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Psychologies Life Leap

You may want to change your job, or you may want to re-invent yourself or perhaps you want to re-invent the way you’re living your life, or create a new business or BIG change in your life. One of our tag lines at Psychologies – is ‘your life, your way’. It’s about defining what success means to you on your own terms; living a life that makes you happy and makes you feel fulfilled. That's why we've created our new Life Leap coaching club exclusively for you, our subscribers. Each month you'll get access to a coaching programme which sits alongside the dossier in the magazine, to give you extra resources such as workbooks and coaching videos to help you make real change in your life. Interested? Click here to register now: it’s free for print subscribers.

Stop procrastinating, start taking action.

Do you:

  • Want to change your life but always procrastinate?
  • Consistently set goals that you never reach?
  • Indulge in negative habits – drinking too much wine, eating junk, never exercising?
  • Always take on too much and never achieve what you want to achieve.
  • Consistently break promises to yourself.
  • Wake up every morning and think ‘there has to be another way’.



Do you want to:
  • Set achievable goals and make them happen.
  • Set yourself up to succeed versus fail.
  • Build healthy habits that feed your energy.
  • Live a life of inspiration versus desperation.
  • Think differently, not just do something different.
  • Be the creator of your life, not the victim of it.

Get the professional support you need – for free.

At Psychologies we believe with a little help, support and inspiration, it’s far easier to make those changes. In our new Life Leap coaching club, we have world-class experts who are going to be working with you over the next year – we’ve got everyone from Gabriel Bernstein, who Oprah calls a ‘new thought leader’ to Shaa Wasmund, MBE, best-selling author and award-winning entrepreneur coming to help and support us to move forward with inspirational live masterclasses. Plus each month you'll get a full coaching programme, with interactive workbooks, videos and live online coaching sessions, created by the top Barefoot coaches in the country, including Becca Forshaw, Louise Rodgers and Simon Hague. 

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You are not alone.

And of course, I’ll be here – not only am I the editor of Psychologies, but I’ve also been a coach for the last 18 years so I’ll be coaching you every month and also inviting the top coaches in the country to come and coach you too – on navigating these life leaps. And, we’ll also have each other. We’re just starting to build our Life Leap Community – we’ve put the call out for ambassadors – who are already in the process of making their own life leaps and we’ve been inundated by brave women who are already making big changes, so we’ll be in great company.

Here's what Alison has to say:

Alison Hammond 2

Be brave, make the leap

At the heart of the Life Leap Club is courage. To make any changes in your life, you need to brave – but that can be incredibly scary. So it will be great to be able to lean on each other when the going gets tough and work together on our mindsets. Because as we know, sometimes change does not always feel positive -  if you're made redundant, or your relationship breaks down, or we lose someone we love, it can feel awful. However, although we might not have the ability to change what’s happening out there, we do have the power to change the way we see it – or react to it – and that’s something we always have control over. So we will be working a lot on our mindset here, in order to make anything feel possible.

In the Life Leap Club we’ll be mostly encouraging each other to be brave, to be honest about what’s going on. It's is not about being mindlessly positive - it's about being real and being kind to yourself and each other as we take a really deep breath and begin our journey towards creating a life that we truly love. The best thing is it’s free as part of your subscription to Psychologies, so not only will you get our beautiful magazine but you also get free access to the exclusive coaching within the Life Leap Club. 

One of our top contributing coaches is Simon Hague. Simon is a trained and qualified Barefoot Coach providing coaching to his many clients and supervision to other coaches. He enables his clients to see through the complexities and conflicting needs of living in an increasingly chaotic world. This helps them to create a decluttered calmness and focus that takes them forward to their desired outcome. Check out his coaching programmes 'GO SLOW: Simplify Your life' and 'Improve Your Sleep and Wake Up Happier'.

In GO SLOW: Simplify Your life, we ask why does life feel so hard sometimes, and discover how to make it feel easier. Over the next four weeks you'll be taken on a journey using simple and practical tools to give your life a shake-up and find new easier, more streamlined ways to live your life. What if your life could be all about flow, ease and gently taking baby steps every day, which bring you joy?

Click here to register now: it’s free.

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Embrace the freedom to make Christmas whatever you want it to be, says Katie Piper

Katie Piper

For those with a Christian faith like mine, you’ll recognise Christmas as a festival celebrating the birth of Christ. For others, it’s more of a cultural celebration: a time for joy, family and togetherness. And, for others, Christmas means nothing at all. For me, it’s a religious and cultural celebration melded into one!

Every year, a huge amount of time, energy, attention and money is directed towards this time of year, causing it to occupy an ever-extending chunk of the calendar. My sympathy goes out to those who find Christmas a seriously challenging time, not due to the religious sentiment of the period, but because of the difficult emotions it can stir for those who aren’t able to reflect on the festivities with rose-tinted nostalgia.

The festive season is triggering for so many of us for a vast array of reasons: past experiences, traumas and loss, having to spend time with family members who are overly critical or disrespectful, food indulgence, alcohol consumption, poor weather, (not to mention the expense), to name but a few! So often these factors are glossed over or ignored, while everyone is encouraged to be ‘happy’.

