Befriend your anxiety and change your life

I haven’t written a personal post in a while. I decided to make time once a week at least for this and share snippets of my transformation journey from fear to love. As you know, anxiety is an old friend of mine and one which at times I saw as a disability and reason to dislike myself. I now choose to call my anxiety a friend because acceptance and a loving perspective are a much healthier way of dealing with it.

Anxiety is that friend that reminds me something’s up. Not externally, but internally. I got to know it so well that I know it is either telling me one of the following things:

  • I am stressed and need to manage it (Launch operation ‘Self-care and self-love’)
  • I am disconnected from my inner world and higher consciousness (Launch operation ‘Stop, meditate, connect’)
  • I made a decision that wasn’t true to myself (Launch operation ‘Back to basics’ aka undo decision or accept mistake and start again)

There are instances where these don’t seem like the real reasons for an anxiety flare-up and they may look more like just phobias. E.g. my fear of flying, accidents, ill health, death, etc. Recently,  however, I discovered something incredibly important. My irrational fears only overwhelm me when I haven’t been managing the above silent triggers. A prime example is flying when I’ve had a stressful few days and little sleep vs. flying after self-care, relaxation and a good rest. The difference is incomparable. Whereas I would have a panic attack even before boarding the plane if I’ve been experiencing stress, if I am relaxed and rested, I am able to control my fear to the point of actually enjoying the flight! There is no greater evidence for me than this.

So today’s lesson is so important! You have to befriend your anxiety and get to know yourself as much as possible, with love, compassion and patience. This is where you begin healing, this is where the transformation begins.

It took me a while and it took a lot of self-development and awareness to pin point my main triggers. And since then, I have been able to manage my anxiety to the point of being anxiety-free for months at a time. I am basically rewiring my brain to not chase my anxious thoughts and be non-reactive to a wave of anxious feelings.

This was my brain two years ago: ‘F**k! Noooooo. Stupid a*s b***h anxiety is back! I don’t know what to do. I am so desperate. I don’t know what I want. I feel so guilty, I feel so paralysed. I am letting people down. Am I crazy? I am a failure. What is the point? I don’t want to live like this. Will it always be like this? I am damaged.’

This is my brain now: ‘Oh, hello! What’s up, old friend? What are you trying to tell me? Aha. Ok. Yep, I know. Cool. Can we talk about it in the morning? Great. Thanks for stopping by.’

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I can invite it out of my head instantly and sometimes I gotta let it stay for a day or two. But it ain’t ruling my life anymore! No, sir.

Here are some more tips that help me stay balanced, by operation name 😉

Self-care and self-love

When stress takes over me, I know these things help relax me and give me joy:

  • Good food – homemade is usually the best, fresh and nutritious. I don’t bother with calories and guilt over food, but I also never crave junk food – I crave hearty, soul food and maybe a dessert. Ok, sometimes a glass of wine.
  • Good music – I have a dedicated playlist called ‘Happy in love’ (I know, predictable) that is a mixture of genres and tempos but somehow awaken happy feelings in me.
  • Good company – people I trust and who know me well, accept me as I am and widen my perspective when I get fixated on anxious thoughts.
  • Exercise – any will help. My favourite: dancing, weight lifting, yoga.
  • Sleep – nothing throws me more off balance than lack of sleep. Nothing. It’s my worst trigger 🙁 So I don’t compromise on my rest time, ever. (My anxiety whispered: ‘Will you have kids then?’ – I don’t know, old friend! I don’t know. But I am staying present and not panicking about stuff that hasn’t happened yet. Thanks
  • A break from work (if possible) – and I do whatever I fancy without a strict plan.
  • A bubble bath with relaxing bath salts.
  • Watch my favourite happy shows (no drama, violence or thrillers!)
  • Listen to podcasts: I recommend Oprah’s Super Soul conversations and Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness.
  • Go out for a walk in nature or simply spend time in the garden. I am a SUPER believer in our connection to nature, in it being the ‘natural’ order of things. We are not meant to live in concrete jungles and we should do whatever we can to keep that higher, incredible connection to the living world around us. There has never been a time when being in awe of nature hasn’t humbled me, grounded me and instantly lifted me. I love you, Mother Nature!
STOP, MEDITATE, CONNECT 

Another major factor in overcoming my anxious mind has been introducing meditation and mindfulness in my life. I’ve talked about this before, and it perhaps deserves a whole book on it or at least a separate blog post. But for me meditation is training for the mind, not in a controlling matter, more like a compassionate, loving way of understanding your mind and making peace with the thoughts.

I basically spend 10-20 minutes every morning and evening staying still, breathing, watching my thoughts go by, and not reacting. This is the secret! Learning to watch the thoughts. Not stop them. Not feed them. Patiently and compassionately diminishing their intensity by bringing attention to the breath, to the sounds, the smells, the feelings in your body.

Meditation is a special time where your body and mind connect, helping each other relax and be still. It is a beautiful thing, but it requires daily practice and commitment. The benefits don’t hesitate to show even when you think you’re doing it wrong. You’ll slowly start noticing you are calmer, more present, more aware. You change seemingly and it is a sensation that fills me with joy and gratitude.

BACK TO BASICS

A major trigger and anxiety-inducing part of our lives is ‘finding purpose’. Aka finding that job that gives us meaning and is meant for us. There’s never been a more acute need to feel you’re making a difference.

This is a hard mission, my friends. There is so much unlearning, surrendering and trial & error. But it is a beautiful journey. One of growth, self-discovery and rewards.

I am still finding my way, but I will never regret the many directions I took, the ideas, the decisions, the giving-ups and starting-overs. Whilst sometimes I still hold myself back, I still make decisions based on fear or what others expect of me, my inner voice becomes stronger and stronger. And I know I am on the right path.

I have learned to recognise when decisions I make or routes I take are not aligned with my authentic self and bigger goal. And that is the most important step, as I can use that gut feeling to re-route.

However, you first need to dig so deep within yourself, try new things, get out of your comfort zone to formulate your big goal, or life dream. So that you always keep it in mind and when faced with a decision, you can ask yourself: Is this bringing me closer to my goal? 

More on finding your purpose coming soon. 

I am going to wrap this up here, I already can tell how there is so much more to explain and share. But we’ll take it one topic at a time.

