One thing that I learnt when teaching was that having a plan was all very well, but it is always helpful to have a plan B up my sleeve. As the years went by and I began using technology for teaching and learning, that extended to a plan C, or D. On a particularly frustrating day, I would often joke that I got through to plan Z. Even now that I’m not in a classroom, this still happens. Sometimes I think technology should come with the same health warning that is given about working with children and animals. They say that the best way to make God laugh is to make a plan! I suspect that He is rolling around on His heavenly floor some days when He watches me trying different ways to solve a problem.
How many plans have been abandoned in the last few weeks? How many disappointments have there been? Every disappointment or plan abandoned includes a sense of loss. Not being able to hug loved ones who don’t live in the same house. Social events cancelled. Physical catching up over a cuppa. The banter of the office. We can be stoic, we can get on with things, we can distract ourselves. But losses need to be acknowledged so we can move forwards. It’s ok to feel sad about them. 2 minutes silence for the loss of Plans A,B,C before we look at getting on with Plans X,Y,Z. And maybe God has even better plans for us than the ones we can dream up!
Embrace your boredom! Boredom gives our brains time to freewheel between ideas. It’s an important aspect of being creative! In the crazy busy-ness that is life, time and space with nothing to fill it can be a real luxury. But minds that are constantly filled with doing, with conversations and with social media often have creative thinking suffocated.
Brains need space to work effectively. When we are overloaded, tired and stressed we are more likely to make poor decisions and it is harder to learn new things. It is more difficult to get the creative juices flowing. So is lockdown a chance to release creativity and innovation? Or are you filling the boredom with other things that stifle creative thinking, such as consuming other people’s thoughts on social media?
Being a ‘passive consumer’ rather than a ‘creative thinker’ destroys our critical evaluation skills. Are we thinking for ourselves or just regurgitating what others have told us? Boredom can be the space we need to think for ourselves. To hear from God. To dream. To create. To think of the questions we need to ask. To start thinking about those ideas that can grow into something fresh and new and exciting.
Being resilient means having a way of coping when there is so much going on in our lives that is overwhelming. Sometimes it can feel as though it is one thing after another. Sometimes it is lots happening simultaneously.
There are 2 ways of dealing with this that remind me of Scrabble. The first is to focus on one thing. Maybe it’s that triple word score that you could take ownership of, if you could just use your letters to connect the triple word score to the existing word network on the board. The rest of the network is immaterial and we focus on that key area to maximise our score. All our energy is focused on that one aspect. When there is a lot going on simultaneously, it can help to compartmentalise. Separate out one thing we CAN do and temporarily suspend our concerns about the rest. Start with something that can be dealt with easily so that there is a sense of achievement to take into the next task.
The second is to step back and look at the bigger picture. If we take the first approach, we can sometimes be so bogged down in firefighting small elements that we fail to see common themes. If we have a series of Scrabble tiles all jumbled together in front of us, it seems like gobbledygook. None of it makes sense until we shuffle the letters around, see if they fit together in different ways. Then we may start to see a pattern that makes a word. Similarly, there may be a pattern in our collection of overwhelming issues and we just need to shuffle them around to make sense of it. Maybe there is a common cause for each issue and addressing that will positively impact a number of areas. Felling tired, overweight, tetchy…. maybe I need to look at diet and exercise to solve all of those issues in my life. Relationship issues with A,B,C…. maybe I need to look at how I word criticism to positively impact all those relationships. Concerns about X,Y,Z…. maybe I need to hand those worries to the Lord and ask for His solutions, wisdom, insight, discernment.
Lockdown Day 6: Resilience and Faith
It’s Sunday today so I thought I would reflect on the role that my faith plays, how it is an integral part of resilience for me.
Life is full of challenging times. Everyone has them, even though everyone’s are different. For me, God provides strength, comfort and hope through those times. The time spent in worship, prayer and reading the Bible give me a fresh perspective on overwhelming stuff. It’s almost like a ’reset’ button. Living out my faith - however imperfectly I do it - takes my focus from ’me’ to those around me. Faith means that my world is not all about me and gives me a healthier perspective than I had before I believed. I have a different lens through which I view life to the one I had before. Still me, but improving. The Lord gives me joy and peace deep within me even when everything around me seems turbulent.
That doesn’t mean fear or worry is absent, but I have someone to turn to who has a much bigger picture in His mind about what I am bothered about. Someone at my side through it.
Some of you may think I’m naive or misguided. But I came to believe in Jesus because there was evidence from a range of sources and experiences. If you want to know more about the details of what I believe, others are better at putting it into words than I am - check this out - or look at Alpha - watch these films. Join one of the streamed church services that will be online today. Or catch up with a recorded service. Talk to a Christian friend.
