One of the few good things that has come from my being anxious 80 – 90% of the time is that I have a long list of quick fixes for when I’m feeling particularly stressed. These are all things you can do just to calm you down in the moment, and to get you through whatever it is life has thrown at you. It’s obviously really important to treat the root cause of why you’re stressed, but sometimes you need a moment of relief before you can even get there, and that’s what these tips are for.

TRY AROMATHERAPY

I used to think that aromatherapy was complete bs, that was until I tried it and now I’m hooked. It really does relax you. If I’m feeling generally quite stressed or tense I like to put on my oil burner, and fill my room with the scent of lavender and geranium, and it relaxes me in a really physical (think post-massage way). Muji have some really affordable options for these if you just want to try them out. I’m also thinking of investing in one of these roller balls for a quick fix of relaxation wherever I am.

GET OUT

If you’re in a situation that’s making you feel anxious, nervous, or just down right stressed, step out of it. You can always excuse yourself from a conversation, a meeting, the office, the pool for a moment. I have hidden in bathrooms more times than I care to count so that I can have a moment to myself and regain my composure. If you’re someone that feels like they can’t breathe when they’re stressed, try and get outside. If you’re someone, like me, who gets overwhelmed by big groups find somewhere you can be alone. Find yourself a safe space and take a moment out.

HAVE A DRINK (OF WATER)

First off, we could all do with drinking a little more water. Second, having a drink (the slower and steadier the better) is a great way to sort out your breathing without having to worry about counting or being conscious of it. It is very hard to hyperventilate whilst your drinking. In fact, because you’re focused on something else, and you can only breathe through your nose, it effectively resets you back to your default. This helps calm you down and gives you time to think of more active solutions to how you’re feeling.

FIND SOMETHING TO FIDGET WITH

I am a chronic ring spinner to the extent that I’ve worn away the skin under my rings. Having something to fidget with, in my case a ring, while you’re stressed is a great way to relieve nervous energy. The best things to fidget with are the ones you have to hand, or can fiddle with subtly, that way you don’t feel like you’re drawing any attention to yourself or making yourself feel self-conscious. For example, I’m able to spin my rings whilst I’m having a conversation without detracting from what’s going on, but it still helps clam me down.

LISTEN TO SOME MUSIC

Music makes you feel good, fact. Put your headphones on or turn your speakers up and put on a song that makes you happy. For me, that means something super cheesy and probably popular in the early 2000s. Whether you have a dance, sing along, or just listen, what matters is that you have a feel good distraction.

COOL DOWN (PHYSICALLY)

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m really stressed or having a panic attack I start to overheat. So, I like to go and run my pulse points under cold water and it usually starts to soothe me. If I can I also like to take my shoes off. I also feel like focusing on a physical sensation is a good way to break you out of a negative mindset and remind you that you’re here, you’re present, you’re breathing and you’re okay.

SHAKE IT OUT

This is something I used to do before exams. I would chant a little mantra and then shake my entire body like I was a dancing octopus to wiggle out any nervous energy, and it worked. While flailing madly definitely works, I realise it isn’t always office appropriate. Instead, you can try shaking out your arms, having a bathroom boogie, or even just going for a walk. Moving around (dancing, octopus style or not, or having a little power walk) releases endorphins which make you happy as well as helping work of some of the extra adrenaline in your system – if it’s fight or flight, trick your body that you’re flying by boogying down like big bird.

LISTEN TO SOMEONE ELSE

Something else I’ve gotten in the habit of doing recently is calling my boyfriend when I feel like I’m on my way to having a panic attack. But instead of talking about how bad or anxious I’m feeling I get him just to talk to me about his day, or some random podcast he’s heard. Listening to someone else’s problems, or interests, is a great distraction and gets your out of the mind space where you stress yourself out even further because you’re in a negative spiral. I will say that you probably have to choose who you call carefully. For example, don’t call a co-worked who might give you more work to do, or a friend who is likely to be super emotional too. What’s best is if you tell that someone you can trust what you’re doing, and why beforehand (“I might just call you and ask you to chat to me because I’m feeling anxious and it relaxes me, is that okay?” works well) that way they know exactly what’s going on and that they’re helping you.

Now I’ve been blogging for a year I’ve pretty much got my post creation process down. I am a well oiled content-creation machine. Okay, I’m not, but I am happy with the system I have set up. So, I thought I’d share how I go about creating blog content, as well as the check list I use before I send anything live (it’s my version of quality control) in case it’s useful for you too!