My greatest advice remains to befriend your anxiety by getting to know it and yourself down to a T. I work on this every day. I practice, I write and I give thanks. Every. Single. Day. And there is more love and good in my life than I ever imagined, whether or not my old friend visits me every now and again ❤️

5 Wellness Tips to Manage Stress at Work

It’s been a great year so far in terms of stress-related ‘injuries’. Until recently I never paid much attention to the effects of stress on my health. And that was out of pure naivety about my stamina as a young person in my 20s who should be able to handle it all EASILY. Even though stress has affected my physical health chronically a few times in the last decade, it took me ages to connect the dots.

We all lead busy lives, it’s almost a given, especially in western cultures. Not only do we have a job, we often have a family, social commitments, pressures to stay fit too, eat right and follow our dreams while we’re at it.

And somehow we learned to think of working hard as the key to success. We think the harder we struggle, the more we take on, the faster we’ll get wherever we need to get in our careers.

Last year was a particularly hard lesson for me to learn. I ended up in a career that no longer suited me or my long term goals and passions, and after quitting 3 jobs (two of which with the same employer, crazily enough!) I experienced a time of immense stress and pressure. Not only was I stressed doing jobs I didn’t enjoy anymore but in my spare time I was spending all my mental energy on figuring out what to do next. Oh, and managing my blog and Instagram account that started to take off and to require more and more of my time and energy.

During this time, my mental health suffered and spiralled into anxiety, while my body internalised the stress which ultimately made me ill. Every little cold I got turned into a massive infection which at one point left me bed ridden with conjunctivitis, tonsillitis and a respiratory infection. At the same time. That was my lowest point physically.

This gave me no choice other than to quit everything and take a break to recover. I let it get too far and was no longer able to manage the effects of stress.

A year later, I am the happiest I’ve ever been, working part-time as a digital marketer for a startup and dedicating the rest of my time to creating content as a wellness blogger.

You’d think I already have a bit too much on my plate but this has been, in fact, the perfect opportunity for me to learn to set healthy boundaries when it comes to work. Most importantly, when to prioritise my wellbeing.

So today I want to share my top tips on avoiding burn-out and on implementing some crucial habits to deal with the demands of your job, or other work-related commitments:

  1. Prioritise. There’s a lot of tasks on our modern jobs to-do lists. Some of which may not be directly linked to a big impact, value or results. My advice is to list all of these tasks  on paper and realistically put them on a timeline. There is no way you can deliver it all at the same time and there are most definitely things that can wait. Review this list weekly and reprioritise accordingly. Be honest and learn to say no. If it’s not always possible to postpone or delegate tasks, talk to your manager or superior (if applicable) about your workload. Come prepared with the list of tasks, priority order and explain why you want to focus on certain things rather than others. If you can show any data, research or supporting arguments as to why some things deserve your attention more than others, that will make an even better case. This will take the pressure off, as you’ll feel better about opening up and standing up for yourself. But it also shows you have thought about a realistic solution and have a timeline. From experience, I know people respond very well to a rational, well-organised discussion and are likely to agree to a more realistic workload and timeline. In fact, you’ll often get a lot of respect for speaking up and taking the initiative to propose a different route.
  2. Pause. The tendency when we have a lot of work on is to work harder, stay in the office later, stress more, etc. Whilst this can’t be avoided sometimes, it is very important to take breaks. Whether it’s your lunch break or sticking to a reasonable hour for leaving the office, anything you can add to your ‘me time’ is more valuable and will give you more benefits than pushing harder.  Very closely linked to this point is learning to meditate or practice mindfulness. This is simply a way of giving your mind a break. We can get overwhelmed in our work and it is SO hard to switch off. I remember going home and still replaying conversations in my mind about emails and meetings. It was non-stop. I recommend phone apps like Calm or Headspace and trying to adopt the habit of making space, even for 5 minutes a day to sit down, breath and listen to a guided meditation.
  3. Nourish. The way we fuel our bodies during times of stress makes a lot of difference to our ability to sustain mental effort. Instead of reaching for another caffeinated drink, try a ginger based tea or lemonade. Or a green smoothie. Your brain will need a lot of calories to maintain effort, but make sure you make those calories count. Make sure they come from whole foods, nutritious and healthy options (as much as possible) – fruit or dates instead of processed sweets, raw vegan desserts if you fancy cake, lots of veggies with your favourite protein, good carbs. Of course a treat now and then is ok. Life’s too short!
  4. Soothe. This relates to soothing through self-care and self-awareness of the simple things you need to feel happy and comfortable. It can be as simple as a home cooked meal, a bubble bath, yoga or exercise, a massage, a catch-up with dear friends, a cup of your favourite hot drink, your favourite show, book, music or podcast. I have a whole ritual made up of a mix of the above that I apply when I feel stress is getting to me.
  5. Sleep. This bit is crucial. Sleeping is the best thing you can do for your overwhelmed mind. It’s a chance for your system to reboot (if you can fall and stay asleep, I know it is difficult at times). Stick to a nighttime routine – no technology, a good book, a comfortable and cool environment, herbal tea, sleep meditation. If you can’t sleep, don’t beat yourself up. Just rest the body. Don’t panic about not being able to go to fall asleep straight away.

I hope you find these useful, and to make it easier for you to remember, think:

Prioritise, pause, nourish, soothe and rest. 

There’s nothing you can’t tackle if you remember to apply these tips.

Let me know your thoughts on the above.

Mind Body Spirit Wellbeing Festival London 2018

I am writing this blog post while sat in my  front room with a glass of wine and the patio doors wide open. The wind is blowing softly and I feel this great energy and peace around me. I must be under the influence of the awesome event I attended this weekend 🙂 Mind Body Spirit Wellbeing Festival, at London Olympia.

Not only was this event up my street but I was over the moon to be invited to write about my experience there. I want to say a huge thank you to the Health Bloggers Community and the organisers of the festival for having me!

You may know me as a foodie. But guess what? I literally have no photos or stories about food today.

Essential Oils Doterra Mind Body Festival
Dotterra essential oils

Ah, where do I begin? Stranger things have happened at this event, in the most beautiful and heart-opening way. I was chosen by a crystal, hugged by strangers, smiled at with positive energy, I danced, I sang, I learned about the power of creating your own reality, I had my chakras read and discovered so much about my past lives. Yes, boys and girls, this is an event like no other. Spirituality, wellbeing, cleansing, healing, letting go. This and more is to be expected if you decide to visit this event next year!