So, my message to you this month is this: fear not. Difficult feelings and internal hurt sparked by Christmas is much more common than you think – and there is plenty that you can do to help combat these tough emotions:

  1. Welcome the season of giving. If you don’t want to partake in a ‘traditional’ Christmas due to personal reasons or mental health, you could give your time and volunteer instead. There is a big need for help in countless organisations at this time of year, so choose one that resonates most with you. Homeless shelters, food banks and churches are just a few that need volunteers at Christmastime.
  2. Keep perspective. While it can feel like Christmas goes on forever, it’ll soon be over and normal life will resume – without the carpet being covered in tinsel and carols being blasted out day and night.
  3. Turn off the box. From adverts and festive programming, there’s no escaping Christmas in TV land – so opt for on-demand streaming services without the ads, or go old-school and stick on a DVD.
  4. Find others who share your sentiment about Christmas. You could organise your own ‘non-Christmas Christmas Day’, sharing stories and memories, and enjoying the time together in a different way. Who knows, some of your nearest and dearest may jump on board with this, having faced similar struggles as you.

If you find Christmas a tricky time, I hope my column this month helps. And if you are one for festive cheer – enjoy it! Last year, so many of us went without seeing family and friends, so try and appreciate the togetherness that bit more this year.

Living

by Psychologies

Podcast: How to make the festive season fun, fulfilling and frazzle-free

'It’s the most wonderful time of the year', or so they say.

In fact, the festive season is dreaded by many – what with quarrelling families, never ending to-do lists and the pressure of an Insta-ready picture-perfect day. Perhaps you even enjoyed 2020’s lockdown Christmas. 

In this episode, learn how to rewrite the festive season – the family time, the traditions, the working life.

Click the Psychologies Podcast Channel Logo to Listen:

Photograph: Getty Images

Better You

by Psychologies

Podcast: Stop waiting for summer and embrace the chill

Woman in winter

For some, winter signifies woolly jumpers, roaring fires and cosy evenings-in with loved ones. Others dread the cold weather, with winter causing them to shut-off socially, become unmotivated to exercise or even feel clinically depressed.

In this podcast episode, we explore how you can rest and retreat with the season, find your zen and embrace the light.

Click the Psychologies Podcast Channel Logo to Listen:

Photograph: Getty Images

Better You

by Psychologies

Test: How can you make Christmas more enjoyable?

Woman holding Christmas presents

10%
Question 1 of 10

Photograph: Getty Images

Tests

by Psychologies

Make it a Christmas to remember: Dossier special

A woman sat by a Christmas tree

On-trend tree? Check. Festive table dressed to impress? Carefully picked-out presents (sustainably wrapped, of course) and cards sent weeks in advance of the final posting date? Check, check. From the expectations placed on us by friends and family to the names we follow on social media – but mostly by ourselves – the pressure to pull off an Insta-perfect party season can mean Christmas takes its toll.

And last year’s late rule changes were particularly challenging, when suddenly we found ourselves with empty chairs and pared-back plans, which – no matter how stoically accepted – left the uneasy sense that the Grinch had truly stolen Christmas.

Yet, for many of us, the pandemic delivered a most unexpected gift: the chance to reconsider our festive to-do list and rewrite the usual Christmas script. A change that was perhaps long overdue, but took a global crisis for us to be able to consider.

For decades now, our expectations have grown. When we were children, a trip to see Santa at the local department store the Saturday before the big day was a special treat. Now, we feel we must take our little darlings to the very best grotto money can buy, with real reindeer, personalised gifts and an enchanted forest, all watched through the lens of a camera and shared with the world before we even get back home.

Likewise, the meal, the tree, the parties, the presents grow bigger and better, more expensive and more… exhausting. Because, make no bones about it, a recent study revealed that seasonal overload is real, with one in four women suffering from exhaustion and emotional burnout before the big day rolls around. My only question: Is it really only one in four?

But last year gave all our plans a kicking, and made us do things differently. And the good news is that we don’t have to climb back on the Christmas carousel of excess and extravagance. Many of my friends have expressed a desire to do Christmas differently this year. As we make plans, freed from some of the expectations that previously seemed set in stone, we also feel determined to throw off the festive burnout that plagues women in particular during this most wonderful time of the year.

We have learned that a simple Christmas can be profoundly meaningful and memorable. We’re no longer buying the myth that seasonal exhaustion is simply the price we must pay for pulling off the perfect Christmas. And in discovering what we missed when Christmas was duly upended, we’re reconsidering everything from what it means to us to how we wish to spend it.

So instead of hurtling into preparations you’ve perhaps never felt you could question, take a breath and make plans that truly serve you and those you love this Christmas…

Rewrite...your family time

If you’ve been used to seeing your parents for breakfast Buck’s Fizz, before heading over to his mum and dad’s for lunch, then visiting Gran mid-afternoon, last year you may have really missed seeing family and friends. Or maybe… you didn’t. If you’re reluctant to revert to the pre-pandemic Christmas chaos of dashing from pillar to post, now’s the time to break free from obligation. It’s about rerouting your usual plans rather than doggedly holding on to what you’ve always done.

‘What stops many of us from following through on a desire to do Christmas differently is the fear that someone important will be upset if we fall out of step with their expectations,’ says Holly Matthews, a self-development coach and founder of The Happy Me Project.

‘If you know someone is going to feel annoyed, remember that their feelings probably stem from the fact that they have their own version of the ideal Christmas.’ Find ways to remind them that they matter, and reinforce that you want them included in your plans, Matthews suggests. ‘Making them feel special will help them see that your new rules are about you, not them.’

You could, for example, visit loved ones on a more leisurely schedule during the month, instead of making it all about one or two crushingly busy days.

Be kind to yourself, as well as to others, as you shake up your plans. Some of the routines you’re seeking to dismantle may have been around for quite some time, so changing them is bound to be emotive, Matthews explains. ‘It’s not your job to manage other people’s emotions, but you can be understanding enough to know that certain feelings might surface,’ she says. ‘Try not to change everything at once, or leave some wriggle room for compromise, so that those you care about can have a bit of their perfect Christmas too.’

