Wednesday, 30 March 2016

App of the Month: Pacer

We're coming in to April! Can you believe how fast the time can fly!? It feels like only moments ago I was deliberating over my new year's resolutions, and I'm sure I can't be the only one who hasn't seen as much progress in that area as I'd like. The majority of my guilt stems from not keeping up the promises I made to myself regarding fitness routine, I'm afraid I haven't been to the gym in 2 weeks now... Looks like that vow of a minimum of 2 weekly visits was just a farce. However I've not been feeling too guilty for neglecting my workouts and it's all down to the peace of mind that this month's App gives me!

Name: Pacer
Category: Fitness
Price: Free (Upgrade to Pro available in-app)
Available On: iPhone, Android, Amazon App Store

I've often to felt tempted to fall in to the trend of buying a fitbit, or pedometer to monitor my daily exercise in the hope that it'll motivate me to get out and do more but I generally tend to conclude that it's an unnecessary expenditure that my student budget won't allow. Then I stumbled upon Pacer which acts as a great compromise - it covers all the basics and is completely free! (No budget can argue with that!) As you can probably gather from its name, Pacer's primary function is as a pedometer, measuring your daily step total, but it has several other nifty little features built in.

I think it's best to say up front that a phone app is only ever going to be accurate to a certain degree, and that's definitely not going to be the highest one. Therefore I feel it's best to treat the numbers it throws at you as purely an estimate, which of course is better than nothing and can still tell you a lot. How can a little thing like an accuracy issue not be forgiven when this app can do much and should suit the majority if not all your fitness needs?

The app's home screen is a 'step-dial' which shows the running total of steps for that day in comparison to your goal, which can be recommended by the app itself or set manually. This screen also tells you when in the day you've been active, how long you've been active for, the amount of calories burned, the distance travelled and your current level of activity whether that be sedentary, lightly active, active etc. ... So there' a lot of information right there! All of this data is stored automatically so you can look back on how you fair each week, month or year and study any trends. For me there's always a big dip if I go home for a week or in the holidays as I have my boyfriend to chauffeur me everywhere instead of having to walk so obviously he'll always be to blame if I ever put on weight. Speaking of which I can keep track of that with Pacer too! You can keep an eye on your weight (the app will automatically calculate your BMI for you) and blood pressure if you wish by weighing in as often or as little as suits.

Pacer isn't just limited to your daily strolls, you can also add in any other exercise you've undertaken during the day whether that be swimming, cycling, aerobics or something else. There's also a great run tracker included, which has an option for giving positive feedback updating you on your accomplishments as you go. Yup, you don't have to download a separate app for that! As a result you can be confident that the app is giving you a fully cohesive view of your fitness journey, even if it's not entirely accurate. 


So that's what Pacer has to offer you on a basic level, or at least the features which I tend to use on the daily. However to stop there would be leaving out an entire other dimension to Pacer, that of social media. See with Pacer you can create and join groups or goal forums with users from around the world in aid to support each other. You can 'check in' when you complete a goal, share photos and updates, direct message, follow certain users and comment and favourite posts. If you want it, there's a huge fitness community at your fingertips!

As for your goals, you can set as many as you like although the app will generally centre on your step-taking. For the users among us that stick to the free version, our goals are generally to do with daily activities and just appear in a list where we have the ability to 'check in' when we complete them. These are things like drinking more water, eating more vegetables/fruit, sleeping a full 8 hours or completing a set workout/amount of steps. However this changes if you decide to upgrade to Pro for the cost of £2.99 a month or £14.99 for the year, where you'll unlock a load more features such as guided coaching, advanced insights and better tracked goals and targets. All of this is estimated to up your active calories by 15% and help you lose 2.5 times the weight loss.

As I am yet to see the need to upgrade I'm afraid I won't be going into everything that's offered but even without Pro I find Pacer an incredibly useful and inclusive fitness app perfect for all my needs! Plus you don't feel so guilty about all the easter eggs you've eaten when yesterday's shopping spree helped you burn off 500+ calories!

Download Pacer today, or find out more here!

If you enjoyed this post, why not have a read about some my other App's of the Month?

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Being the House Neat Freak

Living with other people can be hard for many reasons, but it can be especially difficult if they don't hold the same standards of cleanliness as you do. After spending my first two years of university living in some conditions I would rather not have as a result of those I lived with, not through choice I may add, I thought I'd put a little post together in the hope it may help anyone else experiencing the same situation. Whether you are currently in student accommodation or in another shared living arrangement, hopefully you’ll find these tips useful.

