“The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep…”

“Nacha beda bave neenu hange hogaakka; Odi hogi nodi baru enen kalsara”, (do not be shy girl, step out and see what’s happening outside your world)

I inspire - Empowering Adolescent Girls

“Nacha beda bave neenu hange hogaakka; Odi hogi nodi baru enen kalsara”, (do not be shy girl, step out and see what’s happening outside your world). When Roopa, Pakkamma, Anjali, and Sangeetha chorused on the stage, it seemed like their inner voices were scuttling and racing past every spile of centuries-old societal and cultural suppression. Their gleaming eyes and glowing faces, heads high and shoulders wide had such a bearing that they seemed ready to take on any hurdle, to sprint past their quest and attempt in creating an identity for themselves.

The intrepid demeanor with which they concluded the song and stepped down from the small stage set in the well-ventilated auditorium of the Gnanabandhu Residential School in Koppal, was a testimony to the metamorphosis they were undergoing during the past 18 months, under the tutelage of the Sphoorthi Project.

The inner courtyard of the school was bustling with…

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We are the change that you want to see!

We are the change that you want to see.

I inspire - Empowering Adolescent Girls

There was something about Roopa that left me wanting to observe her from close. Her sparkling eyes and enchanting smile prodded my instincts to probe more into her whereabouts and her as a person. It could have been her clever maneuvers on the number hopscotch that caught my attention or her attentiveness in the classroom sessions. She was part of a group of 88 adolescent girls chosen from the 51 villages of Koppal in North Karnataka, as part of the Role-Model Adolescent Girls Project nick-named Sphoorthi, under the aegis of the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust and the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiative. The girls were in Koppal to attend the three-day leadership camp at the Gnanabandhu English Medium Residential School.

I noticed that leadership came naturally to Roopa, she was the first to raise a hand when the class was asked to nominate a leader among them. I watched her as…

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To Sphoorthi …..with love!

With emails replacing handwritten letters and surprises coming with no surprises, there is still a bunch of girls who pen down their thoughts on paper and send them to their beloved friend Sphoorthi.

I inspire - Empowering Adolescent Girls

I still remember the eagerness and excitement that came along with the wait for the letters and greeting cards from my friends around the time of birthdays, Christmas and new year’s. A week before my birthday, I would be seated in a plastic wicker chair, glued on to the window grill, looking out into the distance for the ‘tring tring’ of the bicycle of our beloved postman. He came by our house every day around 3 pm. If the bell doesn’t ring, it meant that he did not have any letters for us. And if it does, it’s a continuous ring until we land up in the courtyard and run up to him to collect the letters.  Gone are the days when a small inland letter or a greeting card would bring us so much joy and fulfillment, or a telegram would travel to us with so much suspense and…

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Are you fit enough!

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Traversing the beautiful valley did not look formidable when we set out on the second day of our ascend to the mountain ranges running along the Hampta Pass. I was confident about my fitness, as I followed a daily routine of at least 20 rounds of Suryanamaskar, was always on my toes (literally) braving the Bangalore traffic getting in to work, picking my daughter from school, dropping her for her athletics coaching, buying groceries, and multitasking various other chores.

When the trek leader announced that the day’s trek was going to be steep and that we had to be prepared, little did I know that it was going to be a test of one’s grit, determination, and above all physical fitness.

Barely had we covered two kilometers atop a hill, that a few of my fellow trekkers slowed down their pace. It did not take me long to follow suit. What was happening to me, I thought. I was engulfed with disquieted moments of embarrassment and shame for all the preaching I did on Yoga and Fitness the previous day. Here I was, struggling and grasping for breath, sweating the last bit of energy and feeling the pain in my knees. At the same time, there was an elderly woman in her late fifties who was right behind the trek leader, looking back and frowning as she had to wait for the slow ascenders to catch up with them. One of the most helpless moments in my life occurred at around 5000 feet above sea level, a point of no return.

In a do or die situation, all the 30 trekkers managed to reach the third camp site. After we settled down and gathered around the campfire, the trek leader appreciated the elderly woman and asked her to share her experience. With a grin she spoke about a lot of beautiful facts about life and the importance of an active life that I have summarized as follows:

  • She has been walking for a major part of her life and would never think twice if she was put in a situation that involved walking.
  • Some of the very good friends she made were the ones she met during her walks.
  • Walking gives us the opportunity and emotional maturity to admire the environment around us and appreciate the time we have for ourselves.
  • Walking is so relaxing that it releases feel-good hormones, which in turn, makes us think and perform better in life.
  • It is one of the most effective means to beat stress and lead a peaceful life.