Rewrite...your festive traditions

There can be much joy and comfort to be had from our Christmas rituals (as we discover on page 24), but if you’ve ever tried to challenge a long-held family tradition, you’ll know how strong the reactions can be! Understanding why we hold so firmly to family customs – even ones that don’t serve us – is key to dismantling them with grace and respect, says Geraldine Joaquim, a psychotherapist, stress management consultant and author of Understanding Your Stress Footprint (£9.95).

‘Traditions bring steadiness in a confusing world and can provide a sense of belonging and comfort, while old family rituals can nurture connection, not just to our immediate family but to past generations,’ she says. ‘Developing your self-awareness is not for the fainthearted – it can bring up all sorts of emotions and memories – but as you go through the process, it also brings clarity and choice. You start to discover yourself in among the routine and can decide whether the activities still serve you, or whether you want to replace them with new ones. Customs such as what you eat for dinner and when you put up your tree are wrapped in family history that may stretch back to your childhood and beyond – your parents were probably trying to recreate the Christmases they had as children.’

Try reflecting on why you uphold a tradition. Consider who enjoys it and whether it adds meaning or brings you closer. But remember that traditions can also just be for fun! Talk to your relatives about why you’ve always done something a certain way: ‘This is a great way of discovering family history,’ says Joaquim.

But what can you do if the family customs you feel tied to no longer bring you happiness? If they’re not working for you, you can change them, or ditch them. ‘It can be hard to let go of tradition, but there’s a danger that you’ll resent it if you continue with a ritual that no longer brings you joy,’ adds Joaquim. ‘It might make you feel uncomfortable and could even create cognitive dissonance – the state of having inconsistent thoughts or beliefs, which result in feelings of unease and tension, which is not what you want when you’re trying to create an atmosphere of warmth and comfort at Christmas!’

If you anticipate fallout from others, take it gently, Joaquim advises. Make time to explain why a tradition doesn’t work for you any more, and think up new ones that could replace it. ‘If you hate turkey, you could suggest another dish to serve alongside it, or even offer to provide an alternative.’ Ultimately, it’s down to you to decide what to hold on to and what to create as new, but do so with an awareness of how it will affect others. Don’t forget, Joaquim cautions, to consider the impact on future generations if your tradition includes children, because they’ll be repeating your rituals – at least until they decide to abandon or change them!

Sending Christmas cards was popularised in the mid-1800s, but with today’s awareness of climate change and waste, it’s perfectly acceptable that people are turning to e-cards or not sending cards at all, perhaps making a donation to a charity instead.’

And remember, nothing is set in stone, says Joaquim – you may choose to stop a tradition but, if you miss it, there’s nothing to stop you picking it up again next year!’

Rewrite...your Christmas calendar

The festive party season is a major cause of burnout. But, this year, the stakes are even higher because we’ve grown accustomed to rarely leaving the house, never mind rocking around the Christmas tree all month long. So how do you pace your partying and say yes to a whirlwind of festive invitations without ending up exhausted and running on empty?

‘When we tire ourselves out socially, it’s often because of a lack of balance between our own needs and the needs of others,’ says Michaela Thomas, a clinical psychologist and author of The Lasting Connection (Little, Brown, £14.99). ‘Not being able to say no to invitations can stem from a lack of boundaries, perhaps due to a fear of letting other people down or worry about not being liked or fitting in, but it can also stem from a fear of missing out on all these wonderful events after a period of being socially starved.’

Many of us struggle to set boundaries because we don’t check in with ourselves about what we need, according to Thomas. ‘How do you know it’s time to charge your phone if you don’t check the battery status?’ she says. ‘Being mindfully aware of the early warning signs that you need downtime is key – are you irritable, snappy or tired without an obvious reason? You may be overloaded and need some downtime to recharge. If so, then it’s appropriate to choose one of the social commitments you are juggling and set it down.’

Remember too that people pleasing doesn’t serve you or your friends. ‘Kindness is key – you can face requests without passively saying yes and regretting it later, and without aggressively saying no and burning bridges with people,’ adds Thomas. ‘Between passive and aggressive lies assertive, where you kindly but firmly say that you won’t be able to make it. Compassion for the other person’s situation, balanced with compassion for your own situation, is helpful in guiding you towards which events to accept or decline, and how to do so with kindness.’

If you find yourself filling up the calendar and wishing you could make it stop, try asking yourself some important questions, Thomas suggests. ‘How will you feel if you push yourself to go? How would the other person feel if you couldn’t make it? How important is the social event? If your friend knew what you were going through, would they really judge you for cancelling? And, are you speaking to yourself as kindly as your friend would speak to you?’

If, from a Covid point of view, you aren’t ready for the office Christmas party or other gatherings, it’s especially important to respect your limitations. If you feel rusty from not having socialised for so long, Thomas recommends building up to a bigger event by going to a few smaller gatherings first. ‘Little and often helps chip away at your fear and broadens your comfort zone, rather than going from nought to 100 in one social event,’ she says.

Rewrite...your working life

Between office Christmas bashes and boozy client catch-ups, it can be hard to find time to actually do your job at this time of year. Mounting pressure to wrap up projects for the holidays alongside endless social expectations can leave you feeling more frazzled than festive by the time you clock off for Christmas.

‘Some people are like children at Christmas – excited about the opportunities for drinks, parties and long lunches – and very little work gets done,’ says Catrin MacDonnell, an executive and business coach.

‘But the work doesn’t go away and someone has to pick up the pieces. On top of pressure to be the perfect party person – helping to keep it all fun and keep smiling during often dull and drunken conversations – you might be the Christmas elf at home too: shopping, planning and cooking. It’s a huge amount of extra pressure, with fewer hours to actually do your work and get stuff done. And what goes out of the window first? Self-care. Eating properly, drinking water and getting enough sleep don’t happen as they should. No wonder we feel exhausted.’