Mind body Spirit FestivalMind body Spirit FestivalMind body Spirit Festival

After having a little tour of the venue with the founder of the event and meeting some fellow bloggers, like Romy and Ally, I went on my merry way to explore. First stop: a green smoothie. Ok, there was some food involved.

I then wondered around with my delicious drink and one particular jewellery stall caught my eye. Beautiful handmade charms, bracelets and crystals. They were all by Michelle Tuck ,whose jewellery focuses on the magical and enchanting natural world,  creating delicate and earthy pieces.

Mind Body Spirit Festival 2018

I didn’t know anything about crystals. And I asked her how they work. She just said: ‘I don’t want to tell you exactly what they do, but if you tell me which one you’re drawn to, then that will tell you a lot. The crystals choose you.’ You may not know this, but I love a bit of a magical twist on a story. I didn’t think much about it, I just went with my intuition and looked around for just a few seconds until I said: This one!

http://michelletuckjewellery.com/

Turned out it was a beautiful rose quarts, the heart chakra crystal. My heart sunk. Ha! Pun intended. Because it was true. It chose me because I do find it quite difficult (after a few failed relationships) to open up my heart and trust people.

Here’s a little more info about the rose quarts. What a coincidence, ‘ey?

The fair Rose Quartz is a stone of the heart, a Crystal of Unconditional Love. It carries a soft feminine energy of compassion and peace, tenderness and healing, nourishment and comfort. It speaks directly to the Heart Chakra, dissolving emotional wounds, fears and resentments, and circulates a Divine loving energy throughout the entire aura. Reawakening the heart to its own innate love it allows one the capacity to truly give and receive love from others.’

I immediately bought it and put it around my neck. It is so beautiful and I will wear it until my stubborn heart softens again.

Happy with my purchase I continued to explore the event and saw a little dancing and chanting going on at the main stage. And so I joined in. I did the Dance of the Leopard Worrier. And I LOVED it! By this point I started to let loose and really do things I’d never do in normal scenarios.

Mind body spirit festivalMind body spirit festival

I kept noticing people smile at me. And I put it all down to my new crystal. Ok, I may have also had a big smile on my face too, because I was having such a good time.

My next stop was David Hamilton’s workshop about ‘Creating your own reality’. David gave some concrete examples of times when the law of attraction worked in the most surprising ways and encouraged us to be focused and specific with what we send out into the universe. Careful with the language we use, with our desires and goals. Because you can absolutely have it all! And you can absolutely change your reality if you teach your brain new tricks. Here are the three takeaways I will start using myself as often as possible:

  1. Create new patterns for your brain. 

We are conditioned by our experiences to associate certain feelings or emotions to particular aspects of our lives. For example, you could have had a really harsh math teacher who scolded you and made you feel scared. Now you may feel the same fear when you deal with numbers.

The good news is you can change this correlation. And there’s quite a fun way to do so! Put on your favourite, happiest music and think about that thing or topic that scares you or you have limiting beliefs about (relationships, maths, new job, etc). Now start dancing and singing along and let those positive emotions create a small connection (initially) with the painful topic. It may be unnoticeable at first, but the more you do it, the more you strengthen the positive connection. And in time you can change your initially negative pattern to a new one. It works folks, it’s neuroscience!

2. Imagine you are made of light

This is a calming meditation technique that will alleviate fears, anxiety, negativity and will give you peace and clarity. The trick is to spend 5-10 minutes imagining how you slowly turn into a being of white light. Then slowly turn everything around you into light. The suggestion here is that when everything turns to light and you are light too, you feel part of everything around you and you acknowledge the fact that everything is intrinsically connected. You will feel at peace. You will no longer feel limited by your thoughts, your beliefs, your body. You’ll just… be.

3. What you focus on grows

Imagine a bucket of water and some food colouring. Think about how a drop of colour in the bucket will create a small colourful patch, and how with each drop the water becomes more and more intensely coloured. Depending on how often you drop the colour in, the faster it will colour. This is a metaphor for focusing your efforts on one thing at a time. See, the way the law of attraction works, the more you focus on one goal at a time and put in the energy and effort, the faster you will get there. No matter how small the colour drop, as long as you put the work in, you’ll have results.

The problem is when we get distracted, confused, insecure and we either start to pour some colour in and stop as we can’t see the results right away OR we start dropping in new colours depending on new ideas, new goals or distractions. That way the water becomes murky and we will lose track of the initial goal and intention.

So take one thing at a time, be patient and put the work in. Results will follow!

Inspired by the workshop I went back to the exhibition to find my next adventure. I decided a quick yoga session is just what I needed to sediment the learnings. Little did I know it was a yoga and silent disco session too. I ended up stretching, dancing, laughing and having an amazing time with the guys from Nine Lives Yoga.

Finally, after a quick refreshing strawberry and rose non-alcoholic mojito from Cordial Mixologist, I made my way back to Elke Rosenburg to have my chakras reading.

Mind body spirit festival

What are chakras? Here’s the first definition I found while Googling:

‘Chakras, by definition, are energy centres within the human body that help to regulate all its processes, from organ function to to the immune system and emotions. Seven chakras are positioned throughout your body, from the base of your spine to the crown of your head. Each chakra has its own vibrational frequency, colour, and governs specific functions that help make you, well, human.’ (http://www.chakras.info/what-is-chakra/)

Now, this experience was quite personal, but I can tell you this much: everything she said was true, she felt the good energies about me, she noticed the areas which are ‘blocked’ and gave me a lot of things to think about and work on. I was really lifted by the experience, the feelings I had during that process and the accuracy of her readings. I know it may sound a bit strange to some of you, I was a skeptic too, but if you ever want to learn a little more about your inner or shall I say outer colours, here are her contact details.

And that concludes my amazing day at the Mind Body Spirit Festival! An incredible experience and showcase of connection, positivity, love and humanity at its essence.

Hope you are inspired to bookmark this festival for next year, you can find more information about it here .

My first ever Giveaway! Closes 31 March

Hello lovelies! It is a sunny Friday in London and I have launched my first ever giveaway. I am sooo excited to share this with you. I’ve carefully sourced some of my favourite products and put them all into a hamper for you. Check it out on my Instagram account to enter!

