What’s helping now: weekday routines

This is slightly tongue in cheek, because obviously I have failed to add blogging into my routine. As a self-confessed (and diagnosed by one therapist) control freak, I do find feeling as if I am in control of something helps me gets through these strange times.

And I am surely not in control of anything much in the world. But strangely enough I am in total control of my days. I am no longer at the mercy of traffic jams, delayed or cancelled trains, others’ activities impacting my evenings or weekends. What an upside to all of this.

Making constant decisions on what to do is tiring though, so having some very static routines helps me hugely. Waking up with coffee and reading, running, breakfast and sitting down to work at pretty much the same time every day. Lunch time at roughly the same time and always at the dining room table instead of my desk. Dinner back at the table. Finishing the day with a bit of journalling and more reading. All of these have stayed pretty much constant over the past 11 months.

There are definite tweaks to be made though. Adding in blogging and some meditative prayer would be good. I would like to have a more consistent post-work exercise routine. I have abandoned all piano playing and miss it. Lent feels like a new season, so maybe working on those tweaks can happen then.

Running out of things to talk about

I am not really running out of things to talk about – never fear, my garrulous self has not changed, I can talk about nothing really.  I am struggling to find things to write about here though. There is less happening and so less occurs to me to talk about.  There’s a lot of emotion, but let’s be honest, that is a response to the news and worse, fears about a future which feels very uncertain.  Neither are actually things that are happening.  Worrying about the news or getting too caught up in my own concerns is a good way to anxiety.  It’s a balance to start planning for what the world may look like after lockdown and not worrying too much about what the world will look down after lockdown.

In fact lots is happening, my days are full and busy and I speak to a lot of people every day.  So I have many stories and other experiences filling my mind, but this blog is not the place to be telling others’ stories. 

What is lacking is the usual wealth of experiences that my life is blessed with.  Travelling to other places, being in other locations, even the local shop, feed my mind and give me something to write about.  The longer I am at home (it’s been nearly 7 weeks now), the more I am relying on others’ stories and the arts to give me a window on the outside world.  I am more curious about others though, which is a good thing, hearing how everyone’s day has been at dinnertime is a real treat.  I really relished in seeing the scenery of Northumberland and Yorkshire on this weekend’s TV faves of Vera and Last Tango in Halifax.  Books take me to a different place entirely and plays streamed on TV transport me to a different time and experience.

All of this is keeping me amused and distracted, but of course is not replacing actually being places.  In the same way that a video call is not replacing the personal contact with other humans. 

I wonder if the feeling of running out of things to talk about is also a response to the fact that I am generally much calmer at the moment, because I have no trains to catch, no meetings to race to, much less juggling of places and people.  The days are getting blurry without the distinction of the usual low key kitchen sink drama of life.  This is probably all a very good thing.  But rather rubbish for a blog.

Deadline stress

I rarely work to big deadlines, instead I have busy periods and quieter ones at work. Just occasionally a project comes along that has a definite, unmovable deadline. There is one of those looming this week. And I just do not feel happy working like this. I don’t think I ever have. Even assignment deadlines at university were something I avoided, by having everything ready early. That sounds like I was being super diligent, but not really, giving myself some wiggle room just makes me calmer and happier.

In a work context when you’re working as a team in a fairly dynamic context of things developing and changing quickly through the project, its just not possible to be ready much before the deadline. So I am having to live with the stressful feelings instead. I’m dealing with it in different ways, from a glass of wine to reading lots, from long baths to short runs and this week ,as it all comes to a head, I am adding in huge dollops of yoga, meditation and prayer.

I’m doing my very best to take time away from work, as I know working many more hours will not make the work better. But it is still all whirring around in my mind – which is frustrating: I have deliberately put it all to one side and yet still wake up thinking about the project, or find my mind wandering back to it in downward-facing dog. I know, I know, I should watch the thoughts appear and not engage with them, but just note they’re there and let them pass. I’m trying honestly, but it is hard. So I have accepted that this is just not a comfortable way to work for me, I just don’t like hard deadlines. And that’s ok, I have a job where they do not happen very often and for that I am hugely grateful.

And we’re in exam season

The final set of GCSEs start today. We are now in the era of final exams, so new to us as parents, but ironically exactly the system we went through ourselves as students up to 1987. The stress is inevitably high in this system, everything rides on a few hours of written exam.

