Tag: mental health Page 1 of 4

One year on, a pandemic survival kit

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This week, Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, reflects on the little things that have helped her survive the past year.

For me, it’s the red joggers. I bought a pair in August, when I returned to Edinburgh after five months in Oxford for lockdown 1.0. They were Marks and Spencers, brushed cotton inside, extra long. After a week, I bought a second pair. Soon I was wearing them all the time: one in the wash, one out. Working from home, there was no situation they did not suit. At the computer, there was none of that waistband difficulty that you get after hours in jeans, and for wandering around the flat they were just a bit warmer than the usual leggings. As the autumnal days turned wintery, I put baselayers under them for my walks, and for the shivering hours at my desk under droughty windows. It feels cheerful to wear red every day, even if no one sees it. Over the last several months, I’ve bought new jeans; I’ve even, in a fit of optimism, bought new work trousers – but they sit in my wardrobe, unworn, awaiting a smarter time. It’s the red joggers for now.

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It can be paralysing at times: living with depression

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Our health and wellbeing should always a priority – and this has been made even more important due to the impact of Covid-19. It’s important for you to feel confident to talk about your mental health and wellbeing and know what support is available.

In this issue, Melanie Peak, People and Money Systems Trainer in the Service Excellence Programme, shares her experience with depression, and the ways she’s found to keep it at bay in difficult times.

I have suffered with depression since the age of eight. To be honest, I can’t remember what it was like to not have it. To not have to analyse each bad day and wonder if it is the start of another downhill cycle. To not have it always lurking in the shadows behind me. To not fear whether I will have the strength to cope with it this time.

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A beginner’s guide to lockdown meditation 

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This week our Mindfulness Chaplain Kitty Wheater shares some practical tips on how to meditate and how it can help during difficult times.

People tell me that this third lockdown has been the worst. Even though it’s spring, and even though we’re getting vaccinated, and even though there are dates for unlocking, we are worn down. At a certain point, the knowledge that things are moving just feels abstract. We’ve heard this before, we think, and there’s still much further to go.

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Waiting games and how to play them

Reading Time: 5 minutes

You could be forgiven for thinking it has felt like a long lockdown. As the prospect of it ending comes into sight once again, Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares tips for holding on and waiting just a little bit longer.

In the early months of 2020, we waited to see if coronavirus would get to Britain. Surely not, we thought. Then lockdown came and we waited for it to end, a few weeks, maybe, and then everything would go back to normal. We made plans, accordingly: we moved in with loved ones, or they with us; we travelled hundreds of miles to places we thought we would be safe; we deferred decisions. This is what you do, when you wait: you hunker down, you suspend, you watch. And wait.

As spring veered towards summer, we waited for the numbers to change. We waited for doctors to call us back, we waited for Teams to develop breakout rooms, we waited for money, for the post, for the day we could walk with a friend at a distance and not be picked up for waiting for them on a park bench. We waited because we still thought we would go back to normal. That’s what the waiting was about. In a way, that’s what made it possible.

We waited for decisions from our governments, our institutions, because these would let us figure out how to wait, and what we were waiting for. We filled the time that we were waiting, as best we could. We watched Netflix. We sent each other GIFs. We took long walks. Some of it was so hard that we went on autopilot, because it was the only way to get through another day of home-schooling, or another week of Zoom calls. We drank more coffee or more wine. We read all of Twitter. We watched Normal People and thought about ‘normality’ and it was a bit uncomfortable on a number of levels, so we went back to Twitter.

At some point, waiting began to become unbearable, and we shook with anxiety, or curled up and zoned out, or exploded with rage and grief. At some point, even that passed, and it turned into something else. Perhaps it got worse, for a time, but then, better. Perhaps you’re back in it now.

And maybe a few months ago, or yesterday, or even this morning, we realised that we couldn’t wait any more and that was nothing to do with the decisions not yet taken, or the rules not yet lifted. It was about realising that waiting had become stale, old, grey. It was no longer the ‘watchfulness’ of its etymology, the ‘looking-out’, the ‘attending’. We were no longer watching for anything but threat, for the confirmation of our disappointed hopes. We were no longer attending to anything but the buzz and clutter of our screens, our boundary-blurred home-workspaces, our pains and fears and frustrations.