I want to take the opportunity to say THANK YOU for all the support, for allowing me to share my thoughts, recipes and life lessons and for believing in my skills as a home cook 😛

I love the community around my natural kitchen and I TRULY believe in the best life being one of freedom, healthy eating and mindfulness. Nature has a lot of lessons to teach us, we just have to pay attention, stand still, live in the now, use all our senses. My happiest times have always been linked to nature, whether through food, outdoor adventures, observing beautiful, natural beauty and living freely.

Back to the giveaway now!

You can win 13 amazing products by entering before 31 March 23.59 BST

The products are:

@clearspringuk Tamari sauce (I use this in most of my savoury cooking), miso paste and Udon noodles.
@hybridherbs cordyceps mushroom powder and matcha powder – premium tonic herbs and rare superfood powders. A huge thank you to them for sending me these incredible products! ❤
@mr_organic dairy-free hazelnut chocolate spread
Verivalbio #muesli and organic spelt granola
@orwellhealth_ Black Soybean Pasta – full of protein
@blooming_you_powders barley and aronia powders
@buywholefoodsonline currants + Soul Nutrients cacao nibs which did not fit in the pic, lol

All 13 products in this giveaway are vegan 🌱
HOW TO ENTER
1. Follow my account @mariasnaturalkitchen
2. Tag 3 friends you want to share this with
3. Enter until 31 March 23:59 BST
4. Multiple entries allowed
5. Winner will be drawn at random on 1 April
6. UK & EUROPE ENTRIES ONLY

Terms and Conditions

  1. The promoter is Maria’s Natural Kitchen.
  1. The giveaway is open to residents in Europe aged 16 years and over.
  1. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this giveaway.
  1. By entering this giveaway, an entrant is indicating his/her agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions.
  1. Route to entry for the giveaway and details of how to enter are via https://www.instagram.com/mariasnaturalkitchen 
  2. Multiple entries are allowed.
  1. Closing date for entry will be 31 March 2018. After this date the no further entries to the giveaway will be permitted.
  1. No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received for whatever reason.
  1. The rules of the giveawayand how to enter are as follows:

Follow my Instagram account @mariasnaturalkitchen
Tag 3 friends you want to share this with

10. The promoter reserves the right to cancel or amend the giveaway and these terms and conditions without notice in the event of a catastrophe, war, civil or military disturbance, act of God or any actual or anticipated breach of any applicable law or regulation or any other event outside of the promoter’s control. Any changes to the giveaway will be notified to entrants as soon as possible by the promoter.

11. The promoter is not responsible for inaccurate prize details supplied to any entrant by any third party connected with this giveaway.

12. The prize is as follows:

The prize is as stated and no cash or other alternatives will be offered. We reserve the right to substitute any prize with another of equivalent value without giving notice.

13. Winners will be chosen at random by software, from all entries received and verified by Promoter on 1 April 2018.

14. The winner will be notified by DM on Instagram. If the winner cannot be contacted or do not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner.

15. The promoter will notify the winner when and where the prize can be collected / delivered.

16. The promoter’s decision in respect of all matters to do with the giveaway will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.

17. By entering this giveaway, an entrant is indicating his/her agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions.

18. The giveaway and these terms and conditions will be governed by English law and any disputes will be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England.

19. The winner agrees to the use of his/her name and image in any publicity material, as well as their entry. Any personal data relating to the winner or any other entrants will be used solely in accordance with current UK data protection legislation and will not be disclosed to a third party without the entrant’s prior consent.

20. The winner’s name will be available 28 days after closing date by emailing the following address hello@mariasnaturalkitchen.com

21. Entry into the giveaway will be deemed as acceptance of these terms and conditions.

22. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook, Twitter or any other Social Network. You are providing your information to Maria’s Natural Kitchen and not to any other party.

Some additional Terms and Conditions which you might wish to include if relevant:

  • Maria’s Natural Kitchen shall have the right, at its sole discretion and at any time, to change or modify these terms and conditions, such change shall be effective immediately upon posting to this webpage.
  • Maria’s Natural Kitchen also reserves the right to cancel the giveaway if circumstances arise outside of its control.

Read This If You Want to Create a Happier Life

Today we celebrate International Day of Happiness! How awesome is that? Not that we need a day to talk about it or celebrate it. We’re probably thinking about it a bit too much, a little too often and some of us may be obsessing about the question: Am I happy? So I wanted to share my views on happiness and my personal recipe for being happy. Supported in fact by the biggest study on happiness.

It’s not always been easy for me to stay happy or to fully understand what true happiness is. I talked openly about my anxiety, struggles with finding the right career path and other day-to-day doubts and fears. I have learned a lot about myself and …well, life, in the last five years especially. It was only after a lot of trial and error in my personal and professional life that I understood what happiness really is and, most importantly, what it is not! So let me start there.

Happiness IS NOT:

– joy or pleasure

– constant

– material

– hard to achieve

– in the future

This should be very clear for each and every one of us, especially today, in a world hooked on instant gratification and chasing status and money. Please know that EVERYBODY who’s extremely successful or has achieved a lot will tell you that happiness is not that. Everyone who has the ‘perfect’ body, face, etc will also say that happiness is not about that.

IN FACT, the biggest study on what makes a good life finally gives us the answer. And it’s not what you think! I have come to realise that myself every single day, happiness is linked to one simple thing:

HUMAN CONNECTION

The quality of our relationships within society, with family, friends and our community are the real source of happiness and health. Think about it – when was the last time you felt truly happy? I bet you were not on your own. I bet you were surrounded by friends, family, or even work colleagues. What about the sense of community on Instagram? We are all grateful to have found like-minded people who share our beliefs and values in one area of our lives at least (food, mindfulness, health).

So what does this REALLY mean? It means we need each other to stay happy. That no person can or should try and do everything on their own. We need to stay connected. In real life. We need to be kinder to each other, make an effort to maintain our relationships, help each other, give back, support each other.

I think it is crucial for all of us, in a world that is deceivingly connected to, to make sure we meet new people, make new friends, be part of groups, clubs and communities and not isolate ourselves.  Nothing quite compares with sharing food with other people, laughing, having a meaningful chat, being a shoulder to cry on.