“Having a busy life need not necessarily imply a healthy life”, she said. “People these days, use cars or hop on to their two-wheelers, if they have to step out of the house, even if it meant going to the temple, buying groceries, or posting a courier, all of which came within a one-kilometer radius. There is no spare time for a stroll or even a short walk in the neighborhood, as everybody is glued on to the television or shamelessly making excuses that the entire week was spent on the roads amidst chaotic traffic. “

Social Stalking

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I wished to bury my face deep under the cloud of embarrassment I found myself in, when I saw that a trivial and whacky write-up of mine was published on LinkedIn without my knowledge. And this awareness struck me only when I got a personal message from one of my well-wishers asking why I had posted a silly article that had nothing to do with my profession or was in no way of any significance to the professionals in my circle. I never published anything on LinkedIn, how on earth did it appear there, I remarked!!. I got another jolt when the same post was out there on my indolent FaceBook page. I am not a frequent visitor of FaceBook. But on that day, I was thankful to my natural instincts that I sneaked in to my home page and scanned through it to watch for anything untoward only to see a stray post hanging around in solitude with a cynical smile. My friends usually resonated their love for me, by commenting on my posts and liking them, whenever that blue moon day was. But thankfully, no one had commented on that post so far, so I assumed that it was drenched beneath the slurry of other notifications and updates on FaceBook.

I only remember scribbling something on my unpopular blog and hitting the Publish button. It was only when I rewound the events of the previous day that I guessed what might have gone wrong. An innocuous act would have had such grave consequences, was far beyond my imagination. I had tweaked a few settings using the administrator privileges that I enjoyed on my blog, oblivious to the fact that what I had done was to enable the option  of automatically publishing any of my blog posts to all the social media accounts that I owned. I was of the assumption that those buttons helped me share stuff that I chose to share, when I wanted to share them. Little did I realize that a single click would broadcast my posts to the people in my circle on LinkedIn, FaceBook and Twitter. After all, it was only a naive effort to popularize my dormant blog, at least among my circle of friends.

I acted quickly and it was the easiest on FaceBook, as I made my post visible only to myself. I took the post off LinkedIn. Until now, I did not realise that the post was also broadcast on my Twitter page. Thankfully I have only less than 15 followers on Twitter, who am sure would not have bothered to read it amidst the ocean of valuable information that twitters every now and then.

What’s alarming here is that, every day we fall prey to involuntary social predation in the name of search engine optimization, search engine marketing, and seamless user experience. For instance, if you look up on the Internet for information about a homeopathy clinic in your city, you start getting emails from the several clinics associated with your ailment in and around your city. You start getting unsolicited messages on your phone every other day.

If you have more than one device that connects to the Internet, which uses the same credentials, all your searches appear in the history of every other device you have signed in to. Yes, we do have private browsing mode, but isn’t it annoying that you need privacy in your own private space. Why should you have to bother to search for something in the Private Mode on a device that only you use. Even if I choose not to share my laptop with my family for need of privacy, most of my searches are already out there on other devices used by someone else in my family. I hate this intrusion. I have learnt to opt out of the email campaigns, but I still have not figured out a way to opt out of receiving countless messages advertising services that are close to what I was looking for.

You search for a destination on Trip Advisor or Booking.com, you start getting popups and emails about the hotels and ‘things to do’ at that destination. Even after you have visited the place, you get alerts for cheap options to lunch and dine and stay. For God sake, I do not need so much information. I do not want to clog my inbox with promotional stuff.

The latest annoyance is the push service that lurks along your task bar and prowls on you when you are busy with a serious project or you have your screen shared at a meeting. All you did was to allow a website send you popups, and this being another involuntary act of just a click of a button . You don’t even have your email client open. That’s exactly what this service targets. All you need to do is switch on your laptop and connect to the external world, and voila, you have popups competing with one another and scampering along the task bar and trying to catch your attention.

