On a much more light-hearted note from our previous self-reflection prompt, prompt number five will have you thinking about the good times.
5. What has made you laugh, smile, or find little pockets of happiness during quarantine / lockdown?
As difficult as this time may be for you (or you may not be finding it difficult, in which case that is great), we don’t want to go through 2020 with only or mainly negative thoughts about our experiences.
Which is why it is important to take time to think about and even note down the good times. Maybe you have found laughter to be therapeutic and a part and parcel of how you’ve got through these times, or perhaps you can’t initially think of any happy times.
If you can think of a lot of things, that is wonderful – take a moment to note them down so that you can look back on them positively in the future and remember the things that brought happiness to you in otherwise difficult times for the world.
If you are struggling to think of anything, start small.
Did you watch a video clip that made you smile or laugh?
Did a friend or family member say or do something to cheer you up?
Did you find solace in hobbies or creative pursuits or projects that helped refocus your mind on more positive things?
Did you see a bird in flight, a beautiful flower, a rainbow or a sunrise that touched your heart?
Did you feel the cool breeze on your skin when you went out for a walk?
Did you wake up in the morning without being in pain and looking forward to the day ahead?
Did you enjoy simple pleasures such as a phone call with a friend, helping someone else, some tasty food or a good film?
However negative you might initially feel when you think of 2020 so far, there is bound to be at least some small moment of happiness or hope in your life. It might not even directly be from your own life, but something you can appreciate as having observed such as community spirit, colourful pictures that children have drawn and put up in their windows to encourage other people, the applause people have shown for front line and key workers.
Can you think of anything? If you can, take a few moments to write it down. Sometimes the very act of documenting these seemingly ‘small’ moments can do wonders for our mental and emotional health as we acknowledge, remember, engage with them and treasure them as things we can be grateful for.
This in turn will help you to help other people to find the happiness and hope in their day to day experiences, and to move forwards with increasing strength.
It’s not too late to start. The year is not over yet and even if you still feel very negatively about how things have been so far, it is not too late to reframe your thoughts and choose gratitude and appreciation as you move forwards.
If you’d like to encourage other people, please comment below with some of the positive things this year that might also uplift others.
The initial cheers for our frontline workers (medics, virologists, drivers, supermarket workers, cleaners, crematorium staff, care workers, the list goes on…) across the globe felt like a crescendo of encouragement, ‘rallying the troops’. In this pandemic, countries are not warring with each other, but rallying together against a common global enemy.
Perhaps being isolated, you have felt helpless and alone in this strange catastrophe. Yet, the scenes we have witnessed and been part of, open a window to the many others who are all ‘on the same team’.
Now, we’re collectively fighting Coronavirus, and I sincerely hope that the ‘troops on the frontline’ feel a bit more refreshed and appreciated in their ongoing battle.
Let me just get back to the image of everyone clapping outside their homes, or from their homes. We are not isolated, although tucked away inside, we are not alone, and we *all* have a part to play, no matter how small that might feel to you at the moment, we all have a crucial role to play in ‘blocking those gaps’ against this unseen enemy, by staying at home, by good hygiene, and by supporting other people in a variety of ways, and also by taking care of ourselves.
You may be wondering why I have titled this post ‘swords and spades’. I’m glad you asked ! 😉 Some of you I’m well aware will already know, and that gives me a boost of confidence for a variety of reasons 🙏👌.
For those of you who don’t yet know, if we look back in history, there was a man named Nehemiah who was an ordinary and decent man, living in 5th Century BC, who found himself in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. We have witnessed news of wars and terrorism all across the world, and Nehemiah lived at a time where he was living in the midst of constant attacks from groups of people who wanted to destroy and crush those he knew, those he worked with, those he loved, an entire group of people just going about their lives. As enemies descended upon them with distressing regularity, they found their daily lives to be changed and challenged.
In front of *their* own homes, each and every one of them had to be part of a defence and recovery mission. Literally, with a sword in one hand an a tool for building in the other they had to both defend themselves against attack, and also collectively build together what was constantly being broken down. Just as in a previous post where I talked about the image of us bringing our ‘shields’ together in mutual defence and protection, I am sure you can see the analogies here with our own situation, from these actual events in history.
What figuratively are the swords and spades you are able to use, each from our own homes, in a collective and united effort?
What are your means of protection, and what are your instruments and skills to rebuild what is being broken?