And most importantly, we should slow down and appreciate what and who we have.

2017 – An Honest Review

This time last year, I was ending my 2016 blog post with the following resolution:

I decided not to make too many plans for 2017. I have one main goal this time – become even better at dealing with change.

Ha! Be careful what you wish for, they say. And that is exactly what the main theme of my year was: CHANGE. It feels like I made it full circle. I’m in the same place while writing this, physically, going to spend NYE in the same bar, with the same friends, but so much has changed.

2017 was a rollercoaster. I went head-first into changing everything in my life:  a new job, a new relationship, a new hobby, a new career, a reality check… 2017 was full of action. It’s like I can’t help myself always trying to achieve more or tackle the next thing on my list. Which, in its essence, is not a bad thing. But what I soon began to notice is that the speed with which I generated change caught up with me and I lost balance. I struggled in the face of immense happiness but also great pain.

My year was paved with extremes and contradictions.

But the beauty of such highs and lows is that they generate personal growth.

I learned so much, I proved once again I can do whatever I set my mind to, I met amazing people, I made new friends, I quit two jobs (one of which twice), I cooked for 30 people in one evening, I reached almost 3000 others on my social media channels, I didn’t buy a £300,000 tiny flat in London, I struggled with anxiety again, I traveled, I loved, I got hurt, I lived the full spectrum of emotions.

I find myself at the end of this year hopeful; brave enough to face my fears and look them in the eyes until they dissipate. Strong enough to try again. Loved. Grateful.

I end this year with a rebirth from the ashes of ‘I always have to do the right thing’, ‘I care about what other people think’, ‘I have to have a plan’, ‘I have to do everything perfectly’, ‘I have to struggle for success’.

I am letting go of ‘have to’, ‘right’, ‘always’.

I am keeping my passion, my honesty, my self-awareness, my wisdom, my growth, my scars, my hope.

My gift to myself, before I turn 30 next year, is to do whatever I want, fearlessly and passionately. And to NOT feel guilty about my choice to live this way. (which for a perfectionist, ‘what would people say?’ kinda person, is a huge leap of faith)

Happy New Year! And may it bring you what you dream of, work for, hope for, can’t even imagine could happen. (in a positive way)

MY 2017 IN PHOTOS – this gives me immense happiness and gratitude for EVERYTHING. I recommend this exercise so you can realise just how much you’ve done, lived, seen, achieved, lost, conquered, learned, laughed, cried, grew.

Broadstairs, UK, January 2017
Epsom, UK, February 2017
Bucharest, Romania, February 2017
Radovanu, Romania, February 2017
London, March 2017
Green Park, London, March 2017
Box Hill, UK, April 2017
Oxford, UK, April 2017
Shoreditch, London, April 2017
Barcelona, May 2017
Barcelona, May 2017
Copenhagen, Denmark, June 2017
Copenhagen, Denmark, June 2017
Richmond Golf Club, July 2017
Oval, London, August 2017
Mayfair, Lavender Hill, UK, August 2017
Bucharest, Romania, August 2017
Bucharest, Romania, August 2017
Mamaia, Romania, August 2017
Lefkada, Greece, September 2017
Lefkada, Greece, September 2017
Lefkada, Greece, September 2017
London, UK, November 2017
London, UK, November 2017
London, Uk, December 2017
London, UK, December 2017
London, UK, December 2017
London, UK, December 2017
London, UK, December 2017
London, UK, December 2017
Oltenita, Romania, December 2017

My First Supper Club

Two weeks into my decision to (once again) quit a corporate job for the dream of entrepreneurial ‘bliss’ and flexibility, I decided to organise a Supper Club. Which is like setting up a pop-up restaurant, for one night only, where people pay a set price to enjoy a variety of food. You can test recipes, get real-time feedback, sharpen your skills, see how you do under pressure – all sorts of wonderful things can be learned. On top of these reasons, here’s what else motivated me:

  • Dream of having my own cafe√
  • Like to cook √
  • Lots of time for planning√
  • Ideas galore √
  • Overambitious √
  • Slightly insane √

And so I made the first step towards this goal by booking a lovely little venue in East London on 10 Cable Street.

Right. There was no turning back now – date was set, deposit was paid, menu was drafted. I carefully typed it all up into an Eventbrite page and excitedly announced it to the world. Uhm, mostly to my friends to be honest…

To my surprise (yes, still struggle with self-belief at times, especially in new ventures), people were SO supportive and they started buying tickets. This thing was actually going to happen and it was going well. What an amazing feeling!

A few weeks went by and it sold out. A combination of pride and panic was taking over me gradually.

I started planning for this from day one, thinking about the menu, the venue capacity, the inventory of the kitchen I was going to work in, the ingredients, flavours, pairings, decorations, etc. I had exactly a month to deliver this, but 80% of the work was concentrated in ONE day. The day of the event. When that realisation hit me, a few days before the event, I almost wanted to cancel. I realised there was just me, 30 people to feed, an overambitious menu, a kitchen unfit for my menu and an INSANE amount of tasks. To give you an idea of what I had planned, here’s the menu:

Homemade mulled wine 

Pulled ‘pork’ and red cabbage slaw sliders

Smokey hummus with cranberry sauce and crispy ‘bacon’

Mac and cheese paprika balls

Main 

Sage and apricot nut roast (pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, chestnuts, brazil nuts)

Creamy mashed potatoes with garlic and rosemary

Maple-glazed parsnips and carrots

Roasted turmeric and coriander cauliflower

Chilli charred Brussels sprouts with pomegranate and balsamic fig dressing

Red wine gravy

Cranberry sauce

Dessert 

Poached pears with citrus peel and spices

Chocolate and orange mousse with praline dust

Goodie bag

Homemade pancake mix

But I didn’t quit. I wanted to see it through. So I split the tasks.

  • Goodie bag prepping on Sunday
  • Food delivery on Monday
  • Sauces, storable garnishes, table plans and decorations on Tuesday
  • Vegetable prepping, list making and packing on Wednesday
  • COOKING it all, assembling, serving,  hosting, greeting washing, cleaning and looking good while doing it on Thursday (day of the event)

You can already see the flaws in this plan. It was still too much to achieve on the day of the event.

I didn’t sleep the night before. Maybe in and out, with regular jumping out of bed to check something I may have forgotten and write down more things I needed to do.

