else, and for someone like me who has always put pressure on myself to achieve ‘the best’ – A grades, an Oxford degree, an excellent shoe collection – this can be particularly stressful.

However, as Amy concludes, trying to achieve absolutely everything is stressful and exhausting.

I think I need to accept that by the age of 30 (I’m 28), I won’t be able to complete my mad checklist, which includes: live abroad, get abs, read all the books anyone has ever mentioned to me, become editor of the Sunday Times Style, own a perfectly-trained dog, buy a scenic cottage with an easy 30-minute commute into London, and have a wedding that’s so wonderful Vogue magazine will approach me and be like “Look, we know we don’t put brides on our front cover but with you we just HAVE to.”

*Breathes*

Back in the real world, the problem with my list of (slightly exaggerated) goals is that no one has the time or energy to ‘have it all’.

What’s more, sometimes the facts are against you – when I graduated, I assumed I’d be earning megabucks in a swanky job by now, but the sheer state of the economy (not to mention the journalism industry) means that the days of getting paid loads and being easily promoted through the ranks are long gone. I DO get free shampoo though.

Constantly putting pressure on yourself and living with a ‘What next?’ mentality is draining and unsatisfying. And I’m definitely guilty of it – as soon as I’ve achieved one thing (“Great, I’ve got engaged!”) I’m onto the next (“Maybe I should do another marathon while I plan the wedding?”).

So my goal for next year is to accept that perfection doesn’t really exist and spend a bit more time appreciating the little things I already have, whether that’s an evening with friends or an A-grade cup of tea. There’s nothing wrong with setting resolutions in January – I’ve got a few up my sleeve – but above all be realistic and use your aims as motivation rather than a stick to beat yourself with.

Happy new year! 


 


Every January, beginners’ Latin and Ballroom dance classes across the UK are filled with eager adults inspired by  Strictly and secretly thinking they probably have what it takes to become the next Louise Redknapp or Ore Oduba.

I know because HELLO, I was one of them a few years back, and since then I’ve been attending dance classes on and off in the glamorous surroundings of my local church hall.

The set up has changed a bit – originally I was young, free and single, and attending classes with my flatmate and fellow Strictly expert Rosie (I wanted to be Ola, she wanted to be Flavia).

More recently, I’ve started up again with my fiancee Sam, because let’s be honest, we’ve gotta fill that cringey first dance song somehow!!

I don’t have any pictures of us dancing (because criiiinge etc)

I’m now at an intermediate level, which means occasionally, I actually know what I’m doing! Here are a few of the things I’ve learnt about taking dance classes…

1. You’ve gotta learn the basics

YAWN, I know. But if you think you’ll be able to go to a few dance lessons and suddenly wow everyone with a fierce Paso Doble at your next social gathering, you, my friend, are misguided.

Obviously this is hard and boring to accept, but you’ve got to practice for a long time to become a skilled dancer. This can be frustrating if, like me, you’re the type of person who took up the guitar for about three weeks as a teenager and then became furious that you weren’t Kurt Cobain already.

The thing is you need to know the building blocks for each dance in order to create the full shebang. On Strictly, those contestants are just performing a set, choreographed routine; if you flung them on the dance floor with a brand new partner to free-style the quick step they probably wouldn’t have a clue.

In each dance there is a basic step, turning steps and ‘figures’ (the fancy bits to jazz your dance up). Learning these can be laborious and takes friggin’ ages, but by the end of it you should theoretically be able to dance with anyone and do the steps in any order (so you can be one of those awesome people who turns up at a random salsa bar and takes everyone’s breath away #LifeGoals).

2. You’ll probably suit one style more

I was shocked to discover that I’m better at Ballroom than Latin dancing – I’d always assumed I was more Shakira Shakira than Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice.

However, it turns out the upright, elegant style of Ballroom is more my jam than the sexy hip-swivelling of Latin, and it’s true that for most people, one style will come more naturally.

That’s not to say you can’t get good at the other style, it just takes more practice (see above).

3. Glitter is not compulsary 

So, it’s your first night at your new dance class, and you decide to rock up in a gold sequin flapper dress a la Strictly winner Caroline Flack? (Mega fans, you know the one I mean).

You might be a tiny bit embarrassed when you get there because, in general, people tend to wear their normal clothes for dance lessons – soz to disappoint.

What is much more important as you progress is wearing the right shoes, because this really affects how you place your feet.

Trainers are not great for either men or women – you need something that will slide across the floor easily, so the grippy soles don’t really work.

For women, a small heel is best, which is  a pain when you’re massively tall like me, because when I dance with any man under 5 ft 10 he’s like “WOAH now”.

However, if you want to become a good dancer, you need the right footwear. And babes they aren’t glamorous – sample footwear style below (!!!) Jimmy Choo eat your heart out.

4. You’re going to have to let your barriers down

If you’re the type of person who feels mildly disturbed when anyone dare intrude your personal space then Ballroom and Latin dancing is going to test your barriers to the max.

At most dance schools, it’s common practice to swap partners every few minutes so that you can experience dancing with various people (it also means if you’re dancing with someone really crap you get the exchange them, which is always nice*).

This means you might find yourself in an embrace with a man or woman you’ve never met before, rubbing your leg up and down their’s (this is known as ‘decoration’ in a dance) and trying not to step on their feet.

It actually doesn’t feel as weird as it sounds in the context of a dance class, but you have been warned…

5. Chewing gum and deodorant are musts

I have lost count of the times I’ve had to dance with someone who either seems to have smoked about 40 fags directly before the class (vom) or hasn’t washed their clothes/underarms in about two weeks (double vom).

Seriously, if you are going to be in extremely close proximity with strangers, sort your bodily smells out!

6. It’s an amazing feeling when you finally ‘get’ a step

Yes, there’s a lot to learn and you might have to dance with a few smelly people, but the first time you manage to waltz round a room or perfect a full jive routine is as exciting as being Sandy from Grease and Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing all rolled into one.

If you’re thinking of trying dance lessons then seriously, go for it – it’s a brilliant way to bond with your partner, improve your coordination, meet new people and learn some sassy little moves!!

 

*NB I’m not talking about Sam.