For many students, university is the first time that they’ve ever lived away from home, without their family. This can be quite the challenge, as we are all aware, suddenly being responsible for doing your own laundry, dish-washing, hoovering, dusting, cooking etc can come as a big shock! Not only can this mean having to learn completely new skills, like how to cook without setting off the fire alarms, but it can also be very time consuming. I’m sure we all feel that we hardly have enough time to study, socialise, cook, exercise and relax let alone clean up after ourselves. While some of us will soon learn to manage our time and multi-task there will always be others that prefer to take a more… shall we say effortless route?

At first it’s completely understandable when dishes are left undone, or there’s the odd splodge of pasta sauce left on the hob. Its fresher’s after all and what with all that time being spent nursing hangovers, or creating new ones, no one is on their best behaviour. So of course nothing is expected to be in ‘tip-top’ shape. After that there’s the whole settling into university and the new lifestyle, which can be overwhelming. Suddenly serious deadlines and examinations comes along and panic strikes us all, and surviving university by whatever means necessary becomes out priority even if that means consuming way too much takeaway to save time cooking or going grocery shopping.
We both know and appreciate this, so we attempt to be patient and hope that things will change. But as time goes on, can we really be blamed for getting a little annoyed or agitated at conditions we have to live in? No, of course not! But these situations can be a little tricky to handle, and you can ruin the strongest friendships if you don’t negotiate them correctly. This is why, in an attempt to save you from such tragedy, I’ve written this post!

First of all, is there really a problem? If you’re in a bad mood, or stressed about something then the smallest things can start to bother you. I’m not saying that your feelings aren’t valid, feelings are always valid, just make sure that there is really a problem before you react to it. Think about what’s really bothering you, and isolate those things. Is it just one little nag or is there a whole list of annoyances going on? Next, why are these things affecting you? Look at the bigger picture and make sure you know what the problem is and why it’s a problem before you approach a person. If your housemate has a habit of leaving the odd dirty plate for 24 hours, I’d say you need to calm down a little! But on the other hand if there’s mould growing on their huge stack of dirty plates, or on the food in the fridge then I’d say you’ve got yourself a case.
What I mean to say is just because you may have a higher standard of cleaning than others doesn’t mean you can automatically hold everyone else to it. Obviously if there’s a real issue in poor housekeeping by all means address it, otherwise just try and reach a happy medium that doesn’t infringe on health and safety. (I’m think death by bleach fumes as much as some nasty lime scale infection.)

Once you’re figured out the issue, if there really is one, it’s time to take action! Like everything in life there are multiple ways to approach the situation, and in this particular case there’s a lot of wrong ways to! So let me go through some of the most popular bad ways of handling messy housemates, from the worst to the pretty bad.

Being ‘the mom’
This option really doesn’t help you at all, as it doesn’t solve the problem. It just means that instead of looking at the mess, you end up spending all your spare time it cleaning up. Like your poor mother that spent up too much of her life cleaning up after you, you’ll now be cleaning up after your messy flatmates just without the joys of teaching them their first words or getting breakfast in bed on mother’s day. Of course this just becomes time consuming and it won’t take long before you probably end up exploding under the strain of it all. All you had on before plus cleaning up after a whole household, the shining counter tops might bring a smile to your face at first but soon the time spent on them will have an effect on your grades and general happiness. Not just that, there’s a small chance your housemates might not welcome this approach, due it making them feel childish, quite rightly so.
Make it their problem
If you want to know how to make the situation worse, then here you go! Second on my list of not-to-dos is the best way to break up friendships and start arguments in no time at all! This is most often a natural progression from my first no-no, when you get tired of playing maid and want to subtly get your own back. If you haven’t actually tried talking to your housemates about the things you’re finding issues with to find no result, it’s understandable wanting let out your frustrations. The issue is that following this path can quickly result in an in-house war. It starts with you moving their dirty dishes to somewhere they’re in the other person’s way, then leaving them outside their room, next thing you know you’re at each other’s throats or going out of your way to make each other’s lives miserable.

Passive Aggressive Post-it Notes
This tends to be your medium option, on the surface it causes no harm. You get away with having your say with zero confrontation… or that’s what you’d like to think. It quite easy to think there’s no real repercussions to leaving the odd reminder around the house, what’s the harm in leaving a little note like ‘clean dishes please’ or ‘shower needs a clean!’ for the next person to find? The impersonal, and passive aggressive approach can put people’s backs up. If you’re not aware there’s been any problems in your house until you suddenly start finding shitty little post it notes everywhere pointing out where you’ve messed up or been slacking, well I’m sure you wouldn’t be too impressed!