The morning of the event came, I had my green juice and coffee, I packed 16 bags of stuff I needed to take to the venue, jumped in an overly expensive taxi and drove all the way across the river to the other side of London. Yes, I could have found something closer to home, but nah.

In the car, I called my dad and told him I’m not sure how I am going to do this, that I gave myself too much to do and need help and no one was available until the evening. We talked about lessons to be learned, the importance of having a team, delegating and generally keeping it sane and doable! I knew I had to see this through despite the overwhelming anxious feelings I had.

I got to the event and when seeing how lovely and cosy and Christmassy it was, I forgot about what’s ahead and actually felt excited and happy. It was going to be fine!

Two hours into prepping on my own, which went quite well, I stumbled upon the first MAJOR setback. One of my starters, which I prepared the night before, as it was easy to store and use the next day, had spoiled overnight. My lovely mac&cheese balls went sour, perhaps because of storing the mixture while hot, not allowing it to cool down beforehand. It obviously was a rookie mistake. As a home cook, not a professional chef, there were things I didn’t know. Quite a few actually.

I obviously freaked out and thought the worst, but there was no time to dwell on it. I had no time to make a new batch, not with everything else still to be done. So I had to accept the fact I will serve only two canapés instead of three.

I moved on to prepping the veggies for roasting. And then realised I made another mistake.

I prepped the cauliflower the night before (washing, cutting it up, seasoning, storing in food bags) and it had marinated. Which then prevented it from properly cooking in the oven. I had to start all over again with this one, buy new cauliflower and cook it fresh on the day.

By 4PM I have to admit I was in tears. Mainly because of exhaustion, secondly from feeling so bad about these things that didn’t go as planned.

But then I remembered things never do, that life is exactly like this: surprises, set-backs, mistakes, recovering, learning, moving on. With support from my friends and my inner KIND voice, I moved on and did my best despite these hurdles.

I managed to get the canapés ready in time and on the tables and people started showing up. But I was dreading the moment I would tell them one of the appetisers was not going to be served.

I was still in the kitchen by this point (an open plan one – so people could see me! and my stress levels), definitely not following my plan to change into a dress beforehand, put make up on and personally greet everyone. I had to rely on the amazing people in my life to help me see this through.

One lovely friend helped me set the tables, another helped me serve the mulled wine, another one stood by my side in the kitchen and helped with everything, and everyone else mingled and made everyone feel welcome.

With my turmeric stained gloves on and holding a bottle of water tightly to my chest (after using it and a cork screw to get people’s attention through that ‘clink-clink’ pre-speech sound), I faced my public. I thanked everyone for coming, I genuinely and funnily expressed my apologies about the failed mac&cheese starter and showed everyone I was a tiny human with a huge task and that I was going to get that food to them no matter what! And I think they actually didn’t mind. Laughed with me and supported me regardless.

That was the highlight of my night to be honest. The people. Amazing people gathered together to enjoy each other’s company and some food too. I don’t know if the event was more about food than it was about human connection…

The main came out at around 8pm, with a slight delay and possibly some cold trimmings (the perks of having one small oven and 10 roasting trays that needed to cook at the same time), but it looked great and it was delicious too, according to feedback and empty plates!

I could feel the pressure slowly disappearing once I finished serving the main. I finally was able to go around the tables, talk to people, SMILE and enjoy what I created from my passion!

I felt proud. Proud that I pushed through, that I finished what I started despite really struggling at points. That is probably the biggest lesson!

Serving the dessert was bliss. This was the simplest course on my menu, probably the most delicious one too, and easy to assemble. This is how all my menu should have been like. But hey! Another lesson learned. Keep things simple! Especially when doing it for the first time and on your own.

And that was that, my friends. I managed to get all the food out, everyone enjoyed it, the place looked lovely, the kitchen was a mess by the end, but I was happy. And so freakin’ grateful. And exhausted. But happy! Hahahaa

I want to thank everyone that came, everyone that helped, everyone that supported me from afar. You all made this an amazing night and a successful first event!

Will I organise another one any time soon? Maybe. With a professional team behind me. Or a simpler menu. Realistic planning would help, yes.

Love,

Maria xx

Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Anxiety

Today is not about food. Today is World Mental Health Day and I decided to share my story of living with anxiety. I will also share what I’ve been doing to keep it in check and improve the quality of my life.

In order to make this post easier to digest, I will skip the background information about mental health and what anxiety is. If you’re here, you probably know that already. If not, check out this website: www.mentalhealth.org.uk or this one www.anxietyuk.org.uk. There are so many resources online, but it can get a bit overwhelming sifting through.

I’ve been battling anxiety on and off since I was 17. It seems to flare up really badly every two years, generally around big life changes which I usually generate. Funnily enough, as much as I love routine and comfort, half of me is always dying for a challenge, novelty and adventure. But my anxious brain can’t keep up, so I put myself through hell by pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

While this can be seen as brave, my anxiety has paralysed me with fear and guilt many times. So I started to associate change with negative feelings. Instead of seeing the world as my oyster at those exciting times of moving to another country, changing jobs or travelling to a new destination, I see danger, failure and endless worst case scenarios. But NEVER have my worst fears become reality! 

The anxious mind equates uncertainty with danger. This is irrational.

This is the first big lesson I am going to share with you: you are NOT your anxiety. It’s just a brain pattern. A pre-set. It’s a distorted perception of reality, anchored in fear. Your brain chooses to see an opportunity or a change as something bad, dangerous, etc.

Before starting to write this blog post, I looked back through some of my notes. This is what I wrote five years ago:

‘I’ve always lived in fear that I will fail. This fear turns into panic attacks, then total numbness and ultimately a tragic loss of precious time. This is the time where I should be thinking, creating, making things happen. And this is what annoys me most about anxiety – its ability to kill time. And when you’re young and full of potential, the feeling of seeing your life pass you by because you’re incapable of getting it together, usually triggers more panic attacks. It’s vicious cycle.’

Does this sound familiar?