But there is an antidote, according to MacDonnell. Remind yourself that you’re not responsible for keeping everyone happy at work or enabling everyone to have a good time. ‘If you’re a people pleaser or a perfectionist, Christmas is tough,’ she says. ‘It’s also hard for people who just don’t like Christmas.’

Take time to think about changes you’d like to make at work and share your thoughts with a colleague or friend so you can hold each other accountable, MacDonnell advises. If you’re feeling the festive fallout at work, you might agree that you won’t say yes to every extra task that comes your way. ‘This might involve explaining that you’re not able to take it on, delegating other tasks so that you can make space for it or setting a firm timescale and resolving not to toil over it for ever, trying to make it perfect,’ she says. ‘Whatever you decide, make it a rule and keep it front of mind. Some people find a mantra, such as “I don’t have to rescue everyone”, can be useful.’

It can help to think in advance about the things you want to avoid in December. ‘Say no to picking up all the work while others are having a ball, and no to drinks and party invitations if they fill you with dread or will leave you worn out,’ says MacDonnell. ‘And say no to hangovers too – or do a deal with yourself and limit them – because waking up in a pit of self-loathing and exhaustion staring down a day’s work really doesn’t help!’

Rewrite...your soul

Perhaps you don’t really celebrate Christmas but find yourself getting dragged along with the crowd and want to step back this year. Or maybe you’re longing for some quiet space to soak up the sanctity of the season, regardless of your specific beliefs. You don’t have to be a fervent churchgoer to find your sense of spirituality awakened at this time of year and Advent can be a wonderfully peaceful period of mindfulness, if you choose to embrace it.

‘As the year turns towards Christmas, we naturally begin to feel more festive because of changes in the weather, adverts we see on TV or even just the arrival of warming, spiced lattes on the menu at our local coffee shop,’ says Rebecca Lockwood, a coach who specialises in NLP, hypnosis and positive psychology. ‘These things have been anchored into our neurology so that we associate them with Christmas.’

If you find yourself seeking meaning in those moments, try paying close attention to the small things, such as the feel of cooler air in the winter months and spending time with people you love, says Lockwood. ‘Tap into what’s really important to you about Christmas.’

Making time for yourself can also equip you to deal with feelings of festive burnout when they surface. ‘Give yourself time at least every few days to listen to yourself and your body,’ advises Lockwood. ‘Whether it’s a steaming bubble bath to mull over your thoughts, or a moment over coffee in the morning, try to tap into how you feel,’ she says.

‘Honouring your feelings is always important. And if you feel something negative, instead of giving yourself statements in your head, try asking yourself a question to dig deeper. This will open up your mind to becoming more resourceful.’

6 simple steps to a less stressful festive season

Decide what your ideal Christmas looks like.  Did you enjoy a more solitary Christmas last year and want to retain elements of that this year? Do you hate turkey and want to eat chicken nuggets and binge-watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’? ‘Whatever the ideal Christmas looks like for you, owning it in your own mind is the first step to achieving it, without judging yourself for your choices,’ says Holly Matthews.

Give people time to accept and adjust.  ‘Let people know your new Christmas rules in advance,’ advises Matthews. ‘Dropping on everyone that you no longer buy presents or eat meat two days before Christmas is unlikely to go down well.’

Write down your definitely/maybe list.  ‘Preparing ahead of time can alleviate some festive anxiety and help you let go of trying to control what you can’t,’ says Matthews. ‘Write two lists: what will definitely happen and what might happen. For example, I will definitely give Grandma that new scarf she wanted, and Uncle John may get a bit too tipsy at lunch.’

Breathe through burnout.  ‘Close your eyes, focus on your breath and remind yourself that everyone is doing the best they can and that you don’t have to allow other people’s dramas into your space,’ suggests Matthews. ‘If anxiety shows up during the festivities, do some breathing exercises: breathe in for the count of four, hold for seven and breathe out for eight.’

Follow the plan, not the mood.  ‘This is a good mantra to help you find the courage to go to an event that you don’t feel like going to, but which might be fun once you get there,’ says Michaela Thomas. ‘The anticipation of anxiety tied to an event is often worse than the experience of the event itself.’

Remember to rest and digest.  ‘We all need rest for recovery, and we all need recovery after the past two years,’ adds Thomas. ‘Digesting isn’t just about food – we have a lot of difficult, upsetting and challenging events to digest this year. Slowing down and taking it easy over the holiday season will help. Whenever stress builds up, take six slow and deep breaths over the course of one minute to activate your soothing system, or rest and digest mode.’

We’ve created a Christmas that’s perfect for us

Clare Veal, 46, a solicitor from Surrey, turned her back on the idealised big day – and that’s when the magic happened

Sitting in the garden as the rain fell on Christmas Day in 2017, I felt far from festive. Despite weeks of planning, the day had been stressful rather than magical.

My sons, Fred, 12, and Arthur, eight, were overwhelmed by the stacks of gifts under the tree, and my husband, Baz, was stuck building toys and searching for batteries, while I slaved over turkey and the trimmings. When we sat down to dinner, the children refused to eat most of it, then started arguing. We couldn’t even go for a family walk because the weather was so miserable and, when I retreated outside for some peace, my thoughts turned to loved ones lost over the years. ‘I’m not doing this again,’ I told Baz later that evening. ‘Christmas is supposed to be fun.’