The weekend has been full of stress-relieving techniques, anything any of us could think of was embraced by the offspring. Sleep happened, good food was eaten. Time was spent outside, thankfully the weather was lovely, sunshine definitely helps. There have been lots of hugs. Time was spent being silly and laughing. Music was played and listened to. Baths were had.

Most of all there was acceptance of what this period is – it is difficult and it is stressful, but it is also short term. In five weeks it will all be done and the offspring seems marvellously aware of that.

Whatever the results end up being, I am incredibly proud of the way he has dealt with this weekend of anticipation and taken control of his own wellbeing as far as he can. He has verbalised feelings, asked for help and taken on suggestions. I could learn a lot from him.

Good luck to all taking exams.

Winding down

I am somewhat obsessed with Dr Rangan Chatterjee‘s books at the moment. They are ostensibly self-help books about finding good health in a world which seems bent on stressing us out. He refers to lots of medical research on the effects of stress on our bodies and of course our minds.

One of the things his books do is give permission to relax, to switch off the phones and laptops and just stop. I have been trying to turn off the electronic gizmos at 9pm and let my mind have a break from social media and email. It is hard though, as so much of what I do in my spare time I do on electronic devices.

So time management is even more crucial than ever. Not a bad thing. I am convinced that my brain does not know the difference between writing this blog or an email to a fellow Scout leader or to a work colleague. Surely the process of communicating via writing on an electronic device is the same regardless of whether I am being paid to write, or whether I am writing about stressful or fun subjects?

Last night I was expecting an evening of creativity with friends, which was cancelled at the last minute. The temptation to get on and catch up with some administrative tasks for Scouts was just too strong.

I am definitely paying for it this morning. My brain feels unrested. I slept well, but my mum always used to say that resting your body and brain is as good as sleeping. I am beginning to appreciate that wisdom as my brain definitely feels it missed out on a couple of hours of rest last night.

a restful picture in lieu of actual rest

Not saving it for best

Yesterday evening I was given a most lovely gift by a friend.   It is a homemade body scrub, made with care and affection and packaged beautifully and smelling deliciously of lime, lemongrass and tangerine.

Last night I carefully put it next to my case ready to pack when I leave the friend’s house.  This morning I had what feels like a brainwave.  It doesn’t take much to make it feel like a brainwave on a cold dark November morning.  What am I saving the body scrub for exactly?

It is a huge jar full of great smelling loveliness and will likely last me for ages, but it will go off eventually as it is made from natural ingredients with a limited shelf life.

I grabbed the jar and headed for the guest bathroom with its amazing power shower and made it into a full on spa experience, albeit for just a few minutes, on a random Tuesday morning.  The smells were, as planned by my friend, uplifting and energising.  And even more than that, the day started with treats and makes me feel like it can only get better.  

A very good lesson in not saving things for best.  I have no clue, today may be the best, it has certainly started very well indeed.

Social media positivity

You may have gathered that I am in a slump at the moment.  I know it is the transition of the seasons from that gorgeous hot summer to the dark of the winter.  I know it is the incredible busyness of September and October.  I know it is the change in our family circumstance as one of the offspring leaves home.  I know all of that.  Knowing it makes it much easier and I had a sense of acceptance that this was just the mood of September and October.

I do feel I am coming through it.  I have had to rest for medical reasons, so having to focus on sleeping has probably helped a lot.  I have tried to spend a bit of time reflecting on what has gone well and a lot has gone very well and I have done a lot despite the energy slump.

One of the things that has helped a lot is social media.  I know it is not trendy to see social media as a force for good, but I do. I am vigilant about what I follow and what I click on, generally I avoid news consumption on social media and I make sure I interact with people, so it becomes an important part of my social activity.   It’s not my whole social activity, believe me, but it is a good part of it.

Yesterday it came up trumps in many ways.  I directly declared I needed motivation to get to a yoga class and it came in spades, delivered with gusto and humour and of course everyone was right, I felt better for going, I also felt better for having some interaction with people and knowing that they were sympathetic of my sofa versus yoga battle.  I could have asked some friends via text to nudge me, but that felt intrusive in their days.  The friends on Facebook were obviously having some downtime too and were happy to reach out to me in that downtime.  That is a lovely feeling.

Thank you to everyone who helped me out the door, I had a great evening and have had the best night’s sleep this week.  And, hugely importantly I had to walk home from the class. Walking in the dark for the first time is always a psychological hurdle in the autumn I find.  I leapt that hurdle and had a great evening, much of it down to social media.  Thank you!