We usually fear the fear, not failure or the situation itself. Being worried about how we are going to cope, our reactions, what others will think, what we are going to feel.  We get so worked up before we even know what the outcome of an event is. I find myself saying things like: ‘I just want to know already and deal with it’ or ‘I wish someone would make a choice for me’, so I don’t have to exhaust myself with the endless possibilities and outcomes my mind perceives. Isn’t it true though that most of the times the outcome is better than our vivid anxious imagination?  Again, it’s all about perspective. And unfortunately, people with anxiety lose that. We live in our heads, in our pre-sets, in our worst case scenarios. But here comes lesson number two about anxiety: learn to trust that you WILL cope just fine.

Another thing I learned in over ten years of dealing with this friend of mine: Anxiety is not a weakness. People with anxiety are some of the strongest people I knowYou are not less of a person. In fact, every time you do something in spite of your anxious feelings, you are brave. Because it takes SO MUCH strength to push through despite wanting to crawl into a cave, to feel the fear and still do it, to feel paralysed but still make a decision. So don’t forget lesson number three: You are much stronger than you give yourself credit for.

Before I move on to my top 3 strategies to keep anxiety under control, let’s recap the lessons:

  1. You are NOT your anxiety.
  2. Trust that you WILL cope.
  3. Anxiety is NOT a weakness.

It’s time for a short disclaimer acknowledging I am not a mental health professional and my advice is based purely on my experience and what works for me. 

I’m going to get straight to it. Here are the top 3 things that made a huge difference to me:

  1. Acceptance

Up until recently, I used to beat myself up for having anxiety. I hated it and because of it I hated myself. I also blamed people or external factors. Long story short, I dealt with it in a very negative way and felt terrible when I wasn’t able to see the glass half-full, when I wasn’t grateful or happy, when I pushed people away with my behaviour.

Through therapy, and self-help, I am learning to accept anxiety as a separate voice. I am not associating it with who I am, I am accepting it as thoughts, not reality. I am taking control and working to train my brain, not fit everything else around my anxiety. (Not that this comes easily when really intense fear strikes, but progress is better than perfection.)

You may recognise this pattern, but we tend to avoid anything that can trigger anxiety: getting on a plane, meeting new people, being in a crowded place, public speaking, public transport! etc. But avoidance feeds anxiety. Yeah, I know, it’s crazy how our minds work.

So, my first tip for you is to accept this is something you have to work on. And be kind to yourself! There is nothing better you can do at this moment than say to yourself, as creepy as it sounds: ‘It’s ok. I understand you. I love you.’ 

2. Therapy

It may have taken you a while to acknowledge you have a friend called anxiety, but it’s ok. You are not alone and you can and should talk about it. In fact, you should do more than that: you should try therapy.

The same way we take care of our bodies, our teeth, our diet – our mind needs care too. And as much as our friends and family are willing to listen and probably really want to help, I found that therapy was the most helpful thing for my anxiety. Here’s why:

  • A therapist will help you navigate the type of anxiety you’re experiencing (phobias, panic attacks, general anxiety, health anxiety, etc) and will offer appropriate support. By that I mean asking the right questions, giving you tools, asking you to think about certain patterns, dig deeper into your past, what the root cause of your anxiety is (usually has its beginnings in childhood and was triggered by something you’ve experienced then; it can also be passed on from behaviours you’ve seen in your parents, which we absorb as children subconsciously). The more you understand your anxiety with professional help, the better you can deal with it!
  • Friends and family can only help to a certain extent. They are emotionally invested, so it takes a toll on them trying to be there for you, especially during a particularly intense episode. Unfortunately, anxiety doesn’t go away with one good talk with a loved one. Even if it helps so much 🙂 It just needs longer to be undone (at least at the beginning). So it can be really hard and exhausting for someone who isn’t trained in dealing with this, to take on the task of not just listening, but, out of love, also trying to help. This doesn’t mean we can’t talk to our friends and family! We can and we should, but we need to be mindful of how much they can take on. I encourage you to reach out regardless. Don’t keep it in.

I understand that this might not seem widely available, but there are free services available in the UK (ThinkAction is one I’ve used before), hopefully in your country too, or if you’re from Romania (my home country) I can put you in touch with a few really good therapists. If you can afford it, it’s one of the best investments you’ll ever make.

3. Self-care plan

This is where you can truly make a difference to the quality of your life. This is when you decide how much you let anxiety rule your thoughts, how much you feed it and how you shape your behaviour around it.

Now, it’s important to know that it takes time to get this right, to know what works, to have the will power to actually follow the plan during those dark moments. It also has more chances of success if you have followed points 1 and 2 first. Accepting and understanding your anxiety really well will ensure you take the right steps to take care of yourself during turbulent times.  

This isn’t a prescription and you probably need to create your own. But for inspiration, this is how mine looks like:

Take time off*

If things get too much, I take time off and have learned NOT to feel guilty about it. Mental health is as important as physical health. I used to force myself to go to work even though I was experiencing severe anxiety but I usually starred at my screen and was too consumed with worry to be able to focus. I felt too guilty to stay at home.

You are not helping yourself, your employer, business, project or anything by being consumed with anxiety and trying to do work too. Whenever possible, be honest and open about your anxiety, talk to your manager and take time off. Tomorrow is another day and you’ll probably be more productive and able to do a better job.

This can also come in the form of taking time off to breath, meditate or just take a break. Whatever suits your circumstances, but take some time off.

*Sometimes, however, distraction helps, especially if you’re really passionate about your job or if the work environment is a safe and happy one.

Write things down

There’s no better way to get outside your head than putting it all down on paper. Just write it all. I actually have a journal called: Talking to my friend, Anxiety, where i document daily anxious thoughts, but in the third person. E.g. My anxiety made me believe that… Because anxiety is not me! Remember lesson number 1 🙂 I’m basically trying to figure out what anxiety is saying and what my true inner voice is saying.

If I’m going through a particularly distressing episode, I also try to answer these questions:

  • Is my thought/fear/worry rational or logical?
  • What proof do I have this fear/worry is rational or logical?
  • How much do i believe it is actually true? (%)
  • Does it help to have this thought/worry/fear now?
  • What can I do/think differently about it right now? (How can I reformulate this thought? Can I make a plan?)
Soothing music

Don’t underestimate the healing power of music. Here’s an example of the sort of music I use to calm anxiety. YouTube is a gold mine, so look for something that works for you. Sometimes soul music or jazz works for me too.