Remember that you are part of a great and collective effort against all of this distress and unseen attack, and no small effort is wasted. Keep going, you fight and build with millions around the globe, so be encouraged! You are making a difference, but you shouldn’t let your guard down. Keep protecting, keep rebuilding.
(For those who are also fighting and defending on another level, a different ‘frontline’ where the battle is real and fierce, remember it is fought and won on our knees! Have vision and remember the stakes are even higher in this one, so pray and allow the Light to break through the darkness. Our Commander in Chief has got this. 😉 🙏👌💪
*Your children are looking to you. Who will you be for them?*
Children are far more perceptive than many of us realise. They pick up on subtleties and sometimes keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves when they are unsure of things.
Whether or not you have children of your own, it is likely that there will be young people in your life, who need stability and security from the adults around them.
If your children are younger, perhaps you may be able to shield and shelter them in a safe little cocoon away from the world. They may be too young to understand what is going on, and only know that their routine has changed and you may be able to give them a safe and positive experience through this.
Yet, even young children can pick up on things from adults that we sometimes fail to pay attention to.
For older children, teenagers and young adults, this may be a much more confusing and unsettling time, and chances are, how they get through this will impact upon how they do for the next few years in their lives in terms of resilience, outlook on life and even mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
It might be easy to get caught up in the immediacy of this pressing situation, but they need you to be their role models, their leaders, their examples. In a world where greed and selfishness is coming to the fore, can you be kind, giving, selfless? Are you showing them an example of fear or of faith and courage? Are you providing them with the learning opportunities to build skills and resilience to face an unknown future? What are the certainties that you can lay down for them?
We are all examples to children and young people in some way, even if we don’t have children of our own to nurture, love and protect, we still have a part to play, whether as teachers, aunts or uncles, friends and mentors.
Teenagers who have not been able to sit their exams this year may feel like it is a catastrophe in their own personal lives. Do they have the space to talk about and express how they are feeling? Can you and we assure them that actually there are so many opportunities that don’t depend on exam results and that we are all living in changing times where we will have to adapt and learn, and that they *do* have a hope and a future. If you don’t believe this yourself, if you are doubtful and fearful, it makes things a bit more of a challenge to them.
Pay attention to the mental health of the young people in your life, and set the examples that they need you to be right now. Let them know that there is a way forwards, and that there is hope. And above all, listen and love and provide a sense of security and safety so that they can grow through this and not be crushed or overwhelmed by it.
I feel like my last few posts have been a bit ‘heavy’. It’s the reality, but we also need to be able to focus on the good things, the little bursts of sunshine, and the brighter rays of light in our days.
I’ll keep this short in the hope that we can continue to build community spirit and resilience, and that some of you will post about the ‘little things’ that have been good in your days. Thank you.
Words of Encouragement (11):
*Practical tips to help manage anxiety*
I’m sure many of us have experienced feelings of anxiety and stress around this new situation we find ourselves thrust into in 2020. Although there is a lot that is outside the realm of our control, and that can make things feel very frightening at times, we can do some practical things to help us to manage feelings of anxiety better. Here are three for you to focus on today:
1. Breathing / ‘breath work’.
I know this can sound overly simple, but trust me….I have years of experience in overcoming the ‘anxiety monster’! When we are in a state of stress and anxiety, our bodies can get stuck in a state of ‘fight / flight / freeze’. Anxiety and fear can contribute to lashing out, retreating, or becoming immobilized and ‘stuck’. There is a lot of science behind this regarding the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, the production of certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, for instance, and the different brain states that respond to threat (or perceived threat), and the resultant physiological responses. We don’t need to go into detail about that here, but these are all connected to your feelings of stress, tension, increased heartrate, sweating, racing thoughts and ‘catastrophic’ thinking, and so on. I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows what it is like to experience these first hand, and if you have ever experienced a panic attack, then we’re on the same page here. You might find yourself breathing irregularly, pacing up or down, or just unable to concentrate. Being told to ‘calm down’ isn’t really going to help you, but knowing *how* to calm yourself down *will* help.
So what at first might sound over simplified, in focusing on your breathing, is actually very effective, as it changes the state of your body, your brain states and hormone production and release.
Anyway, enough of the ‘theory stuff’….here’s a practical exercise.