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Making myself rest

This could be the most repetitive theme of this blog, because it’s something I need to focus on.  I am good at resting, when I really focus on it, I do not do it automatically.   I automatically fill every evening with meetings and social events. I automatically agree to travel most days for work. I automatically try and squeeze as many activities as possible into a weekend.  I automatically book a holiday for every period of leave I have from work.  Booking in rest needs to be a deliberate break from the automatic impulse to fill out the diary.

Today is a day that was booked as rest.  I had a very minor surgical procedure yesterday on my leg, so I need to rest it. Not stop totally, but definitely not do as much as normal.  I am not in work, having taken a couple of days off.  And yesterday, post-procedure I was very well-behaved.  I slept lots, I watched TV, I caught up with some friends online. I rested.

I have woken up this morning having slept really well and my challenge now is that the leg does not hurt very much at all.  Which means I am overcome with the impulse to crack on with normal life.  There is a teeny tiny voice in my head though that is warning me that if I do that, I may not be quite so pain-free by tomorrow.  And another teeny part of me that remembers the post-operative notes telling me not to stand too much and to keep the leg elevated. In other words – not quite normal activity just yet.  Oh, yes and the nurse looked at me like I was possibly crazy when I asked her could I run on it.  She said I can, but not for a few days.  It’s the last part of that sentence that I need to remind myself of this morning.

To all those people whom I boss around when they’re poorly, insisting that they rest and take care of themselves, this is your time to preach that patience and the gospel of rest back to me please.

proof that I do put my feet up sometimes.


For goodness sake, stop

It’s Tuesday.  It’s very early on a Tuesday when I write this and yet so far this week two people have commented on me being a bit grumpy. Reactionary maybe.   Is this news to me?  Not really. Is it majorly frustrating.  Oh yes.

It’s frustrating because one of my goals this year was to be calmer about things.  Specifically, to stop talking so much.  To pause – possibly for ever – before speaking.   Being calmer and quieter was the overall aim, it sounds like I need some mini resolutions to work on this a bit more this month.

It ties in with a theme from last week – a craving for quiet and still.  My brain is definitely full and very chattery at the moment, so maybe that is why it is reacting to things.

It’s all this that meditation is supposed to solve isn’t it?   And yoga.  And prayer, especially contemplative prayer.  Yep – I have the answers. And yet… This could very well be the cause of the frustration – I know what to do, but haven’t done it.  I have no excuses.

But one step at a time. Discussing this blog at the weekend, a friend described it as a way for me to write down what was top of mind and allow those thoughts some space to breathe.  Space and breathing sound like things I am aiming for.  Now to do some of that other stuff too.  Where’s the yoga mat?


Life’s not simple

I am taking my mind back into the ‘real’ world after an extended break from listening to news.  I was a bit of a BBC Radio4 addict, especially their news shows, but at some point earlier this year it all started to feel too much, I decided half an hour a day of news was enough, ironically not even focussing on it, it’s in the background when I write this.   I opted out of being informed and thinking about it all.

My opting out was from radio news; I don’t read papers any more, I tell myself I have no time. That’s blatantly not true, I spend plenty of time on Facebook and Instagram that could be spent reading a paper, but I am having a continued battle with the wisdom of how I spend my time.  I don’t watch TV news, so I have no idea of how it works, but I suspect it would be similar to the radio.

I discovered one of the reasons that I am struggling with news this week.  It was during a church meeting when we were discussing the issue of explaining to parishioners the conflict resolution work by the church in Colombia.   Several people said that this would be too complicated to explain, we cannot condense the work and the issues into a short announcement in the bulletin, nor a one minute talk at the end of mass.

The penny dropped.  We are all trying to condense the problems and the solutions into a soundbite, into a short sentence, a tweet, a Facebook post, an Instagram pic.  I know, this is not new news folks, people have been saying it for years.  But it is making me feel personally anxious for the first time ever.   I don’t know what the answers are any more, because I can’t get the information.  I don’t spend time focussing on reading about an issue, anything longer than a TED talk – and I cannot even admit to how many TED talks are on my ‘oh that would be interesting, I will watch that later’ list.  – is too much for me now.  My brain has been trained to hear soundbites and muse on them. There is rarely a black and white, all or nothing solution to anything.

To go back to the conflict resolution – that sort of work takes time, it takes listening, it takes learning about people and their views and hearing why they hold those views.  My understanding of an issue and my ability to do something about it, can only happen if people give me the gift of information and time to hear it.  It’s not about who is the best orator or who has the best slogan – that is propaganda.

I suspect reading papers or periodicals would help.  Any suggestions?

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