Experts may argue that it was my callousness that led to what happened. Maybe, but I would have been cautious had there been any indication of the same. The SEO features and several other features that sneak in to your window and divulge information that you think is visible only to your eyes is a bit creepy.

It is during such times, I wish that technology should not have advanced so much that we do not have control of what we seek and what is offered. From all these unfortunate incidents, what I have learnt is that you should not take your privacy for granted. Someone is watching you all the time and someone is stalking every click you attempt on the Internet.

 

 

8 tips to start off as an independent writer

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Oft times in life, we fail to identify what we truly love, as most of the times we are either following someone else’s trail or we are clueless as to where we are headed for, until we discover a deep void ahead of us at some point, earlier or later. If, doing the things we enjoy doing is going to make us happy, we ought to make the first move. I have had people ask me where to start and how to start as a freelance writer. I have consciously not used the term ‘freelance’ in the title, as it freaks me out even today. It still gives me jitters and it’s not been an easy tread. I have attempted to list out a few things that have helped me to gain the confidence in starting off and continuing with writing independently.

Start a blog: Your writing is your brand in itself. It’s a testimony to your thoughts, you as a person and your beliefs. It comes naturally to you. Therefore, the best place to start off as an independent writer is to start your own blog or website, where YOU get to choose what to write, how to write and when to write. No one can vouch for you as much as your own blog or website can.

Set your writing goals: It is very easy to get swept off in the tide of procrastination and other priorities in life. Writers usually underestimate the amount of dedication and focus required in writing. Having certain goals and deadlines in place will help you in identifying where you are in terms of your writing.

Review your goals regularly: Stick to your goals and revisit them at the end of every week. Indulge in compulsive writing. Defining your goals will benefit you only if you revisit them and review them and if required, tweak them.

Sign-up with a couple of magazines and contribute articles: This will be your first attempt to go public even if it means that you are doing it without a remuneration. You need samples of your best works when you approach a potential client or the client approaches you. Getting published in a reputed medium matters a lot. You must carefully choose the places you want your work to be published. Before submitting your work, go through the works of other authors and gauge for yourself, what kinds of writings are solicited. Depending on the different genres or the different styles of writing, you can choose what best suits your penchant and style.

Go for writer meet ups and events and network: Although your presence and activities on social media are important, nothing can undermine the importance of personal touch. Go out and mingle with people in the same field as you are. That’s when new ideas emerge, that’s when you meet new people and get different perspectives of the same idea. Networking does not mean self-marketing. You do not have to cringe thinking of the idea of marketing your own self. You are just out there to make your creativity visible.

Attempt your first paid writing: Sign-up with popular freelancing websites and look for assignments. Create an impressive profile and start bidding for a project. You may be disappointed with the remuneration in the beginning. But it is better to start off on an assignment and set yourself a stronghold and once clients recognize your potential, you can take an upper hand.

Keep a tab of writing contests, both paid and unpaid and the ones with or without a winning prize: It is a good exercise to challenge yourself. There are scores of writing contests that will tickle your senses and get you to write. Contests that range from flash fiction to novellas. Looking for them and participating in them will give you an overview of the different kinds of fiction and nonfiction works that exist and you can also gauge yourself by finding out what you are really good at. We writers, do not plunge unless we are pushed to the brink and nudged.

Shed your ego: Last but the most important, keep aside your ego for later days, when you establish yourself as a well-known writer, whose work speaks for itself. Learn to handle rejection and dejection at any point. Every writer is possessive about his/her own work. What appeals to you might not appeal to another editor. That’s the reason, you have a blog. It doesn’t take much of an effort to post your favourite work out on your blog if a couple of others refuse to post it.

Most writers are introverts and desist from seeking help in being heard. We believe ‘if my work is good enough, it will see the light of the day’. Yes, it may, but just that it’s going to be too long a night. And before you realize, the sun might have already gone on a long vacation.

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Social presence vs productivity

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No, I don’t think I am an introvert. I love meeting people, making friends, and mingling with people who I think share similar wavelength as mine. Yes of course, I would not make a conscious and weighted effort to get myself into conversations with people or make an extra effort to befriend people with a hidden agenda in my mind or just for the sake of it.