If this is waiting, we need a new kind. We need forms of watchfulness that are neither about Netflix nor hypervigilance and we need forms of attention that are not about imperfection, or fragmentation. We can do those ones already. We’ve been doing them brilliantly.

Here are some different ways to wait.

1. Watch, with interest 

Pause on Blackford Hill and watch the sun dip down behind the Pentlands. Wonder about the snow up there and whether it’s lingering in crevices still. Watch the students playing tennis on the courts by the Meadows and remember that wonderful essay in the New York Times. Watch the tennis games in your own mind – the ace, the double fault, the volley – and pause in-between rallies to take stock. Watch your parlour palm putting out new leaves, and think about repotting. Watch the daffodil spikes, coming up centimetres day by day in Bruntsfield, and wonder which they are of the tens of thousands of varieties. Watch popcorn popping in a pan and remember dinners past; watch the friends sitting at opposite ends of a bench eating burritos and think, what a good idea. Watch the flickers of anxiety as they bubble up in your stomach, even as you’re just sitting quietly in your room, and think about how amazing it is that your nervous system is showing up to protect you; how many millennia ago, you fled from and survived a lion, and that’s whispering in you still.

Watch, and notice, and maybe try this grounding mindfulness practice; and then draw what you find, or tell someone, or write about it, even if it’s just for yourself.

2. Attend, with your senses 

Feel the ground beneath your feet when you walk outside; the springiness of earth, the tread of tarmac. Feel your body sitting on the chair while you work, the sit-bones, the support behind the back, the place of the body in its space. Taste your lunch and smell your tea before you put the milk in. Sense what happens inside you when you get to the top of Calton Hill, or Arthur’s Seat, and look out over the city and feel the wind on your face: the poignant lurch, the dizzy soar, as if you could spread wings and fly. Bend to touch the cold silk of the crocus, gently, and the soft chin of the shy dog. Nurse the tiredness, when it comes, and feel how your body wants to fold up and rest on soft things.

Sense, wonder, and tend. Here is the world.

3. Play, daftly 

Make a den from the wood tossed down in the gales. If the snow returns, make an igloo. Play Scrabble over the internet with your friends, with double points for rude words and foreign languages. When you feel terrible, write a poem; it can be as short and as bad as you like. Make playdough, even if you are 20, and squidge it into shapes and maybe smash it up a bit and pretend it’s your least favourite politician. Dig out the 50-year-old board game you inherited from your grandmother and look it up on the internet. Buy a colouring book (yes, really). Sit on the floor, pour out beads and buttons from that random drawer and put them on strings. Sit on the floor and make things out of the cardboard Amazon boxes, with sellotape and scissors. Sit on the floor and open your backlog of Christmas body lotions, one by one, and try them all.

Play, daftly. It will wake up a part of you that the waiting shut down.

When we wait in different ways, interesting things come through. A puzzle falls into place, an insight arises, an action seems clear. And then, suddenly, somehow, we are no longer waiting; we are living, and life is right here.

A five-week Mindfulness and Compassion Course for Staff, with Kitty and Harriet Harris, starts Thursday 22nd April. Click above for more info, or join the twice-weekly lunchtime mindfulness drop-in sessions online. 

Photography: Sam Sills

Music and mental health: Our Virtual Tribe

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re looking after our mental health.

We can’t necessarily do what we used to, to safeguard our wellbeing. In response we’ve seen people around the world develop new ways to continue to do the things they love despite living with the restrictions of the pandemic.

Raymond MacDonald is a saxophonist, composer, psychologist and Professor of Music Psychology and Improvisation in The Reid School of Music at Edinburgh College of Art. He’s not the only one who has turned to music as a way to safeguard his mental health.

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Love in the Time of Corona 

Reading Time: 5 minutes

We have all been through a lot this year. As the pandemic and its restrictions drag on Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares how once you notice it, love is everywhere you look.