You’re most likely breathing from your chest up, but you need to breathe more deeply from your diaphragm. Breathe in through your nose so that your belly rises (for a count of 4), hold the breath for a count of 5, and exhale slowly and completely through your mouth so that your belly goes in, expelling the air for a count of 7. These numbers are indications, you can do what works for you, but make sure that the out-breath is longer than the in breath…that’s important (and there’s science -y stuff behind that too 😉 ). Repeat as often as needed and your body and brain will gradually ‘switch’ states from fight/flight/freeze to a calmer state which will in turn help you to manage your thoughts better.
Pay attention to your five senses, and take time over each one. Some people don’t like the term ‘mindfulness’, but really it is just paying attention, noticing things, and once again changing your brain and body states which is very effective in managing anxiety and the often accompanying racing thoughts. You could try the ‘5-4-3-2-1’ method and work your way slowly through 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 that you can smell and one that you can taste.
Alternatively, you can focus on one object and really take in the details of it, and this will help you to return to a calmer state.
3. Creative distraction
This can be incredibly helpful, especially if you build it up over time, although there can be immediate results on a smaller scale, to help you in that moment. Whether it is drawing, colouring, cooking, painting, playing a musical instrument, or even (less creative perhaps) tidying up, this will help you with attention, problem solving, and focus and using your hands productively will also have a calming effect if you are struggling with anxiety.
Try to incorporate these into your day to day life, even in small ways here and there, and build up your own ‘toolkit’ and adapt it to your own needs. There are so many resources out there, and different ones that will suit you individually, hopefully you will find something that fits your needs, or can connect with a friend, family member or group who can help to point you in the right direction.
Keep calm and carry on 😉
Words of Encouragement (10): *Get strong, and have vision*.
In the UK we are more than half way through week one (at the time of writing, last week) of a type of ‘lockdown’ although we still have certain limited freedoms outside of our homes. I personally hope that our time at home will be longer than three weeks (retrospectively the update since writing is that it is likely to be several months), because we are almost a third of the way through and this pandemic is not abating, at least not yet. I think it would be a risk to life to reintegrate into society or try to establish some kind of ‘normality’ before the medical and scientific communities really get on top of this virus.
I have a couple of points for us to think about today.
Firstly, our time at home isn’t the same as our time at home say during the Christmas holidays. While I encourage people to relax and enjoy what you can, I would discourage you from spending most of your time in escapism or binge watching box sets (although, I’m not saying don’t do that at all….you do need time to destress and sometimes that can help in moderation). This isn’t a holiday. Because if we all make it to the other side of this, there will be a lot of ‘picking up of pieces’ in our societies for those who don’t come through as unscathed as we might. So during this ‘down time’ we are making the choice whether we will become stronger and more resilient in ourselves so that either we can cope better on the other side, or so that we are able to help others in need…because without any doubt there *will* be a *lot* of need after this.
If you are in need of help yourself, that’s ok, don’t worry. I’ve been there, and we all oscillate between how well we are doing, so be kind to yourself. But as you have this time, be purposeful in growing in your resilience. Get strong.
Onto my second point, about having vision. Right now we are in the midst of a rescue mission. All around us groups and efforts are cropping up, and people are coming together to strategize and figure out practical ways of helping others through this collective crisis. However, I would urge you to lift your eyes and look a bit further than this. God willing, for all of us, there will be life on the other side of this in our societies and communities. And we will all have to get used to a new ‘afterwards’. There have been thousands of deaths, and there will continue to be casualties. Casualties of various kinds, for example the physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically wounded. People will be traumatised. People will be out of pocket. People will have financial difficulties, and perhaps even family breakdowns, children may suffer. Please take care of yourself, help others, relax and enjoy during this hiatus, continue to work from home and volunteer where you can while keeping yourself and family safe, but remember that there will be an afterwards, and hopefully we will all still be here and all be part of that. Society will be deeply wounded. People will be grieving. NHS and other health care workers across the world, bin collectors, frontline staff of various types will be utterly exhausted. Some of these may be your colleagues, friends, family, neighbours. It might be you (and if you are one of these frontline workers, THANK YOU ❤ ❤ ❤ ).
Get strong and have vision. Get strong for yourself and family, but also think about what skills you have that we will collectively need in the aftermath of this. Don’t fritter away all of your time with useless things. People are making a great collective effort to help each other *through* this, but we also need to be thinking about how to build ourselves and each other up for the continued efforts that will need to be made *after* this time away from the world.