In my previous company, our team was forced to open twitter accounts and tweet about our organizational achievements, achievements as a team, and achievements of people and organizations that would be interested in doing business with us. In such an arrangement, such a hype was excusable, and although forcefully, we had to meet our performance goals that were aligned to our social media presence, hence we tweeted with skillful and sinful indulgence. I hated the act of unwilling or forceful broadcast of achievements that people were least bothered to listen to, but responded and re tweeted the same because maybe their goals were also invisibly tied to ours.

After a brief stint with my profile on Facebook, I deactivated my account because I felt I was interfering too much into other people’s fancy lives and peeping into their rosy and plump affairs. I was indirectly keeping a tab on my friends’ holidays and eating habits. What happened to them in the toilet today and what they burnt in the kitchen yesterday. Maybe I wasn’t happy with my own life or there was so much less happening that I did not have anything significant to brag about. God knows why, but assuredly for the better, I got off Facebook and continued living a normal life. I no longer had to witness the ridiculous expression of love of a husband and wife, who lived under the same roof, but greeted each other only on Facebook and gave a thumbs up on each other’s posts only to go back home and turn away their faces. Even Bajirao and Mastani would have gone green seeing their love. I felt that there was nothing more to it than self-glorification and that the Facebook world was a rehabilitation center for people who lacked serious purpose in life. (These are just my perceptions, so excuse the bluntness.)

So I resumed my ordinary life and started breathing normally. I did not have any peculiar or distractible withdrawal symptoms, rather, I was glad I withdrew myself from the world of illusions.

But fate had its own mean ways, and I found myself at the threshold of social media once again for some selfish reason and again for making my voice heard amid the din of a lot of other voices way beyond the decibel levels of my meek one. When I dusted my long forgotten desire of becoming a published author, wise men and women told me that if I needed to be heard, or if I needed people to acknowledge my existence, I had to hop on to the social media circus ring lest I be caged behind the tents and be left to fend for myself.

I did take the advise with utmost seriousness and had myself set up a personal twitter handle. Clandestinely activated my Facebook account and pinned a lot of writing stuff on my Pinterest boards. Yes, (eyes rolled up emoticon, baring the milky white part of the eye, whatever it is called scientifically.)

I felt that twitter was less intrusive and more productive, if you followed the right people and groups or the right handle. You could say anything without using a hash tag and still be contended of having said something, at the same time get away with the rubbish you uttered, for the simple reason that no one heard you. The first two weeks on twitter went on with constant stalking and re tweeting of wise men and women. In the process, following people and hoping and longing to be followed back, but in vain. The moment I held my phone, I saw myself sneak into twitter and scroll up till the end to catch up with what I had missed while I was away. That was a painful exercise for my eyes and the constant vertical movement of the iris fatigued it as much as it did, my mind.

There was so much information around me, that I felt I was improving my general knowledge but at the same time I felt that I was not being able to quench my thirst for all that knowledge. I hopped from the second paragraph of an article to the third paragraph of another  and then came back to the fourth paragraph of a totally different thread. Those were the most tiresome days of my life,  that came next after my graduation days. I had expressed my opinion a few times, and this time around, mustering courage to add a couple of hash tags and handles (woah!, I sound so sophisticated), only to realize the futility of the courageous act.

Slowly, I felt infected. I felt miserable that to be heard, I was having to do something that I despised. I wanted to make a natural effort to make my voice heard, and not with a deliberate intention of doing something because that’s how it was done in today’s world.

I even thought of going back and living my farming dreams and then writing something slowly and steadily as I grew older, and make it worthy of being noticed. I almost gave up! “A victim of poor social media presence or an under performer”. Every thing that was social, was in suspended animation: I still had my Facebook account activated just sitting out there and blinking into eternity, I had my twitter handle dangling by the beak and I still wanted to write a book. So I fixed up a time for my social activities, which did not deserve more than half an hour of my productive time. I subscribed to a couple of useful websites and news portals of varied genres to keep me focused and informed. Occasionally I checked for notifications, and took a whiff of savage contentment, and resumed the tasks that would eventually lead me to my dream creation– my Novel.

I don’t care if it does not sell or be a bestseller. I only care about the feeling of contentment I will have when I see the book on the stands or in a row of dusty books shelved to be sent to Blossoms or Bookworm… After all I have done justice to my conscience. Isn’t that what eventually matters?