Within days, I’d found a solution. Instead of our traditional Christmas at home or with our extended families, I’d booked a holiday park for the following year. We would pay for it by scaling back on gifts and when we explained to the children that Father Christmas would only be able to deliver a stocking and one large present, they were too excited about the holiday to mind.

It was the right decision because Christmas 2018 was the best one we could remember. And beforehand, all I had to do was pack the suitcases and buy a few provisions.

We spent Christmas Day at the pool and bowling, and dined at an Italian restaurant. The boys were thrilled to eat their favourite food, pizza, for Christmas dinner!

It felt as festive as anything we could have created at home and everyone was happy. Best of all, we made lots of really special memories that the boys still talk about today.

We returned in 2019 and are booked in again for this year, after Covid cancelled our plans in 2020.

I’m so glad we broke free from the norm. It feels as if we’ve regained the spirit of Christmas by doing what works for us, and we’ve created our own new traditions instead.

Quality family time is so much more precious than any gift that Santa could bring.

Clare Veal runs Aubergine Legal, a commercial law consultancy.

Photographs: Getty Images

Words: Alex Lloyd (Clare Veal profile)

Living

Psychologies' award-winning coach Kim Morgan, shares 5 tips on how we can avoid burnout this festive season. Plus, there's a special offer on the fantastic Barefoot Coaching Cards with questions to spark fun family conversations

by Psychologies

by Psychologies

'It was a spiral of absolute terror': Myleene Klass opens up about her four miscarriages and finding joy with her miracle baby

Myleene Klass

It was the image of her showering in a white bikini in the Australian jungle that propelled Myleene Klass into the spotlight and helped launch her diverse career. But she’s come a long way since those days, and family, being a role model and sharing her story of miscarriage to help others are what drive her now.

Fifteen years after that memorable moment on I’m A Celebrity…, Klass sees her body in a completely different light. Not least because, since then, she’s had three children, including her miracle baby boy, Apollo, born after four devastating miscarriages that changed her perspective on life.

‘I look at my body differently now because it’s come through so much,’ she says. ‘I was given every hormone known to man to keep Apollo in there, and I still feel the effects of that. I mean, I put on four and a half stone with him and, as a southeast Asian woman, that was a lot to carry. I’m not some glamazon, six foot, Naomi Campbell type – I’m Myleene Klass from Norfolk. But I’m proud of my body and everything it’s achieved. And, ultimately, I want to make sure I show it love, kindness and positivity, especially because I have daughters.’

These days, bikinis are so far from her mind that Klass forgot to pack one for the family holiday this summer. ‘Can you believe the bikini queen forgot her bikini?’ she laughs. ‘We had to go shopping for a new one when we got there. I was too busy packing for everybody else!’

The ‘everybody else’ she refers to is the beautifully chaotic blended family of seven (they call themselves the Klotsons) she has with her fiance, Simon ‘Sim’ Motson, a PR executive. As well as their son, Apollo, two, Klass has two daughters – Ava, 14, and Hero, 10, from her marriage to Graham Quinn, a former bodyguard for Hear’Say [Klass’s Popstars band], while Sim has two children from a previous relationship. It all makes for a busy – and noisy – household, she says.

‘Apart from the logistical difficulties, everyone has different needs, so you’re trying to emotionally and mentally deliver on all that. I find myself very thinly spread – there’s never enough of me to go around.’

Does she ever get time to herself? ‘Not really!’ she laughs, joking that she might spin out our interview for another hour to escape the mayhem for longer.  ‘Getting the work-life balance right is impossible.  The only way I’ve been able to half get away with it is by creating a work environment that is family-friendly. When I make videos, I do that with the kids. When I design clothes, it’s with my kids. My family life is my work life and everything I do is centred around what happens at home,’ she explains.

‘However, I know how much I wanted this family and I thrive on the madness. I love that when we go out, we’re a tribe. We’re our own party, which is just as well because no one invites us anywhere – there are too many of us!’

During lockdown, she invested in a bigger kitchen table, one the whole family could sit around. For Klass, it was a poignant moment because it showed how far she’d come rebuilding her life after the breakdown of her marriage in 2012, when her daughters were aged four and one. The split was crushing, she acknowledges, but meeting Motson on a blind date five years ago marked the beginning of a new chapter.

‘The table was an emotional thing for me because it was symbolic. I’d bought the previous table for me and the girls, the three of us in this home I had built for us. And now, because we’d met Sim and he’d brought his kids to the table too, we needed something bigger. The kitchen is the heart of our house and, in my head, I want to be an Italian mama. I love the idea of everyone coming together around the table – a real open house. That was my vision and I’ve actually got it! I feel so grateful.’

Ava and Hero call Motson dad and Klass has said that had she not met him, the girls would have been ‘short-changed’.

She says: ‘It’s been important for the girls to see a healthy relationship because, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. This is not about DNA. Sim’s here every day and steps up and I’m glad they get to see that. He doesn’t see them as just my children – he says “I have five children”. And the girls need to hear that.’

Klass and Motson’s son is the ‘glue’ binding the family together, and they all dote on Apollo. In a heartfelt Instagram post last year, she opened up about the four losses she had suffered before he was born. It led to her making a documentary – Myleene: Miscarriage And Me. ‘It wasn’t easy to film. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever worked on,’ she says. ‘I remember the despair, grief and anger. And the panic. But it wasn’t until I looked back at my diaries that I realised how broken I was. By the fourth time, it was just a spiral of absolute terror.’