Aromatherapy

I’ve learned to create a ritual out of my self-care action plan. And aromatherapy is a powerful, powerful ally. Whether I’m taking a bath, or using a lavender shower gel, scented candles, essential oils or aroma diffusers, I always create a calm, relaxing environment in which to recover and take care of myself, usually involving all of the above. I recommend Lavender Oil,  Boswellia Carterii, Wild orange + Peppermint, Rose, Bergamot. Rub oils on your wrists, temple and back of the neck.

Eat well and hydrate

Plants are always my favourite remedies. Apart from eating good, nutritious food, I make sure I drink plenty of soothing teas, like camomile, rose tea or peppermint.

Watch videos or listen to podcasts

When I need a little more help with changing perspective on what I’m thinking or feeling, I look up videos on dealing with anxiety, or TED talks. It’s a good idea to keep these handy in a playlist for when you need them, just like with music.

Nature

This is something I have to force myself to do sometimes. As much as I ADORE being outdoors, my mind is very stubborn sometimes and will talk me out of this simple self-help tool. But trust me – ignore what anxiety is saying, just get out, get some fresh air, somewhere quiet, not too crowded, somewhere in nature. Sit there in silence and look at the sky, the grass, people, children, birds. Or walk. You will slowly feel the benefits.

Sleep

This is probably the most important aspect. It’s usually key in maintaining good mental health. But it’s also the hardest to achieve when an episode of anxiety strikes. However, if you follow the steps above, your mind an body should relax enough to ensure a good night’s sleep. Maybe not the perfect night’s sleep, but better than a horrible sleepless night. Any sleep is better than no sleep!

Share your self-care plan with your partner or someone you trust, so they can give you a nudge and remind you of these steps that will make you feel better.

When we’re caught up in it we feel like nothing’s going to work, but try anything off this list, or combine as many as you can, and I promise you it’ll make a difference. And if you can’t, that’s ok too. Tomorrow you’ll do better. Remember lessons 2 and 3: You are stronger than you think and you will be able to cope! Just be kind to yourself and give yourself as much time as you need.

I am learning to deal with anxiety every day. Some days I’m so good at it, some days I struggle. I have anxiety-free months and other times I don’t want to leave the house or get on a plane. I’m not perfect, but nobody is. Everyone is dealing with their own issues, even those people you think have their whole life figured out. So don’t think you’re alone or inadequate. The most important change I made is going to therapy, and that’s my biggest recommendation. If it’s beyond self-help, therapy will make a difference! Even remote, online or over the phone. It made me feel normal. Because the biggest burden I had to remove first was the feeling of being crazy, or having something wrong with me.

I have to stop this massive post here, as I feel it’s already a mission for you to read through it. It has been extremely therapeutic for me to share this, and I truly hope it helps you see anxiety differently, if only a little bit. There is a lot more to discuss, but let’s pause here for now. Let me know if you want more info on any of the points I made.

With love,

Maria

3 Key Reasons to Choose Organic Products

Organic is not fancy. It’s not just for the wealthy either. I grew up on a farm where my family grew their crops organically in an attempt to save money, not to waste it. So this is what I learned first hand from my father and grandfather, who have been growing crops for over 60 years.

Health

Organic agriculture uses natural fertilisers (animal manure, food compost, crop residue) instead of chemicals. Therefore, anything grown with pesticides and chemicals will then be absorbed by our bodies.

Quality and taste

The taste of organic products is also at its most natural and our bodies can recognise that unaltered DNA easier, so they are digested and absorbed better. It’s food as it should be.

Sustainability

Organic farming doesn’t harm the environment. In fact, it helps maintain the ecosystem – bees, bugs, wildlife and the people. When you choose organic products you are also supporting local and smaller farmers and producers.

Want more reasons to choose organic? The Soil Association has a lot more information on the topic here and in this cute inforgraphic.

Organic infographic

There are SO many offers on organic products this month, including 3 for 2 in Tesco and a £20 FREE bundle at Ocado with your next shop. This is just what I discovered myself, but check out this list.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Turn Them Into Easter Eggs

A couple of months ago I decided I needed to book my first adventure for this new year, as 2016 was so full of new experiences, travelling and the outdoors. So I had to keep it up!

And so I did. I booked a wonderful 5-day hiking trip, over the Easter weekend – to the Lake District in the UK – a place I’ve been meaning to visit for a looooong time. I even got a good friend of mine to sign up to it too, so we can go together. Hooray!

Helvellyn and Striding Edga

Four weeks before the trip…first change of plans: my friend couldn’t come anymore due to a work assignment abroad. No biggie, I could go with another friend, who wanted to go.

Seven days before our trip, I decide to give myself a pedicure, as the hottest weekend in London was upon us and I needed pretty toes. But some things should be left to the professionals. In fact, one wrong handling of the tool I was using cut a bit too deep into my big toe, and 24 hours later I was waking up in the middle of the night with a throbbing toe and sharp pain.

Yep, I got an infection. One that got worse, and worse over the course of the week, which also required a visit to the doctor and a course of antibiotics. Not being able to walk or put shoes on my feet, Thursday came along (the day of the trip) and I was faced with the option of going but not being able to do much, or staying and losing money.

I decided to stay in London.

And this is where the best bit happened. Instead of sulking and feeling sorry for myself, which I must admit I did for the first day, I decided to turn this weekend around and make it the best it could be. In fact, as my foot got better by Saturday morning, I planned a mini hike up Box Hill, Surrey – which made my day and changed the whole mood of the weekend.

I spent the afternoon in the warm sunny weather on the hill and headed home for a lovely home-cooked vegetarian meal, which I lovingly prepared 🙂

scotland WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONSIMG_2997IMG_3004IMG_3031IMG_2990IMG_3038IMG_3077IMG_3079IMG_3093

The next day, I was invited for Easter lunch at one of my friend’s parents house, and that turned out to be one of the happiest days ever – with good food, laughter, beautiful weather, a cosy pit fire, lots of wine and chocolate and pub quizzes!

In the past, I would never have been able to change my mindset so quickly. And even now I struggled a bit to accept this sudden change of plans and losing money. But it just goes to show that if you try to make the best of a situation and really push aside those blaming and negative thoughts, nothing can stop you! It’s always your mind. It is a powerful weapon and your mindset is what makes or breaks a situation.

Cheers and don’t forget to be more, chase less.