Some of us have spent the past 18 months apart from our families, some of us have spent more of it with them than anticipated. Here Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, explores how to approach our family relationships.
In E. Nesbit’s children’s book The Phoenix and the Carpet, written in the early twentieth century, four children discover that the ordinary-looking carpet in their nursery is woven from magic thread, and can take them anywhere they please. Adventures ensue: to a deserted French tower, a Caribbean beach, and all over London. At some point, under the onslaught of exploits and muddy boots, the carpet begins to wear out. One of the girls takes to it with needle and thread, but does it quickly, and so it cannot be a perfect job. On the next trip, the children huddle tightly on the magic bits – but despite their best efforts, two of them fall straight through the dodgy patch, and land with a bump and a scrape on a London rooftop.
Summer has finally arrived and with it some of us may notice a change in mood. Here Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares how to check in with yourself and make the most out of the long, warm summer days.
Was there ever anything more fortuitous than the ending of the academic year in May? The bustle and franticness of exams, the inboxes full of emboldened emails, the perky Twitter threads – suddenly the clock strikes midnight, the sun comes out, and the world goes quiet. Yes, there are things to do: there is a semester ahead, books to read, and plans to make; but there is a softness in the air, a scent of summer, and a warmth that makes weary limbs unfold.
This fortnight, Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares how we can make the most of the sunnier summer months to appreciate the nature all around us.
‘How is it June already?’ friends say. As the world opens up and Edinburgh throws aside its woollens, we might be forgiven for the sense that mere minutes ago it was snowing. Our cheeks are still tender from the biting wind and the early dawn is an affront to lockdown-weary heads. But suddenly there are drifts of tree petals in the streets; an hour on the Meadows leaves us pink; comfrey, tulips, and alliums bloom in back gardens; and all the birds sing. We can finally raise our heads from our desks, and breathe in some summer.
Mental Health Awareness week last month took nature as its theme, recognising the positive impact that the natural world can have on our wellbeing. But what happens when the health of nature is the very reason for us to feel sad? Meet eco-anxiety, a long-established phenomenon that’s gaining new ground.
Here, SRS Communications Manager Sarah Ford-Hutchinson explores the concept of eco-anxiety and what we can all do to soothe and be soothed by nature.
Often when we talk about mental health, we instantly think of mental health illnesses like anxiety and depression, when in fact, it encompasses good mental health too.
Here, Melanie Peak, People and Money Systems Trainer in the Service Excellence Programme, shares her thoughts on mental health stigma, and why we should all be thinking of our mental health as a spectrum.
So what do we mean by mental health? Well, it is our overall emotional and psychological wellbeing. It governs our ability to cope in certain situations and can be influenced by many factors. How much resilience we have can play a huge part in this. Resilience develops over time, based on our learned behaviours and our lived experiences. So what one person can cope with, another may struggle. We may also gain strength through our support network. But again this will be different for each of us.
This fortnight, Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplin, reflects on a keepsake from a trip to the beach.
Half-buried in the sand, it’s the texture that first grabs my attention: black and grey, like corrugated iron, like the skin of a dinosaur. For a moment I am three years old on the beach at Santander, afraid of sleeping beasts beneath my naked toes – and then, thirty years later, I am back on Seton Sands. The wind snatches at my hood, and my feet are damp on shiny sand left snake-skinned by the receding tide. I am surrounded as far as the eye can see by giant oyster shells.
Most of us have probably suffered from Zoom fatigue at some point during the past year. This fortnight, Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplin, digs a little deeper, in the hope that sharing the science of it can help us recover.
I first wrote about Zoom fatigue almost exactly a year ago. Back then, in the halcyon days of the early pandemic, we had no idea what was to come. We thought we’d potter along on Teams for a bit and then head back into the office. But time passed, and by the summer, I was hearing of enough exhaustion, agitation, and Zoom-induced despair that I started writing about Zoom burnout instead. The word ‘fatigue’ no longer seems to cut it: people experience anxiety, physical twitchiness, and tearfulness on Zoom, Teams, and Facetime. These experiences feel not only extreme, but also distressing: we don’t fully understand what is happening, or what to do about it, and that makes it feel outside our control.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.