A few days ago, Ben the collie suffered a violent interruption of normal gastrointestinal duties. Because he is a collie, he seemed none the worse for a few days – running, demanding his ball – except that he wouldn’t eat. He was ok, until suddenly he wasn’t: limp, unresponsive, collapsed. We bundled him into the car, the vet put him on a drip, and he came home to be hand-fed pieces of chicken thigh dressed with liver paste, and to doze, silky head between paws, while we kept watch.

Thus it comes to pass that I am holding his head, telling him how good he is, while Pam attempts a rectal thermometer reading at the other end. This is a two-woman job, we think. There will be growls. There will be wide-eyed collie disbelief. There will be that tossing head.

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How to talk about your mental health

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This Thursday is University Mental Health Day, a national awareness day that aims to bring together the university community to make mental health a priority.

Working from home and ever-changing government guidelines have undoubtedly affected all staff and their wellbeing. It’s more important than ever to make sure we’re talking about mental health and offering our friends and colleagues the opportunity to share how they are.Asian woman student works late at night. She is rubbing her forehead and looks stressed

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Smells like Snow 

Reading Time: 4 minutes

How often are you aware of your sense of smell? Here Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares how to use your awareness of smells to reconnect with your environment and ground yourself.

The crisp tingle in the nostrils, so pure it almost hurts. A smoky tea to keep you company for long hours at your computer. Thyme in the community garden on the Meadows. The lingering coconut butteriness of the yellow gorse in Holyrood. The scent of a candle in the rain. The smell behind Ben the collie’s perfect ears. Pizza in the oven on a Friday, and a lavender oil that lulls you to sleep.

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Power hour

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The dark winter months after Christmas can be difficult to navigate. It doesn’t take long for the lengthy working days and the lack of sunlight to begin to feel oppressive.

When your work is mounting up and there’s little to do outside the house, it can be tempting to power through your lunch hour. However, taking a break in the middle of the working day is incredibly important for your mental wellbeing and it’s something we should all be making time for whenever possible.

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This is the Time to be Slow 

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Just like that, the Christmas break feels like a distant memory. Here Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, explores how we can navigate the cold, dark winter months, when everything feels a bit bleak.

Over Christmas, my books piled high, and on a theme. There was Katherine May’s Wintering, a New York Times bestseller, about the power of rest and retreat in difficult times; the Chronicles of Narnia, beginning with an endless winter; and James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life. As the Meadows disappeared beneath the snow, I saw the Lake District in my mind’s eye: the thick white fells, the shivering sheep, the wind-chapped faces.

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Looking after your mental wellbeing

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The start of the new year can be a difficult time for many people. Add the stresses and strains of a global pandemic and it’s normal to feel utterly overwhelmed about the year ahead.

Good mental wellbeing doesn’t mean you’re always happy or unaffected by your experiences. We might use it to talk about how we feel, how well we’re coping with daily life or what feels possible at the moment.

Looking after your mental health is more important than ever, and there are lots of services within the University to support you whatever you’re struggling with. You can also find plenty of advice to help promote healthy working environments and working practices.A young woman takes a break to do something analog like writing in her journal and drinking tea. This is a healthy practice for those who experience anxiety.

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Why Don’t You Write Me: Connecting us during Covid-19

Reading Time: 6 minutes

“During Covid-19, with its lockdowns, restrictions, physical distancing, and self-isolation, connecting to each other and the people we care about is more important than ever. Yet our forms of connection and community have turned upside down.”

This is the thought that sparked Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, and Reverend Geoffrey Baines, Associate Chaplain, to embark on a new project to connect the University community last December. Why Don’t You Write Me is a rolling six-month project from the Chaplaincy for both the University community and your own families and friends, to help connect us to ourselves and each other during this time. Kitty shares more about the project.

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The Abundant Academy: Reflect

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Last October the Chaplaincy launched the Abundant Academy as an opportunity for our staff and students to safeguard their mental wellbeing over the winter months. After a highly successful first course, this semester sees the project begin the second session, focused on reflection.  

Here Reverend Dr Harriet Harris, University Chaplain and Head of the Chaplaincy Service, shares more about what it will entail.

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