Depending whether if you’re in university accommodation or halls, then you might just be able to get a mediator, or higher power involved. I have to say I have taken this option before and it didn’t really make any difference to my situation at all. I had a clean kitchen for 2 days and then it was back to chaos, as my flatmates were only motivated when faced with fines or the threat of our residency manager's temper. Of course the idea of me playing snitch did not help our strained friendships at that time, which was not worth the temporary illusion of cleanliness. I would always say it’s best to be honest and open with those you’re living with and deal with any issues yourself, it allows for the maintenance of trust in your relationships. That said, if you’re desperate and the conditions are extreme it might be worth getting a more authoritative figure involved, but there’s no promise of real results!

Get over it
This might not even be possible, but it’s a choice you can try and make. Basically stop letting it bother you and let go of all the tension you feel. Easier said than done, right? Sometimes you need to pick your battles and some things just aren’t worth the hassle. If you think you can take a deep breath and just adapt to a new way of living then there’s one easy solution, just don’t hold it against anyone later!

So now I’ve gone through all the ‘don’t-dos’, I should probably actually share my actual general advice! So here it is, broken down into convenient little top tips:

1.      Deal with the Situation ­­ASAP.
The longer you leave things the harder it can become to face them, plus resentment can build up fast making the situation more awkward and the environment more hostile. If there’s a problem don’t put off talking about it because it could get better, or you haven’t reached your breaking point yet, take the first appropriate opportunity there is to say something.

2.      Be honest.
Your feelings, whatever they may be, are valid, so if something is bugging you speak up. Don’t minimise the issue, or try and backtrack over things you’ve said. Most people will appreciate you approaching them and expressing yourself to them in a mature and calm way. Plus you’ll feel better for getting it all off your chest! Honesty is always the best policy!

3.      Think about the other person’s feelings and/or situation.
All that stuff I said about your feelings, well it’s applicable for other party too. I don’t think many people will like being told that they're dirty, so as you express yourself be careful not to say anything which could either offend or embarrass them. There could be genuine reasons for them being a bit messy, maybe they simply don’t know how to clean properly, never really noticed or just lack a little organisation to their schedule to make time for cleaning. You don’t want to be pointing out things that someone is doing wrong but more what is upsetting you, so rather than ‘Your habit of leaving teabags on the side is gross’ you want to be saying something more along the lines of ‘It bothers me when you do X, so could you please do Y because Z’. Suggesting an alternative form of behaviour that isn't too much of an imposition on your housemate is a sure way to get results, especially if you can explain the benefits such actions will have to the both of you. But make sure you don’t sound too patronising!

4.      Think about what you want to say beforehand.
Simple one over here. Think about that you want to say before you say it, and think about what you want the outcome to be as well as what compromises you might be willing to make. Having a plan of what you want to say in your mind will help you cover everything and not get distracted or even wimp out and back track.

5.      Don’t get bitchy or spiteful.
A conversation doesn’t have to be an argument, so stay calm. If things start to get a bit heated it’s always best to hit pause, calm down and come back to it later. You may feel the situation you are in is pretty bad but it can always get worse if the relationships with the people you’re living with break down! It’s never the end of the world so try not to get too emotional, as it’s the easiest way to loose the person you’re talking to.

Let me know your experiences in shared housing in the comments or any advice you’d like to add! Also I’m hoping to maybe set up a form of agony aunt feature to my blog, let me know your thoughts!

If you enjoyed this post have a read of:

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Being a Student Peer-Trainer at Cardiff Student Union's SDS

Nowadays it’s almost impossible to go through university without holding up some form of part-time work. The problem is that fitting a job around studying can be a pretty tricky business, in fact it may seem downright impossible at times. Do any of us really have the time to juggle shifts, literary reviews, lectures, some form of social life, 8 hours a night sleep and work experience? No, not really. But I guess there's always that exception to the rule and some students will appear to breeze through uni no matter how many commitments they take on. I am definitely not one of those students! Yet this year I managed to be able to hold down a part-time job, get great work experience and keep up with all my uni work. Bet you're dying to know my secret!

Well, I was pretty lucky this year and managed to secure a job working for Cardiff Student Union’s Skills Development Service (SDS). If you're undertaking degree study at Cardiff then you've probably heard of the SDS and are aware of the type of workshops they run on employability skills. By attending a variety of SDS sessions you can work towards acquiring Certificates of Professional Development (CPD) which make a great addition to your CV!  My role in the Skills Development Service is that of a Student Peer Trainer, which means I work alongside other members of the SDS team to regularly deliver these sessions to students.

You receive a full week of training to prepare you for the role!

The SDS workshops  taught by Student Peer Trainers fall under the three different Certificates they offer which are entitled Communication, Personal Effectiveness and Leadership. After the training week in September all the Student Peer Trainers were allocated to teaching the workshops from one of these three categories. I was put in the Communication group at first, however as the year went on and our skills, knowledge and confidence grew we were able to jump between session categories with ease depending on our availability and preference.