If you want to skip straight to the list scroll down to the bottom of this page, or sign up to my newsletter for more insights and downloadables every fortnight.

PLAN

I work in quarterly cycles on my blog. That means I have a schedule of posts I’m going to write for the next 3 months. I know that might seem like a lot for some people, but I like to be super prepared and it allows me to pick and choose what I write when. I keep my list in a Numbers table, with the post’s title, date to be published, category and a set of check boxes of things to do against each post.

While I plan my schedule for 3 months at a time, I don’t come up with all of my ideas in one go. I keep an ongoing list of ideas in my planner which I add to as and when I come up with ideas, as well as having boards on Bloglovin and Pinterest for posts that I like and think I can use for inspiration. Keeping a note of ideas as I have them has been the best way I’ve found to always have a stock of things to come back to, by the time it comes to my quarterly planning session I normally have too many and end up whittling the list down.

RESEARCH

When it’s time to begin work on a post I always begin with some research. I usually have a cursory google of the topic to see what’s already out there and doing well, and what I can do differently. Then I’ll try and do some extra research into the topic. The amount of time this takes can really vary, personal posts are obviously the quickest and my design stories are the most research intensive, but things like my run down of beautiful book covers took a surprisingly long time to catalogue all of the links, images, authors, and artists.

OUTLINE

Once I’ve gathered all of my research, normally scribbled down over a side in my rough work book, I create an outline of what I need to write. This is normally just a few bullet points (I never liked planning my essays at school either) but it helps me structure my work and work in sections if I don’t have the time to write an entire post in one go.

WRITE

Then it’s time to write! I feel like this stage is pretty self-explanatory but it’s one I’ve really started to enjoy. I don’t think of myself as a natural writer, but I do enjoy just sitting down and typing out my thoughts.

TITLE

I’ve given deciding on a title its own section, because it is the bit of post creation I find the hardest, even though it’s the shortest. I am never sure how to create a catchy title – if any of you have any tips please let me know! At the minute, my process consists of rereading this handy graphic, writing and rewriting the title around five times, and then settling on the first thing I tried.

ILLUSTRATE

I almost always illustrate my posts after I’ve written them. The only exceptions are posts which are about the graphics, like my post on how to create a repeating pattern or my summer backgrounds collection. Illustrating after I’ve written the post means I can really tailor the image to what I’ve written and I also think of it as good practise for editorial work. I try to illustrate something that either draws out an image in the post, or visually summarises the content.

In order to try and make my graphics recognisable I use the same off white background, dark grey line colour, and font (either handwritten or Gotham) in all of my illustrations, but then play around with accent colours and imagery so they don’t get samey. I also create Instagram friendly versions of all of my blog illustrations, so they look their best in a square format.

UPLOAD

Once I have all of the content sorted it’s time to upload. I use wordpress for my blog so this process is pretty simple. I write all of my content in a word processor then copy it into the post editor for the sake of spell check. I then upload all of my images, and label them so they show up well in SEO. Then I select a category for the post and schedule it for the right time. I schedule all of my social media on a weekly basis, so I don’t normally do it as I upload a post.

PROOF READ

I proof read my posts in the preview section of wordpress, that way I get to see the post in the same way that you do once its live. I also use Grammarly to double check anything else I might have missed. Some things still slip through the cracks, but I feel like that’s inevitable with the amount of content I’m producing – and the fact that I’m a human with pretty bad grammar.

FINAL CHECK

Now we’re pretty much ready to go. All that’s left is to run through my blog checklist, which you can download below, and hit schedule. Then I just have to wait for it to go live and cross my fingers that you like it!

Download the checklist

Do you have a set process for producing your posts? Do you have the secret to writing good titles? If so I’d love to hear about it!

I’ve been blogging for a whole year, say what?!

I honestly can’t quite believe that I’ve managed to stick to it, and I’ve completed a full year of posting at least three times a week. I’ve tried to blog and share my illustrations a few times before, but I’ve always fallen out of the habit pretty quickly and given up within a month or two. So it feels particularly sweet to have broken the cycle and invested this time in developing my creative skills.