The hour-long show will see Klass meeting women, including her friends and family, who share their experiences of baby loss. She is also backing a campaign by Tommy’s, the pregnancy charity, to change the care system to enable more women to get the support they need following a miscarriage. At the moment, the NHS won’t investigate causes until it is classed as recurrent miscarriage, which means a woman must suffer three in row. ‘We don’t expect someone to have three heart attacks before taking it seriously,’ she says. ‘And if the miscarriage happens before 24 weeks, it doesn’t necessarily go on to your medical records so every time [you deal with a new healthcare professional], they don’t know your history and you have to explain it all again.

‘There isn’t even statutory compassionate leave for miscarriage. All these women carrying around this pain. I interviewed my aunty and she hadn’t spoken about her miscarriage for 37 years… So much pain.’ Klass’s third miscarriage occurred while she was live on air at Smooth Radio. During a toilet break, she realised what was happening, yet somehow found the strength to finish the remaining hour of the show.

‘I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want to go home because I was going to have to deliver the news and break the magic. But life doesn’t stop and I took my daughter to dance class as soon as I got back. There was no time to catch my breath because I have children who rely on me and who I need to protect.

‘So, to the people who ask how I carried on, I’d answer – what else could I have possibly done? Carrying on was all I knew. And if I’d lain in bed, I don’t know whether I’d have got up again.’

Naturally, her pregnancy with Apollo was fraught with worry. At one point, she was having two scans a week, each time going through agony before they found the heartbeat. ‘I had so many scans my midwife said he was the most photographed baby in history. I didn’t want to drink water because I was scared of needing the loo and seeing blood. I know how ludicrous that sounds, but anyone who’s been through miscarriage will know that stomach-tightening feeling when you pull down your knickers, thinking “please, no blood”.’

Her decision to speak out about a subject that affects one in four pregnancies has been noted by those in power. During a moving speech in the House of Commons this year, Labour MP Olivia Blake spoke about her miscarriage and praised Klass for helping break the taboos that still exist around the subject. Klass hopes her documentary will continue to push the conversation and empower more women to share their stories and feel less alone.

‘Normalising the conversation to the point where it’s happening in the House of Commons with women standing up and recognising each other is so powerful. If we can talk about something that happens to so many, then maybe it won’t feel so terrifying and women will stop blaming themselves. I feel that if I can be part of a change, then I’m turning this pain into power.’

And she’s not only speaking out about miscarriage. Klass was recently accused on social media of having her lips done, and responded publicly that as a biracial woman [her mother is Filipino and her father Austrian], these were the lips she was given. It was an example, she says, of how everything is viewed through the prism of the white Western ‘norm’. ‘I’m not looking for a fight, but I can’t leave a whole group of girls to think I’ve had my lips done to uphold a certain ideal of beauty when we should be celebrating what mixed-race girls like me have.

‘I called it out for my girls. They are like me but transported from Norfolk into north London, and they don’t look like their friendship group. I think the next generation get it. They wear the pride flag, they take the knee, they are brave. I think we’re living in an exciting time when change feels possible.’

Klass says she’s in awe of how her daughters’ generation has handled the pandemic and being locked down for so long. ‘We underestimated them by not giving them a voice in all this. They did everything they were supposed to, better than many of the adults. All credit to our young folk – they’ve been phenomenal. I’m proud of all the children who made such a concerted effort, from clapping on their doorsteps to wearing masks to adapting to online schooling – which was hell on earth by the way.’

She does wonder, however, about the effect on Apollo and the other lockdown babies. ‘Just as he was beginning to open his eyes and recognise shapes, we shut down the world,’ she says.

On the other hand, there were positives to come out of the experience. ‘I had time to just be Mum,’ she says. ‘I stopped expressing because I was home to feed my baby and that was a special thing. I got to see his first steps, hear his first word… I didn’t miss anything and, because he is my last baby, that feels precious. I don’t want to rush a single milestone.’

Photographs: Shutterstock

Better You

by Psychologies

Why you should never stop learning new skills

woman painting

Did spending more time doing the things you enjoy during lockdown reignite past passions, or reveal new ones? Or has uncertainty about your job made you question what you want to do next? Either way, the pandemic has prompted many of us to revaluate what we want, how we work and spend our time.

‘The human capacity to rise up from life’s shittier moments is incredible,’ says Grace Marshall, a coach and author of Struggle: The Surprising Truth, Beauty And Opportunity Hidden In Life’s Sh*ttier Moments. ‘As we’ve seen, life can be really hard at times, but out of struggle often comes opportunity.’

From brushing up on your digital skills to growing vegetables or learning a language, a new breed of adult learners emerged from lockdown full of energy and enthusiasm after exploring their interests and using their brain in a different way. A 300 per cent rise in searches for online courses in the spring of 2020 was made up of a combination of people upskilling to meet the demands of a challenging and changing work environment and those looking to use their spare time in a more constructive way, instead of binge-watching yet another series on Netflix.

A recent study by Allbright, a professional women’s network, showed that 61 per cent of women are planning a complete career change while another survey of 1,000 women showed half had taken up a new hobby in the past year.*

Joanne Mallon, a coach and author, finds that people are getting braver in life and asking bigger questions. ‘There is a feeling that life is too short to be unhappy. People want their work to have meaning and are prepared to make big changes to make that happen,’ she says. She describes a feeling of drifting along in limbo in her book Find Your Why, and explains that this is a mindset in which people can get stuck when they lack purpose, don’t know what their purpose is or how to find it. Purpose is the ‘why’ that drives us.

Mallon suggests looking for clues in the way you feel when you do certain things, asking yourself questions and looking for repeat themes in the answers (see ‘Learning for pleasure’, below). Asking people close to you where they think your strengths lie can also give clues about what you might be suited to doing.

‘It can be excruciating, but having people you trust tell you how they see you is eye-opening,’ adds coach Helen McMillan, who specialises in purpose.