As a Language and Literature student I found I already had a good understanding of the theories and terminology explored in most of my allotted workshops which meant I could prepare my own notes easily and looked forward to changing things up by teaching a session on 'Coaching Skills' or 'Motivation' every now and again. My teaching of these sessions all counted towards collecting Certificates of Professional Development of my own, so I was keen to try and collect as many as I could and expand my knowledge on each topic.

Full session plans and activities are given for each module.

The time taken to prepare for session varied depending on how it was approached and which session was being taught. Although each session lasts 2 hours you don't necessarily have to take it all by yourself! Most of the time Student Peer Trainers take sessions in pairs, teaching an hour each. Speaking of which, have I mentioned how lovely all the other peer-trainers, and SDS staff are! If you regularly attend our sessions you probably already know, but it's truly heart-warming to be part of such a wonderfully kind and supportive team.

I would usually spend an hour preparing for any session, or sometimes more if it was the first time I'd taught it. I would make up my own notes, make sure I was familiar with all content and activities before working on adding in my own personal touches in the forms of witty examples or anecdotes. When it came to the day of any given session it was necessary to arrive half an hour before the published start time; the computer needs to be logged in to and loaded up, any worksheets need to be photocopied, tables and chairs may need to be arranged, lesson plans may need to be revised and you need to be looking cool, calm and collected by the time your first students turn up! Which means each 'shift' would work out as 2 and a half hours, time that flies by! The training week I received during Fresher’s week fully prepared me for my role, and gave me all the confidence I needed to dive straight in to teaching.

SDS Christmas Social

So what is it like being a Peer Trainer? In short, it’s great! Which is why I felt compelled to share my experiences in this post, I just hope it helps anybody considering applying for the academic year!
I’ve gained so much from this role in such a short amount of time, and thoroughly enjoyed it! Working as a Student Peer Trainer provided me with great regular work experience, the like of which I would have organised on a volunteer basis if not for getting this job.  While the flexibility of lesson-taking enabled me to work the shifts around my studies and other commitments, so I never felt that I had too much on my plate.

I can only speak for myself but as someone who attended these sessions in the first and second year, they really make a difference! I’ve gained so much confidence from my role and learnt a lot from the content of sessions I delivered. Before the Cardiff Award and Skills Development Service I hated presenting or speaking in public, I would seldom volunteer my ideas to seminars let alone be able to imagine teaching a class without potentially fainting at the idea! Social anxiety is something that I’ve always struggled with from a young age, but have managed to slowly master this during my time at university. This started through completion of the Cardiff Award and ended with spending this year teaching. Such experiences have changed my outlook on presenting from something I use to have nightmares about (if I managed to sleep at all) to something I really enjoy. I’m so grateful I got this opportunity, and am thankful for all I have gained from it.

Great training means you feel fully prepared for teaching your first session.

In all I would recommend this role to anyone looking for relevant work experience. It really doesn’t feel like work which is the best part! But this is a job recommended not for the hours or money, but for all the other things you gain, which is LOTS!

Remember you must be a Cardiff Student for the academic year 16-17, but it doesn't matter whether it's 1st, 2nd year or you're studying Postgraduate etc. The deadline for applications is the 20th March 2016, if you have any questions in the meantime feel free to reach out! Good luck! 

If you're not a Cardiff University student I would urge you to be on the lookout for similar jobs around your own university! 

But don’t just take my word for it, here’s some feedback from some of the Student Peer Trainer’s before me!

"In my first year of SDS, I thought of SDS as a job which I thoroughly enjoyed. In my second year, it became an interest that I forgot I got paid for. My advice to you as future peer trainers is to really put everything you can into the role. John and Kelly provide constant support and guidance throughout allowing you to truly improve as trainers and individuals: the more you invest in taking these opportunities, the more you get out of it." 

Imogen 2013-15 

“Just wanted to say a massive thank you for all you’ve done and how much time you’ve invested in us.  This has been one of the most satisfying jobs I have ever had and I have learnt so much” 

Sally 2012-13 & 2014-15 

“It's been a pleasure working with you guys, you've taught me so much and I can't really believe how much my confidence has grown since joining the SDS.” 

Ellie 2013-2015 

“Thank you so much for everything that you both do in the SDS. Being a Student-peer trainer has allowed me to build so much confidence and learn so many valuable skills to use in the future. You’ve both always been incredibly helpful and supportive, and the SDS in a major asset to the SU” 

Jess D 2014-15 

“Just want to say thanks for all your hard work over the past 2 years. You’ve really helped me grow as a peer trainer and I’d like to thank you for the opportunity. I’ve really enjoyed it”

Emma 2013-15