Get strong, and have vision, help others and build each other up….try not to be afraid, but remind yourself that this is far from over…think about how you will endure and how you will contribute, and how you will use your time, today.
Words of Encouragement (7):
*What do we do when we hear news of tragedies?*
I pray that each of you, your friends, families and those in your life will never personally experience the tragedies of this Coronavirus. Many of you have faced enough heartache in your own lives already ❤
Yet, we are hearing more and more of things that are just awful, and we may be able to hold things at a bit of a distance, but the terrible reality is that ordinary people are experiencing things first hand in their lives, that of their family members, colleagues and others. I don’t think we will see this abating any time soon, so what do we do?
Friends, I don’t have the answer to that. I can turn to Christ for comfort, as some others also can, but not everyone does. I think the important thing for all of us is that we take particular care to take care of each other and to make sure we inform other people who are being careless or reckless in these days that this is a serious situation. A young nurse treating patients who died of the virus took her life today. A 21 year old girl died. We want to pause for each one and for their families and not let them become just numbers. But this is unlike any of us have ever experienced.
There are no easy answers, but it goes to show how important it is that we ‘put our shields together’ in these days. Shields of faith, shields of hope, of truth, of courage, of kindness….we need to shelter and protect one another because this reality is taking its toll on people’s mental health and we need to become a strong community that can hold each other up in these times no matter what our differences are. We need to take care of ourselves, but we also need to know that we can mutually support each other, so let’s keep drawing close, lending a helping hand, a listening ear….and make sure that we as a community don’t allow this to get too much for any of us mentally or emotionally….and a word for my younger friends…..you can always talk to me, message me, these are tough things to hear about, it can be scary, but I and other adults are on your side, we’ll be there for you and you’re not alone. ‘Grown ups’….you’re not alone either.
Shields up, everyone! ❤ x
Words of Encouragement (6): *A Happy Community and an Inspiring Place for your Mind to go to*.
Create a positive and inspiring space online, one with no bad news, for example, one that helps us appreciate the places we have travelled to before and perhaps dream about the future adventures we may have. Somewhere inspiring, fun and hopeful, a positive little community, safe and set apart from everything else going on.
Think about creating one yourself, or even if that’s not for you, do something whether on or offline that is purely uplifting, a place you can look forward to going, because we all need something positive in these days, something we can look forward to everyday and a place that feels peaceful, restful, happy and encouraging.
Words of Encouragement (5):
*How much news is too much news?*
These are scary times, aren’t they friends? We feel compelled to keep up to date with everything going on, but then sometimes we get ‘sucked in’ to a constant stream of input and information that we get stressed and feel unable to process it all. At other times we seek to ‘escape’, to hide away and to just do the things that we enjoy, but it is important for our own safety and that of others that we stay informed and up to date. I encourage you to do your best to find a healthy balance, just as we are all figuring this out one day at a time. Keep informed, but also look after your mind. Limit how much news you watch, or have a predictable time or routine maybe in the morning and evening. Put your mind to something positive first thing in the morning and last thing at night so that you’re not caught up and overwhelmed with the tragedy of the situation going on around the world. It is real and it is happening, but sometimes we need to take a step back and just look after our own minds. Take care. I hope some of this is helping someone out there. Stay safe.
Words of Encouragement (4.2):
*When home doesn’t feel like home* (or when the people you live with are driving you crazy! 😉 ).
With reference to my earlier post about finding order in the midst of chaos, I provided the image of your home being like a lighthouse in the midst of a global storm. We considered the idea of things that are within our realm of control in contrast to those things going on in the outside world that we can’t do a great deal about in the grand scheme of things. But what if your home is actually like waves crashing upon the rocks? Could *you* still be like a lighthouse in the midst of not only what is happening right now in our communities and in the world, but also more specifically in your own home?
This is worth exploring because we’re all going to be at home in this hiatus for an unknown length of time. Who knows how this is all going to pan out?
If you find that you are struggling with the daily stresses of home or family life, whether or not the people you are living with at the moment are your family, then it is important for your wellbeing and for theirs that you all consider strategies that could help.
1. Routine: This is a stressful time for everyone. People have various concerns from the obvious life and death reality of Coronavirus, fears for family and friends, worries about jobs and work and managing childcare, food supplies and finances. Regardless of your situation, it is important that you have at least some kind of basic structure that will help you to manage and juggle these various cares and responsibilities, and to keep things from becoming overwhelming. Be flexible with these, but try to establish some kind of new household ‘norms’ in these challenging times.
