365 days: a reflection
365 days have now passed since the announcement of lockdown. This past year has indeed been an extraordinary one, with many challenges and many changes. Undeniably, there have been great losses and much sadness. Yet it has also brought us an opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves and about how we cope with challenges and change.
Throughout this past year, there are four elements in particular that have helped me to get through. I would like to share these, in the hope that others may also identify with them:
A sense of, "We can do this!". We had to make big changes to the way we conduct our lives, including in our personal and family lives, our social lives and activities, and our work lives. At times it's certainly felt difficult, but the important thing has been to look at the bigger picture. These changes are to help to protect us all, our families, friends and loved ones. This also extends to the people we don't know personally, but who are also loved by other people, and we need to take care of everyone.
Having to alter our habits and being deprived of enjoyable activities may be annoying, but on a great scale of things, this is about staying alive and healthy. In that sense, developing resilience is a healthy way forward, and can help us to overcome any feeling of being deprived. It's about recognising that we can cope, that we can find the resources to do so, and that we are often stronger than we think.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was particularly struck by the sense of unity in society and was heartened by this. It was like receiving a warm hug at a time when we were not able to hug those close to us.
When there are things beyond our control, it's important to find a way to cope with this. Often, the best way to deal with worry is to think of what you can do about the situation, and then act on it. If there is nothing you can do about the situation then you need to let the worry go... often easier said than done. Altering the focus of attention helps, as does acceptance.
Of course, worry is prevalent during a pandemic, especially as there are many unknowns and uncertainties. We can only do our bit, and ensure we are doing whatever we can to minimise risk.
Acceptance is about recognising that the situation is what it is.
As individuals, we cannot make the situation change, but we can change the way we deal with it on a personal level, and how we think about it, and hence we can change the way we feel about it.
Acceptance also goes hand-in-hand with tolerance and patience: focusing on the present moment is beneficial, this can help to reduce the worry of the future and also thoughts of the past. By using acceptance, instead of feeling overwhelmed by what we cannot do, and what we have not got, we can allow gratitude to step in and we can focus on the many things that we can actually do and the multitude of things that we have in our lives.
For me, this was the biggest element and the most valuable one. The changes which the pandemic brought enabled us to realise that we can cope in many ways, even if they are different from our usual ways. In turn, this enables us to realise many strengths which may have been previously overlooked.
Developing an 'I can' attitude, focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can't do, helps to open up doorways where you may willingly step inside, rather than hovering on the outside. It's been about finding alternative ways to do things, whether it's our way of working, talking on the phone to friends instead of meeting them, using video calls for the first time, having takeaway coffee instead of sitting in a cafe, and learning how to use home delivery instead of going to shops.
Many people have discovered the benefit in a slower pace of life. Many have enjoyed the ability to go for walks and recognise the positive impact these have on our mental well-being, especially if amongst nature. It's an opportunity to embrace the little things. We can discover that there are many activities still open to us, and many places we can still visit, often new places that may have been close to us but previously overlooked.
We can adapt our days to include new activities, which may be something we can then carry forward. In this sense, we can discover new ways to make things work for us, and that life can be adapted and enjoyed.
I have found great enjoyment and value by looking at places at a 'macro' level - noting the tiniest things, such as new buds emerging, the first bumblebees of the season, wildflowers, birdsong, the changing colours of autumn, the sparkle of jewel-like raindrops on leaves, sunlight on grasses, the list goes on.
I devised a technique which I call 'Jewel of the Day' - this involves noting something special about the day which has given me a boost, such as watching a hoverfly on a flower, a heron on the river, tiny froglets in the park, raindrops in puddles, the scent of the first daffodil, a drawing given to me by my granddaughter...
Gratitude is that warm feeling which glows inside when you feel grateful for whatever you do have. It's about recognising that very often we have so much more than we may think we have. Again, it's about focusing on what you do have, what you have got and what you can do. In turn, this may lead to an even greater appreciation for the time when we may return to our favourite familiar places and activities again. Even within a pandemic, we can maintain our feelings of gratitude, love and enjoyment, which helps us to build on our happiness and well-being.