Saturday is that day of the week when I usually catch up on all the housework, get the fridge filled for the week ahead and have some social time with friends and family. There’s always a Saturday morning soak in the bath and some hobby time…. today will be sewing. If you like alliteration, my Saturday is just the thing - soup, soak, sew, socialise!
Clearing out the fridge and looking at what is left over is always good. A few sticks of celery, an odd carrot, maybe a few mushrooms just about to go beyond redemption, half a pepper. Quick wash, rough chop without any concern for uniform sizes and within minutes they get bunged into a pan (size determined by the amount of stuff I have chopped). A couple of stock cubes, maybe some curry powder, chilli or herbs, cover with water and simmer for an hour or two while I’m doing the chores, then whizz the hand blender through it. Delicious bowls of Saturday Soup are never quite the same two weeks running! I have to confess, I even deliberately overbuy veg sometimes so that there can be a huge pot used and Saturday soup will last for days afterwards. Today I even have a chicken carcass so will have the luxury of homemade stock.
So what does Saturday Soup have to do with resilience?
Exercise is well documented as having a positive impact on mental health and well-being. It releases endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These are all “happy” hormones that contribute to our well-being. There are few forms of exercise that suit everybody. You may be the sort of person who likes aerobics or you may be a rugby player. You may be the sort of person who runs marathons. Or just getting off the sofa and going for a walk may be an achievement.
For me, I have been blessed by YouTube videos and my mum's old exercise bike, which she had hardly used before she became too frail. Morning stretches or 20 minutes on the bike, looking at the view or watching a Netflix box set help to offset my sedentary job. Some people even use a standing desk. So you might not have a standing desk at home, but using a laptop on the kitchen work surface may be a start. Just make sure your eyes are level of the screen if you want to avoid next train strain and posture is maintained
Whatever we do for exercise there are three main areas that we are trying to improve:
Keep exercising, even if it is walking up and down the stairs for 20 minutes or having your own private disco in the privacy of your living room. After all, no one can see!!
I’m working from home as usual during this time of lockdown and it is becoming increasingly tempting to be distracted by the humorous videos and memes that friends and family are posting on social media. I know that this is a really serious time but in a typical British fashion, the same humour that was seen in air raid shelters during the second world war is being used to keep fears, concerns and stresses under control. Gallows humour is often a reaction to difficult situations.
There’s nothing new in that. Thomas Aquinas wrote, many many years ago, that “It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.” It’s advice given in the Bible:
Humour distracts us. It prevents us from being overwhelmed. It relieves boredom. Laughter is the best medicine. Well, maybe it won’t cure Covid-19 but it helps things that are difficult to become more bearable, allows us to step back from the gravity of the situation and put things into a wider context. So I will intentionally try and find the things that make me smile in the midst of the mundane.
It is hardly surprising that an educator is going to talk about learning. Learning takes all forms. My learning in day 1 took the form of cutting my husband’s hair. It was worth the risk – after all, he will have 3 weeks at home for it to grow back if I make a complete mess of it. But the clippers came out and he looks as good now as he did before!
Learning often involves taking a risk of some sort. It is through being out of our comfort zone, trying something new or thinking in a different way, that we are able to develop and grow. Without challenging ourselves to try new things, we stagnate. But when we are learning, we are firing the synapses in our brain. We are keeping our brains active and healthy. It might not always work out the first time we try it – the borders on the quilt I made the other day are definitely not right. But I took the risk and learnt from it. And from the YouTube videos I have been watching. But taking considered risks, using them as a learning experience and continuing to develop is a key feature of resilience.
So what will you be learning during lockdown? What will you try that is new? Is there something that has always been on your mind but you simply haven’t had the time to try before? Are you going to come out of this experience the same as you went in?
So, it is happening! The Great British Lockdown. Life feels far from normal but at a time like this there are things that we can all do to support our own resilience. We will be sharing thoughts, ideas, etc for wellbeing over the next few weeks.
What does ‘normal’ mean to us? And how do we find a ‘normal’ over the next few weeks. For many people, it is the sense of routine and purpose that they will miss during the lockdown. One of the ways we can do this is to find a new routine that works in our new context. Once the ‘every day is a weekend lie-in’ feeling wears off, it is the routines that will support our resilience. Just getting up at the same time each day and going to bed at the same time is helpful but keeping the same patterns of activities at the start and end of each day will help sleeping patterns and stress management.
Those who have children at home will have seen many suggestions for a daily routine online at this time when schools are closed and the rest of us can take a leaf out of their books. The key thing is to be intentional about activities. This may mean setting times for prayer, meals, chores, TV, reading, work, hobbies, calling friends and family, social media, exercise. But having a routine does not mean being a slave to it. Routines are a framework that help us to create a ‘normal’ in the craziness that is life at the moment. Be flexible! Most of our treasured memories in life are when a normal routine is disrupted. So enjoy the security of your new routines, treasure the disruptions and keep well during this time. And maybe build some healthy habits for life. Catch up with you soon!