The Sunday Telegraph - Stella

‘I’ll never go back to… working 9 to 5’ ‘I’ll never go back to… emotional eating’

Nicola Jenkins 45, jewellery maker 27, pharmacy manager and co-founder of Money Medics

- @forthelove­ofnicnac

When I tell people I left my stable marketing career at the start of the pandemic, I often get strange looks, but it’s the best decision I’ve made. I’d worked in the industry for 15 years and had a comfortabl­e if stressful job, but deep down I was desperate to do something creative. Early last year, things came to a breaking point at work and one day my husband Paul said, ‘Right, you need to leave.’

Days later, I handed in my notice, planning to find something else – then the first lockdown hit. Some nights I panicked that I wouldn’t find a new job. I felt flat and lost. But scary as the pandemic was, it put everything into perspectiv­e. Did I really want to be in that career for ever? Why not try something new?

Years ago I used to make jewellery as a hobby and sell it to friends, and my mum reminded me of an old box of beads and jewellery I’d stashed in the loft. ‘Why not have a go at that?’ she suggested.

Luckily I had some savings to fall back on and I found a part-time job with a local charity, which afforded me the materials, lighting and photograph­y equipment to get started. Today, I make colourful costume jewellery, then photograph it and sell it on Etsy and Instagram. The process of stringing the beads and adding hooks and clasps is incredibly soothing; it helps with anxiety, which I’ve battled with in the past. And I get a buzz out of every sale. When I sell something, I shout out to Paul, who cheers.

The last year has been a struggle for many, but rediscover­ing my creative side and becoming my own boss has been so fulfilling. My advice for anyone considerin­g doing the same is to go for it now, instead of waiting for the ‘perfect time’ – there isn’t one.

Ashley Agwuncha

I piled on the pounds when I started working in a pharmacy three years ago. It’s based in a supermarke­t so cakes and doughnuts were within arm’s reach and I’d grab one as a boost. I’d also eat if I was bored or stressed.

Gradually, I gained 20kg. My BMI inched towards ‘obese’ and my confidence dwindled. I always intended to lose the weight ‘one day’, but things changed when the pandemic hit. Working in the pharmacy at that time was so hard – the hours were long and seeing what Covid-19 did to people was terrifying.

Knowing I was at higher risk of complicati­ons because of my weight gave me a kick. I found a personal trainer online and began doing strength-training workouts three times a week, via Zoom. Soon after, I signed up to a fitness challenge, which involved looking at my diet. My trainer pointed out I was eating around 4,000 calories a day – thanks to takeaways, fizzy drinks and sweets – and flagged the damage I was doing to my body with that much saturated fat, salt and carbohydra­te. It was surprising I hadn’t had a heart attack.

I changed my eating habits overnight and the weight came off quickly – I lost about 13kg in six months – and I’m more mindful of my comfort snacking urges. My diet now is relatively high in protein and low in carbs – I have a chicken breast with rice and salad for lunch or dinner, and fruit or rye crackers for snacks. Recently, I read a tweet that struck a nerve. It said: ‘You’re not a dog, why are you rewarding yourself with food?’ Now, when I’m stressed or low, I do something nice like reading a book in the bath or giving myself a facial. The pandemic has put the importance of our health into perspectiv­e and I’m determined to keep it a priority well beyond lockdown.

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