2. Physical boundaries and psychological space: No one said this is going to be easy. Perhaps you are blessed to live in a happy family where for the most part you all get on well and are loving and caring towards each other. This is wonderful if you do, and take time to appreciate your blessings, the people in your life, but also remember that this is sometimes far from the case for everyone around you, and think about how you can be a source of support to friends or family who may be struggling at home. We need to all be thinking of each other, especially in such challenging times.
If you are in a stressful situation at home, it is important that you create some kind of physical and psychological space for yourself, and allow the same for those you live with. Maybe you feel like you’re not getting a moment to yourself if children are competing for your attention, or maybe tensions are running high with your partner or housemate, and you are beginning to lose perspective.
Even if you feel trapped, you *do* have options. It might mean getting up earlier than everyone else or taking some time after others have gone to bed to decompress and think and process.
If you can, try to create a space at home that is just for you where you can get away to. Even if it is just a small area, if you need boundaries, try to establish them and listen to the needs of the other people you’re living with too – this is a challenge for everyone.
3. Be understanding: Communication is really important, and sometimes we all do it quite badly, but this is a time to learn. The people you live with may be stressing you out, but try to remember that this is a new and stressful situation for everyone, and they may be struggling too. Find ways of being mutually supportive, and give extra grace to those who may not be doing things the way you think they should. You can’t stop the waves crashing, their attitudes and responses may be out of the realm of your control, but yours aren’t. So be that light in the midst of the storm, in the world, and in your own household. Be gracious, be kind, be forgiving, and supportive, and take time to work on your own character rather than getting annoyed about the things you can’t change in someone else – I know it’s not easy but it is important. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Help, love and support each other.
4. Take responsibility: It can be easy to fall into negative patterns of blame rather than working together when things get stressful. You need to take responsibility and be concerned about what you can change in yourself and your own attitude rather than trying to ‘fix’ someone else. They are imperfect, but so are you. They need compassion, support and understanding, and so do you. Look for solutions, together if you can, so that you aren’t weighted down by the problems.
5. Create a new family / household ‘tradition’ for this time: Maybe it could be a new activity you do regularly at home with your children so that the Coronavirus pandemic seems a little less scary to them, and isn’t always the focus of attention or conversation. Maybe with the adults you live with you can create an activity to accomplish during this time inside, something after you’ve done your ‘working from home’ bit, and something that has nothing to do with watching the news or TV or tidying the house, etc. Read a play or a novel aloud to each other each evening even for a few minutes, do a puzzle, a jigsaw or something else that will activate the parts of your brain that help you to focus, to concentrate and to relax, rather than just constantly absorbing information from external sources. A few minutes of time in your daily routine that you can look forwards to together, and even if you have to stay isolated in a separate room, you can also pick up the phone for a chat 🙂
6. Set goals: When things feel like they are getting a bit crazy around you, it helps to have some small and manageable goals each day. You might have bigger things you want to use your time to work on while you have a bit of extra time away from the outside world, but also be realistic and set small goals too, as during times of stress and change it can be hard to concentrate. Some of these goals can be working alongside your family members to establish a sense of teamwork to overcome conflict. If this seems like it can’t be done then do what you are able to do on your own. Set short time limits, and break down tasks into tiny ‘bitesized’ chunks that you can do for a while and come back to if you are getting overwhelmed. Try to keep your space tidy and clean as this will help you to have a calmer state of mind. If this is difficult, then have one small area that is ordered and that you can go to to rest, even if it is the corner of a sofa!
7. Be *intentionally* grateful everyday: gratitude doesn’t just happen. It takes a choice on your part to recognise and appreciate the specific things in your life that you can be grateful for, even if those things are challenges. Be intentionally grateful at the start and the end of each day, and allow this to change you. You can put pen to paper or just take time to think on these things. If you are feeling stressed out or annoyed with your living situation and the people around you, take time to be intentionally grateful for them everyday. It might not be easy for you, but when you think of the sobering reality that so many people are losing loved ones, and how many frontline workers would wish to be at home with their people even if it is stressful, then it will definitely change your attitude, your perspective, and hopefully the atmosphere in your home for the better.
Take care, love, stay safe, be kind.