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XX Notes: Time the Great Healer

Published on: 13 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 16 Feb, 2021

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational, fortnightly column from a woman’s perspective…

“Studied and deliberate cruelty.” This is how  Conservative MP, Sir Charles Walker, described the ongoing government response to the pandemic on Radio 4’s World at One programme (February 10, 28mins in).

He described how people were seeing their hope evaporate in the face of depressing interventions in their lives, that they needed to see the people they love and they needed something to look forward to.

It was an impassioned speech, possibly a rant, and there was a mixed reaction on social media. Some people thought he was an out-of-touch, geriatric snowflake, putting holidays above health, others felt they had finally found someone speaking out that we are a nation at breaking point.

It’s certainly been a depressing week, with the snow the only thing literally making the world look brighter. Variants, quarantine hotels, confusion about whether we can book our summer holidays: it’s probably the right time to talk about mental health.

If you travel through life completely unscathed then you’re lucky, and I’ve had my fair share of knocks. Resilience is the word of the moment and we are all digging deep into that well. If you too have felt your hope evaporate this week, I can pass on some self-help tips that I’ve found useful. Links to more official help at the end.

The first thing to remember is that time is a great healer. The ancient Persian saying “This too shall pass” is a phrase to remember when the horror of lockdown gets too much, when inwardly you feel like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. But when this magic mantra fails it’s time for another tactic.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream

Breathe. It sounds simple but, if Apple has an app to remind people, then believe it is a real thing. Just one minute of deep breathing can help you relax and think more clearly. Sometimes my watch pings but I’m too busy to breathe; it’s seven breaths, that reveals much you need to know about stress. More later.

Go outside. I recognise some people have not left their homes for nearly a year, although shielding was relaxed during the summer. Even if the only outside space you feel safe enough to enter is your garden, do it.

Being outdoors can be restorative – photo The Chantries Fiona Giles

Go for a walk. Five miles or five minutes to clear your head, both are beneficial. Or try a bike ride, it’s amazing how different the world looks from two wheels.

In the autumn, brushing up leaves was great for raising both the heart rate and flagging spirits, but gardening is good all year round. Right now is great for hard landscaping, if you can bear the cold.

If the great outdoors really isn’t your thing then try exercising at home. Joe Wicks became the nation’s PE teacher on YouTube. I’ve got a great phone app: seven to 200 different workouts in three categories, and only seven minutes long.

I have friends who do live exercise classes or personal training over Zoom, although I find this too restricting timewise. Borrow an exercise book or DVD from your local library; there are so many ways to get ideas.

Sometimes your body tells you to slow down and I learnt this the hard way. Pre-pandemic, I carved out time to go to a Tai Chi class, it was truly the only hour I really relaxed and cleared my mind in a busy week, being pulled in multiple directions. I remember a sporty friend scoffing at the time; she now does the online yoga her gym offers.

Working hours mean I can’t do the Zoom sessions my Tai Chi teacher offers, but queuing at the supermarket gives me plenty of opportunity to practice the Qi Gong posture movements. I don’t care if I look silly, masks have made everyone anonymous anyway.

Try not to turn to crutches such as alcohol or food. This is easier said than done when the only place to walk to when you leave your working-from-home desk is the fridge. Buy in healthy food or make the bad stuff. At least you’ll know how much sugar and fat is in that cake if you’ve weighed it out yourself.

According to Alcohol Change UK, [link to https://alcoholchange.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/dry-january] 2021 was the most successful Dry January yet, with 6.5 million people taking up the challenge and upending the expectation that Lockdown 3 would make it too tough.

I must admit I didn’t try, although I am attempting Dry February; it’s shorter.

The point is, you can cut back on alcohol at any time. There are so many alternatives now. Scottish craft brewer, Brewdog, make refreshing AF (alcohol-free) versions of some of their classics, Punk IPA and Elvis, as well as my old favourite, Nanny State.

Seedlip is a popular gin alternative, but it’s worth searching out Sanbitter by San Pellegrino if you like Campari or Aperol and hate the sweeteners in soft drinks.

Cooking can be a comfort. If you used to decompress on the commute, then making evening meals from scratch is a rewarding way to fill that rediscovered time.

I used to love the Riverford recipe boxes because they took the hassle out of planning and shopping for healthy family meals. Now I value the chopping and stirring just as much. And the fiddly ingredients are all pre-weighed, leaving more brain space to listen to The Archers.

While parasocial relationships (those we form with soap stars) are less demanding, don’t forget your friends. WhatsApp and Facebook may make us feel connected but there’s nothing like a proper chat. I was reminded of this the other week when a touchline friend texted out of the blue.

Having persuaded one of the boys to cook, I had the time to just call her back. It’s so easy to forget what a lift simple conversation can be. Don’t wait, be the one to reach out.

Nothing beats a hug

Of course, there comes a time when self-help isn’t enough. My workplace has a resilience and wellbeing hub, but if you’re not that lucky then the NHS and Surrey County Council have your back. Take a look at the Healthy Surrey webpage.

The ranting MP didn’t tell us if he’d booked his summer holiday, and, let’s face it, a day trip to Bognor would be a luxury at the moment, but his words did resonate with me. Stressed out people need something to look forward to, mental health matters and existing isn’t living.

Put simply, there is no substitute for hugging family members who’ve been locked behind glass for a year. This too will pass.

What do you want to do ?

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