It’s not always been easy, and I’ve not always been sure it’s been “worth it” but I am so glad I’ve done it. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this first year of putting myself out there on the internet recently so I thought I’d share a few things that I would love to tell 2016 Natalie before she embarked on this journey – maybe it will be helpful for you, maybe it won’t, but I hope it’s at least interesting.

 

YOU WILL CARE ABOUT THE NUMBERS

Okay I want to cover this one right off the bat. It’s okay to care about the numbers. I feel like it’s become this dirty thing to care about your traffic or how many followers you have, that you become branded a high school mean girl consumed by your own popularity. But you’re not. Everyone cares about the numbers to some extent. These days larger numbers lead to greater opportunities. Plus it’s always nice to think people are engaging with something you’ve made. You should care about the numbers. But you shouldn’t just care about the numbers. They aren’t the only way to tell if you’re making good work – the ultimate judgement of that is down to you and how you feel about what you’re producing. It’s also not healthy to focus in on something you ultimately don’t have any control over to bring you happiness. Don’t worry about caring about the numbers, but don’t worry too much about what they are either.

 

WORK OUT WHICH SOCIAL CHANNELS WORK FOR YOU

Before I started blogging I wouldn’t have put Pinterest as my favourite or most lead generating social media. But after a year of using it, it really is. I think it’s worth trying out a load of platforms at the beginning and seeing which ones you enjoy the most and get the best return for effort with. For example, I don’t have a lot of Twitter followers but I enjoy it the most in terms of interaction so it’s one I spend a lot of time on actively. Whereas I know Instagram is important for having a public profile as an “artist” but I don’t like using it that much and it can leave me feeling quite negative, so I focusing on queueing good content rather than having to scroll for hours. I also really wanted, nostalgically, to get back into using Tumblr but it just didn’t fit my schedule in the way I’d hoped so I left it to one side so I could focus on different channels – but who knows now might be the time to revive it.

 

ENGAGE WITH OTHER CREATORS

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about getting into blogging is getting to meet (digitally) and speak to so many like-minded people. I wish I’d had a bit more of a push to do it at the start. The creative blogging community is so lovely and inclusive, and it’s something I really want to become a bigger part of in the future. So I wish I could tell myself to reach out and say hi a bit more!

 

YOU’LL FIND YOUR OWN STYLE IN TIME

I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to be completely yourself in your blog and find your niche before you start whilst being bombarded by tips and hack on how to grow as a blogger that largely homogenise your content. At the start, I spent a fair bit of time worrying about not having a niche. I still spend a bit of time thinking about it now, But I feel like through writing about what I wanted and not worrying about it too much, sure I have an overarching theme but I’m not as specific as a beauty blog or a DIY blog I’ve kind of found my own like patch of the internet (design, creativity, and professional productivity). In a similar way it’s taken me a little while to develop a visual style that ties my posts together, and that came from imitating and trying out different styles I liked and keeping the bits that worked for me until slowly something that was my own emerged to the extent that I hope you can recognise one of my drawings as mine.

DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EXCITEMENT EGGS IN ONE BASKET

I’ve received quite a few exciting emails through my blog. But very very few of them have actually manifested. Getting those exciting emails is really lovely, but don’t expect anything more from them until you get further down the line, until it’s a real conversation or a contract. Appreciate them for what they are and don’t feel disappointed if they don’t amount to something, because you’ve not lost anything at all.

 

BE CONSISTENT

I feel like this is blog advice 101 and it’s something that I’ve done naturally but it’s still something I’d want to remind myself of before I started. But consistency has been absolutely key for me in terms of keeping my blog going but also in terms of shaping my work. Starting with a schedule helped me create a habit around writing and illustrating for the blog, which has ultimately made it easier to be consistent and stick to blogging. Make it, and that means all of it,  part of your routine as soon as you can.

 

DON’T WORRY TOO MUCH

As much as I love it, this blog has been a major source of anxiety for me. I wish I could tell myself when I started not to worry so much. What will happen will happen. How people respond to your work once you’ve put it out there is completely out of your hands, so don’t worry about it. That’s still something I need to remind myself of now. Missing a post isn’t the end of the world. Not scheduling a day’s social media isn’t the end of the world. Having no comments on something you’ve written isn’t the end of the world. Getting no engagement on a social post isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a blog.