Feeling lazy

One of my new year resolutions was to start writing rigorously. The first month did indeed start off with a bang, with a meticulous rehaul of my blogging sites. Putting all my writings that were scattered in every  possible folder on my computer and that I could identify, as a place “I must have saved what I had written”, was fun. There was so much joy in the entire exercise that I felt awkwardly rejuvenated just by the sight of the various categories and sub categories into which I had arranged the contents. I thought I was ready to be flung in the writing whirl.

As part of this resolution, I also prepared a performance plan around my literary goals. It looked promising. After quitting my full-time corporate job, I hadn’t had a performance plan in a while. While it was self-assuring to know that I did not need to have a self appraisal or a performance review, when I started off as a consultant, it equally gave me guilt pangs that my life seemed void of goals. I virtually have the goals placed here and there in my mind and can pluck each one from their resting places when and where needed, but soon I realised the importance of a performance plan with specific short-term and long-term goals since I had taken the task of writing quite seriously. Also, for the fact that I needed to have a regular review of the goals I have set for myself and also what I have accomplished so far. In the first month, I read a record four books. Something I could not do for years. (I still have the book reviews pending). I signed up to be an author for one of the widely read women’s portals. I even managed to post three articles.

For so much that happened in January,  today I feel miserably miserable that for the past two weeks I haven’t written anything significant. Leave alone my work-in-progress Novel, not even a single post on my blog. So I thought I should simply grab my computer and let my fingers lead my mind and thus happened this post. So what is it that I want to convey in this post by way of compulsive blabber. A few points to keep in mind if you are chasing a seemingly difficult goal.

  1. Stay focused
  2. Revisit your goals often
  3. Motivate yourself
  4. Always be on the go
  5. Last but never the least, believe in yourself

Writing is a painful process, it is a metamorphosis of our emotions and thoughts into beautiful lines that have the potential of a lethal sting. We are one species that can paralyse a soul and still roam around free and in turn be lauded for the act. And, as with any form of art, you need to chisel out your creation time and again to obtain the most flawless form that you yourself may envy. Your writing becomes better and better with each progressing word, each progressing sentence and every progressing  paragraph. It is a magic you perform oblivious of the act itself. You can see for yourself, that this very post has had some impact towards the end.

What started off as a rant or a motivational exercise has begun to end with some stark revelations. And now, I feel less miserable and more fulfilled. I have reinstated my faith in writing. I too can write. I too can translate my thoughts into meaningful sentences.

I now need to practise this exercise of ‘compulsive writing’ until writing comes easily and obviously and undettered, to me. Until it becomes a part of me and my existence. Until I unleash all that is lurking beneath the cloak of my yesteryears.

 

What is in it for me?

After a long period of incubation and living a life that was crafted by everyone else except me, I introspected into the necessities that I had strayed away from. The most important of them being reading and writing. I always knew that I wanted to write, not technical documentation, but stories — real and surreal.

As part of this realisation, I started reading slowly but steadily and simultaneously started working on my Novel. I must admit that I am not a voracious reader and I would’nt risk walking kilometers to hit a bookstore or stand in an overnight queue to grab the first copy of a book written by my favourite author. I can say that I am a book hoarder. Once I visit a bookstore I drool over those paperback and hardbound books. I love to flip the pages and sink my nose into the fresh pages and breathe in the words along with the pulp.

As part of the exercise of being inspired, I started participating in literary festivals and literary gatherings. The first one being the Mumbai Literature Festival, followed by the Bangalore Literature Festival, couple of events at Atta Galatta, and recently, the Jaipur Zee Literary Festival, considered to be one of the largest literary festivals around the world.

The first festival was more of an excitement that comes with all the firsts in ones life; there were a couple of takeaways from that about what really happens in the literary festivals and how it shapes up to be. The kind of people that come and the relentless efforts and running around by the organisers, followed by a couple of discussions around recently published books. This was something common across all the three literary festivals that I attended. The topics for discussions were spun around the theme of an author’s recently released book. That appeared more like a publicity campaign and less of a hearty discussion on a topic that may be of interest to a lover of literature. After I attended these festivals and got myself tweeting, in turn being a part of a few writing groups is when I got to know that there are scores of literature festivals that happen in India and attending the Mumbai Literature Festival was not something memorable that I could lock down in my memory.