After a bit of soul-searching, you might come to the conclusion that it’s not a big leap that you need, but small changes that help you feel more fulfilled in the present and positive about the future. ‘You don’t have to give up your job and join the circus!’ says Mallon. ‘It could be taking an evening class or registering for a training course at work. Or, if it’s a passion you already make time for that brings you joy, you could look at the next steps to getting better at it and expanding your involvement.’ Becoming more expert in something you enjoy doing can be a catalyst for greater change further down the line, or it might just mean you get more out of your hobby without any performance pressure. When your confidence needs restoring, Mallon recommends retreating to something you feel naturally good at, whether that’s riding a bike or baking a cake.

Embarking on any kind of learning as an adult requires getting into the mindset of being a beginner again, something you might find exciting, liberating – and pretty scary. ‘Let yourself be curious and open to learning, without judgment,’ says Marshall, who warns about the part of a learning journey where it stops being new and can start to feel trickier. ‘It’s OK to feel uncomfortable and find something hard,’ she says. ‘If you expect that sticky middle bit, it will take you less by surprise.’ However, if you do ultimately decide something isn’t for you, that’s OK – not everything will be a resounding success. ‘Learning skills for a purpose is great but learning for play is equally beneficial,’ she says.

If you like the idea of trying something new but are still pondering what that might be, there’s one question Marshall asks her clients to help them see the light: ‘If you suddenly had an extra hour in the day, what would you do with it? Now ask, what would be the cost benefit of doing more of that?’ ‘Just having it on your radar will make it something you go to more often when you’ve got free time,’ she says.

Looking back over the past 18 months, Mallon agrees that there is insight to be gained from the things you chose to do when you had extra time to do whatever you wanted. ‘Think about what you did during lockdown and what these things tell you about your values – the clearer you are on what your values are, the easier it becomes to stay true to them.’

Open your mind to so much more

A report by the Department for Education reveals that adult learning is associated with greater wellbeing, fewer visits to the GP and improved mental health, and repeated studies show that people live longer and in better health if they have a sense of purpose. As our working life extends, we’re naturally more likely to want to change career path and will inevitably need to update our skills along the way. ‘Most of us aren’t going to retire at 60,’ says coach Helen McMillan, ‘so we need to adapt to the mindset of longer working lives. We can’t expect that a job we perhaps chose to train for in our late teens will necessarily sustain us for 50 or 60 years.’

A thirst for learning also makes you a more attractive employee. In the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of jobs’ survey, active learning was the second most desirable skill listed by the world’s biggest employers.

Learn for pleasure

Ask yourself the following questions to help you discover where your passions lie:

* When have you felt both powerful and at peace?

* What would you be doing if you knew you couldn’t fail?

* If you didn’t have to do a job for money, what would you do?

* Was there a work or college project that particularly absorbed you?

* What was it about the project that captivated you?

* What did you want to be when you grew up?

* What do you think other people come to you for?

* Write down five things you are good at in your life today

It worked for me

After having her third child, the prospect of going back to teaching left Helen McMillan feeling flat and uninspired. ‘In theory, I had the perfect job for family life, but when I looked to the future, I felt flat and trapped by the rigid structure of my job. I didn’t want to be a teacher for the rest of my life, but I didn’t have a clue what to do or how to make a change,’ she says.

Eventually, Helen consulted a career coach. ‘I was terrified at first and surprised at how hard I found admitting that I didn’t know what I wanted to do,’ she says. With her coach, Helen went through a career transition process exploring options that aligned with her interests, until she decided that she wanted to train as a coach herself. ‘It combines the skills I had from teaching with a therapeutic basis that I really like. It wasn’t always easy and I had moments of wondering whether I’d done the right thing, but I loved learning again and meeting people from different walks of life.’

A few years later, Helen runs her own business coaching companies and individuals and feels in control and fulfilled.

Next steps

CREATE a mood board with words, pictures and ideas that inspire you and look for themes that emerge and clues about what you might wish to do next (or learn more about). This will help you uncover your passions and purpose.

LEARN: For a range of online courses – from creative arts and history to personal development and upgraded business skills, check out linkedin.com, skillshare.com, futurelearn.com and uklearns.pearson.com.

READ The 100-Year Life: Living And Working In an Age Of Longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew J Scott (Bloomsbury, £10.99).

Photographs: Getty Images

Better You

by Psychologies

'Friends are the family you choose': How to create, maintain and enjoy strong companionships

My palms are sweaty and my pulse is racing as I walk nervously into the bar. I spot them immediately, sitting at a table near the front. My throat is dry with dread, yet I feel a simultaneous surge of hope. Could this be it – what I’ve been looking for most of my life? Before I approach, I feel momentarily paralysed. As they throw back their heads, shrieking with laughter and calling loudly for another bottle of fizz, I take a deep breath. Inwardly I want to flee but, yet again, I’m going to give it a go.

It’s a scenario I’ve lived through many times. I’ve arrived at exercise classes with a willing smile and studiously open body language, only to watch fellow attendees quickly fold into their well-established cliques. Even charity runs have left me feeling wretched, as I repeatedly end up behind groups of women huddled together, supporting each other every step of the way, as the cliche goes.

So, here’s my confession: large, noisy groups of women terrify me. And there’s a reason for that: They are a reminder of something I don’t have, yet feel I should – a solid group of female friends that I can rely on to help me navigate life’s ups and downs. I’ve been told I need it all my life, from the Spice Girls and girl power as a teenager, through the chick flicks I grew up watching to the constant bombardment on social media these days. You’d think I’d be over what I call ‘the playground mindset’ by now, but a quick scroll through Facebook or Instagram shows me groups of women like me on nights out and weekends away, celebrating their superglue bond.