 

REFLECT ON YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS

This is something I’ve only just started doing recently, now that I’ve hit that year mark. But taking the time to actually appreciate how much work I’ve put into this blog has been really lovely and made me feel really proud. I don’t think it’s something you can do every day but taking the time to pause every once in a while and reflect on how much you’ve put into your blog is so worth it and I wish it was something I’d started earlier.

I have some very VERY exciting news to share. After months of work behind the scenes, I have redesigned my portfolio, and more excitingly, I’ve opened a store!

That’s right you can now buy my illustrations on greeting cards, postcards, in a zine, on stickers and, if you’re feeling extra fancy as originals!

Check it out

This is a huge step for me, and a bit of a big gamble on myself. But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and after proving to myself I could stick to blogging for a year and build a little audience, it felt like time. I’m super proud of how it’s turned out, and I’m hoping it’s the start of a new chapter in my creative work.

I want this to be a much better platform for people to learn more about my work, and hopefully allow me to indulge the idea that making things could be a feasible part of my career.

It feels super indulgent to have just designed the cards I would want to send, the zine I would want to read, the originals I would want to hang on my wall, but I felt like there was no point in doing this unless it truly felt like it was mine. And it does.

I love everything I’ve made. Each piece has a story behind it and a lot of love in it.

I’m going to be doing a series of behind the scenes posts in the next week or so, so you can see in a little more depth how they came together and where my inspiration came from. I might also do a post on my switch to Squarespace and redesign, if you’re interested?

In the meanwhile, head on over to my new site and maybes pick up a greeting card or five while you’re there!    

If you want to keep up to date with new products, and get some exclusive discounts (as well as free downloads and some ace reading recommendations) sign up to my newsletter in the side bar!

One of the major things I’ve learned over the course of my grad scheme so far is how big of a difference one person can make in your career development. Whether that’s the one person who champions you at an interview, the one person who invites you to lunch and makes you feel welcome, or the one person who takes it upon themselves to show you the ropes. Today I want to talk a little bit about finding the last person on that list, a mentor.

A mentor is a completely invaluable resource when you’re just starting, and throughout your career. Having someone you can go to for guidance, and who will help steer you in the right direction can give you so much confidence and really help you develop. You will never know everything, especially if you’ve just started, which is why having a mentor who can either share their experience or act as a sounding board to help you find an answer is so so important.

I’ve had a few mentors through my rotations, some have worked better for me than others. I’ve learned that a good mentor has to be someone you can trust and speak openly with, who you get on with, who actively wants to be involved in helping you develop, and who has enough life and business experience that they can help you grow in more than one way. Now what that person looks like for everyone will be different, and perhaps some of the mentors I’ve loved wouldn’t be right for you and vice versa. It might take a little bit of time, and maybes finding what doesn’t work, until you find someone to guide you, but that’s pretty normal.

So how do you find this mentor?

In some cases, you might be assigned a mentor, which can be a great thing. But even if you’re assigned a mentor, you’re not limited to only turning to that person for advice. What has worked for me is looking to the people who are a few rungs higher than me in jobs I would like to be doing. If you’ve worked with them on a project, and like their style, even better. Then I’ve asked to pick their brains on something, often over coffee, and seen how we get on. I will say that this has been made much easy by the fact that I’m on a grad scheme and I’m kind of expected to reach out to people and try and learn about what they do. The best mentors I’ve had this discussion has happened pretty much unprompted though, once we’ve got chatting, and I’ve asked a few questions, they’ve been more than happy to share their wisdom. Look for people who want to get you involved in projects (or lunch) and are excited about their job and you can’t go far wrong.

Once you’ve found your mentor, here are a few ideas of things you should be working with them on or asking about:

  • Most importantly, how can you improve? What does good look like in your industry?
  • Where can you skill up?
  • Where do they see your business going (if they’re high up enough) or where they see the industry going? It’s useful to know what the future might hold so you can be ready for it
  • What projects can you get involved in?
  • How should you approach salaries and negotiations?
  • How did they deal with any problems you’re facing now when they were starting?
  • How to branch out and make yourself more employable and rounded
  • Any advice they have for dealing with certain people, or ways of working in your office
  • What has their career path been like?
  • Help with working on your soft skills like people management
  • Ask them to take you along to meetings that are a little above your grade where possible to see what those higher-level conversations sound like
  • How can you help them? Make sure you’re giving back too

So, in short, find yourself a mentor and make the most of them by asking all of the questions. Do you have any mentorship advice? Have you had any great mentors? Awful ones?