So what’s in it for me as an aspiring writer. Initially, when I saw the programme details, I was excited to see the line-up and was equally excited in assimilating all that I could from each of these sessions. I watched euphorically as the panel comprising commissioning editors of popular publishing houses like HarperCollins, Penguin, Juggernaut, spoke about the current trends in the writing world. What slowed down my excitement was the discussions around an author’s book. Do I need to come to a forum like this to think that I am being canvassed to read a particular book, can’t I get that from book reviews or as general knowledge.

As I still could not quench my thirst, I saw myself attend the Zee Jaipur Literary Festival. Having heard a lot about it and with a hidden agenda of visiting Jaipur, I landed in Jaipur. The biggest and supposedly the best literary festival was an utter disappointment for me, as I was overwhelmed by the number of participants and the number of simultaneous sessions happening in as many as five venues. The excitement of the first day got myself to attend a couple of panel discussions, which were again revolving around the main speaker’s recently launched book. Maybe it was inevitable to talk about the author’s book and it was only my misunderstanding that they were marketing the books, or maybe there is nothing wrong in doing that, and someday if I happen to write a sensible book, I might also end up doing the same. But over here, I did not find anything legible that I could register and leverage to hone my writing skills or creative thinking. The easier way would have been to sip a cup of coffee at the confines of my home, skim through the programme list and google about the panelists and if you come across any information that will in turn direct you to a wonderful book that may inspire you, you have saved a lot of money, time and effort.

Thus, I decided that I will take a break from literary festivals and sit at my desk and resume my writing with all honesty and rigor. After all, knowledge that is not put into practice is of no use. And now I know that it is not important to attend literary festivals unless you are an accomplished writer, or you have a completed manuscript for which you need to look for a literary agent or an editor, or you have a lot of time to soak yourself  in the aroma of literary pomp and fancy.

Handling mood swings a.k.a PMS

Have you felt miserable time and again when you picked up a fight at home or a total stranger for a reason you had no control or authority over? You felt overly edgy and naggy and unable to comprehend or justify your actions. At times cried without provocation and felt that the whole world is against you. A feeling of misery and blandness creeping inside every vein of yours and poking fun at you?

Well, you are just as normal as any other woman going through what is fancily termed as PMS (premenstrual syndrome). It took me many years to come to terms with the very existence of this vamp that came tiptoeing every other month and left me devastated. Could be my ignorance or lack of reading up on a woman’s physiological state during her menstruation. But now, when life seems less intimidating, I did get an opportunity to take a peek and introspect into this natural phenomenon. As I grew wiser understanding the woman that I am and that I do not wish to be during those times, I adopted a few techniques that helped me overpower her and be at peace with myself and offer peace to the people around me.

  • Awareness: The most important aspect of PMS is to identify the very nature of your genre of PMS. For instance, you get irritated for reasons as silly as the garbage collector leaving behind a plastic packet in the dust bin. Things that you otherwise ignore conveniently have become of utmost importance and affects you largely.
  • Identification: You should know when you are genuinely annoyed at someone or a situation and when you are trivially annoyed at the same person or a similar situation. You should be able to differentiate between your normal level of tolerance and the abnormal level of intolerance during those times.
  • Pattern: PMS usually comes before your menstruation and duh! that is why its been named that way. But mood swings can occur at other times also, this could also be attributed to hormonal activities in your body. So its not your  normal self that drives you to that state, but a concoction of emotions, chemicals, situations that work up in the mind that makes you the undesirable person.

Now that you have tamed the three cardinal symptoms, comes the most important factor, “Taming the PMS”

  • Make an effort to be happy: You know what makes you happy or what peps up your mood. When you realize that you have been struck, explore those few or many things that make you happy. It could be anything from reading your favourite author, listening to a certain kind of music, watching a movie or going out with friends.
  • Avoid unpleasant situations: Try to walk away from an argument or a situation that will stir up the restless hormones and in turn stir up a hornet’s nest.
  • Be productive: Divert your energy into something productive. The feeling of having achieved something will mollify the feeling of worthlessness that generally arise during PMS.
  • Last but not the least, do not treat yourself repugnantly. No one can love you the way you want to be loved and the way you can love your own self.

Happy PMSing!!