‘The construct of the “posse” is propped up by social media,’ says therapist Sally Baker. ‘What it brings out for a lot of women are those schoolday insecurities when you weren’t sure whether you fitted in or not. There’s a lot of judgment that goes on in WhatsApp and Facebook groups and they are seldom a safe space unless you are a hugely conforming type. I know women in well-established groups who share no personal vulnerabilities. I think that superficiality is encouraged by social media – how things look, not how people feel,’ she says.

When I have dipped a cautious toe into those choppy waters online, I realise how much I edit myself. If everyone is discussing their latest juice cleanse, I’m less likely to divulge that I have been sobbing into a box of chocolate eclairs. Frequently, the group’s entire existence seems founded on an endless cycle of mutual compliments. One Christmas, my WhatsApp was flooded with perfectly curated photos of people in front of their sparkly trees, accompanied by the inevitable flurry of praise and flattery.

It’s a concept known by psychologists as ‘stroking’. ‘It’s OK not to constantly stroke,’ Baker says. ‘We have to do enough of that in our lives. If you find that you are stroking and making excuses to your friendship circle, then it becomes a burden. It’s like another job.’

It’s one from which I’ve sought to resign. Conversations in these groups have more layers than a millefeuille, with many getting external validation from being liked and supported by the posse. Of course, there are many who thrive within this dynamic, but what if you struggle with it? Baker says that rather than expending all your energy on others, try tapping into your intuition to assess what you truly need from your friendships.

‘Do your friends make you feel good about yourself, or judged? You don’t need the raucous group spread over two tables at a bar – it could be that you prefer spending time in the garden with someone you really like to chat with,’ she says. ‘Do you need professional women who can encourage you to be braver or do you need someone empathetic and a good listener? Find out where the gap is.’

Thinking about it, I often end up as an emotional sounding board for others. It can be draining and one-sided, so I know I need to make a conscious effort to create boundaries and seek out people who are good listeners too – a community I am finding through my creative life with fellow writers.

‘Friendship is a two-way process,’ explains Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist and author of Friends: Understanding The Power Of Our Most Important Relationships, (Little, Brown, £20). ‘The human social world is a complex thing,’ he says. ‘According to developmental literature, it takes 25 years to acquire the necessary skills.’ This is why, he explains, human beings have such a long adolescence.

And, far from being a problem, he explains in his book that those ‘moments of social anguish’ when you feel rejected or let down ‘are a reminder of an important aspect of friendship: friends are not, in reality, all that easy to acquire and maintain’.

That encourages me to appreciate the fact that I do have close friends, and that I am making more connections with like-minded people through my work. Sure, we’re no cast-iron girl gang, but perhaps that’s something I will yearn for less in coming years: Dunbar says that as we mature, we sacrifice having so many friends to invest time and energy in those who are closest to us.

But what if I am still on the lookout for new pals? ‘It’s about finding the places that provide the opportunities to meet people,’ says Dunbar. ‘Where we notice things work really fast is singing and joining an amateur choir. What we call the “icebreaker effect” is instantaneous with complete strangers. You come out feeling as if you’ve known them for life.’

Both Baker and Dunbar advise trying to be relaxed about the situation. As you’re buffeted by life’s events – whether it’s a bereavement, divorce, relocation or a change of career – friendships will change with you. It’s very much the quality that counts over the quantity.

Beverley Jones, a life coach and author, feels freed by not being part of a posse who make big demands on her time. ‘I have many friends spanning not only my life, but generations. I have friends in their 20s through to their 80s,’ she says. ‘Each of my friends has a different season. I feel blessed to have them all in my life. I shy away from groups of women. They deplete my energy.’

I’m gradually starting to realise that I haven’t failed at friendship, and perhaps I don’t need a posse to thrive after all. My long search to find it has made me open to welcoming new friendships at each stage of my life. I’m definitely going to join that choir though.

Sally Baker’s tips for happier friendships

  1. Friends aren’t psychic and, if you’re quiet, they might think you’re busy and won’t want to bother you. Be proactive. Send a text and suggest some dates to get together.
  2. Stop wasting time with friendships that feel superficial. The key to thriving is human connection, so focus on those relationships that foster a connected feeling.
  3. Seek out people who are emotionally intelligent and who will take risks in conversation by opening up and sharing their vulnerabilities. The best friends are not always the noisiest people or the ones who put themselves forward, but they are often the richest emotionally and will provide a deeper connection that is important for a feeling of fulfilment in friendship.

It worked for me

Rachel Michaelson, 42, an actor and mental health coach, says: ‘When I was growing up, I always wanted to be in a girl posse. When I met my husband at university, we had a group that we belonged to, but I never felt as if I fitted in. While I was training to be a coach, I experienced a shift in attitude. I realised that I didn’t need the validation of a group. If people are meant to be my friends, they’ll find me, and that seems to have played out. I’m attracting the right sort of people now with the right energy. If you don’t feel comfortable in a group dynamic, don’t feel pressured to conform. I spent years doing that and wasted a chunk of my life. Now I have friends who genuinely want to be in my world and give me as much of their time as I give them.’

Next steps

READ: The Friendship Cure by Kate Leaver (Prelude, £9.99), which examines friendship in all its forms.

WATCH: the film Pitch Perfect for a portrayal of being thrust into a clique – and the unifying power of singing.

LISTEN: to the How To Make Friends podcast with Gemma Scopes for honest conversations and tips to build your self-esteem, make friends and boost your social life.

 

Words:  Emma Reed

Photograph:  Getty Images

Relationships

by Psychologies