I love how Catherine brings each Bible story to life in her book. She discusses 7 different Bible characters in depth, using an almost Ignatian style, where you can imagine yourself in each scene, immersed in the sights, smells and sounds of those times, interacting with the people there. She helps you to better understand each character’s circumstances and the challenges they face.
As someone who can struggle with concentration whilst reading sometimes, I was surprised at the depth of detail she goes into as she explores how the story is relevant to us in our own individual lives. I tried to use this as a daily devotional but concluded this would work better in a group setting where there was more time to prepare and read the suggested connected Bible passages in the study questions. There would be more time to discuss the themes Catherine brings to light.
However the encouragement her writing brings, in turning around characters’ difficulties and sometimes their self-inflicted situations, is palpable. It shows how God can work through our failures and is an inspiration and hope for all of us in using these shortcomings for His glory.
This book will delight those who can identify with the difficulties each character endures Seeing the transformation of its characters to demonstrate how God moves in our broken lives. Those low times that aren’t the end of the story. It’s also for those looking for more in-depth study of the some less known characters in the Bible.
I’m grateful to SPCK who kindly allowed me to read a pre-publication of this book. This is my own honest opinion of the book.
The past 18 months or so have seen us constantly adapting to the changing rhythms and expectations that life has thrown at us. There have been some real positives to taking life at a slower pace and being able to reassess what are the most important things to us. However there have also been some huge challenges to our mental health, family relationships and adjusting to a restricted daily routine whilst locked down.
What have been the things that you’ve most appreciated from lockdown? And what are the lessons you’ve learned that you want to keep applying now that life has become crazy busy again? It may be helpful to think about the current pace of life and whether this is suiting you?
My Own RecentExperience
For me, I know that the pace of life has become too fast at times and I’ve had to choose to step back and reflect on what I want to do differently. What is a manageable level of busyness and what is too much? My warning signs have been letting go of my usual self-care as I’ve been too busy and the odd moment of overwhelm where the level of activity feels like too much for my brain to manage.
The wake up call for me particularly was my catching the freshers flu a few weeks back and suddenly being forced to stop and rest for a week. I’d been attending several large scale in person events over 2 weeks and hadn’t been planning too far ahead. Before I knew it, my energy levels dropped as I fought off tiredness, achiness and a stuffy nose. I couldn’t concentrate for long and knew I had to stop.
There was a relief in acknowledging this and giving myself permission to rest. It was only then that I realised I’d been pushing myself too hard and that I wanted to slow down my pace.
Another warning sign was feeling I didn’t have time to do some things and was rushing – a sign anxiety was setting in. As I took some well-earned rest, I enjoyed watching The Good Wife on catch up TV whilst munching on some favourite snacks. I felt my mind unwind and I was able to breathe easy again; just be without having to think much about what to do next.
As I started to prioritise ‘me time’ and planned to catch up with a few friends, I started to get my energy levels back. Also I began to realise that a rest day per month would be beneficial to my wellbeing. More than that, I began to reflect on my recent business projects and saw that I’d been spreading myself too thinly. I was able to step back and reassess what my priorities were and where attempts at certain work streams were unproductive, an inefficient use of my time. Having discovered some free printables, I used the brain dump sheet to write down all of the work tasks that had been swirling around my head. I began reprioritising , focusing on what was urgent/ important now, whilst letting go of the other tasks for a later date.
I found the courage to action some tasks that I’d been afraid to confront, that had made me feel fear of being a failure before. As I addressed these , a new sense of purpose arose and I let go of unhelpful mindsets that had kept me stuck. I started to recognise the hard work I’d been putting in and praised myself for taking that much needed break.
As I recovered, I gradually started to focus more on work tasks again, doing only what I had the energy for. Slowly I started to feel better and had more energy to focus on the priorities. A sense of enjoyment surged inside of me and I felt ready to move forward.
Now when I start to notice I’m putting myself under pressure, I ask myself if I really need to. Using positive self-talk, I recognise what I’m doing well and think about what self-care I need instead. As I do this , my energy levels improve and my mind starts to relax somewhat, ready to face the new challenges ahead.
Dr. Kate Middleton, in her book, Refuel, talks about the importance of self-care, especially when we are looking after others around us. It’s easy to forget our own needs in all of that. Having recognised what activities tend to deplete our energy levels, finding other activities that re-energise us helps to compensate. Diarising rest times in also means we’re more likely to apply these if we’ve committed them to paper!
Finding Your Own Pace
Take some time to reflect and ask yourself:
What level of busyness works for you?
What are the warning signs to look out for when you’re starting to do too much?
What helps you relax and switch off from being busy?
Have you noticed that the pace of life seems to have sped up since the lifting of lockdown restrictions? Does it feel anxiety-provoking, adjusting to meeting up in person again after such a long break? Or have you chosen to ditch social distancing and mask wearing in public?
What are anxiety and stress?
Anxiety is a stress response to a situation that can bring on flight/ fight or freeze reactions when our bodies sense a possible threat. Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released to help us respond quickly and put our nervous systems into a state of high alert.
Stress can be defined in numerous ways but the Mind UK website describes it as “being pushed beyond our usual emotional / physical capacity.” Small amounts of stress can be beneficial but if experienced over a longer period, known as chronic stress, can become difficult, such as we’ve experienced during Covid. It can lead to burnout if not addressed in the long term.
After nearly a year and a half of lockdowns on and off here in the UK, restrictions have all but completely lifted here in England. For me, the start of lockdown easing initially filled me with dread. We’d become so used to staying at home in relative safety, wearing masks in public places and being restricted in the numbers of people we could legally mix with. Suddenly the public was back out in force on the streets and I couldn’t quite get my head around being out there again. I tend to process situations a bit slower so my brain takes a tad longer to adjust to changes. My flight response started to kick in when finding myself amongst crowds, and the beginnings of a panic attack, shallower breathing and high anxiety, would cause me to remove myself from the situation, hopefully before overwhelm reared it’s ugly head. I’d only go into the town centre when at its quietest, usually first thing in the morning as the shops opened & limit myself to buying priority things only.
Being out again socially has been more tiring, exhausting even, at times. The first bigger gathering I went to was an outside prayer event at church. I’d underestimated how much it would impact me! It’s important to give our minds time to accommodate being more social again and do so at a level that feels comfortable and achievable to us.
Risks from Covid
Perhaps for some of us the fear of catching Covid is still very real, especially if we’re clinically vulnerable and feel more at risk. Some friends have shared how uncomfortable they were to go to church when singing was allowed again which meant they were more likely to stay home and watch online, missing out on the face-to-face fellowship. Mindset plays a big part in how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us and it may be helpful to reassess our current circumstances as to the current risks.
I had to do this a few months back as Freedom Day, when everything fully opened up, crept closer and closer. My friend really helped me address what my fears were around going out and to reframe them to be more realistic, particularly:
Most of the population that’s been offered the vaccine have had at least 1 dose, increasing herd immunity for now.
The risk of being hospitalised with Covid decreases with having had the vaccine.
Covid is a disease that is here to stay. The risks are lower than when the virus was first recognised and continuing to apply good hand washing hygiene rules and mask wearing inside and in crowded places continue to be good preventative measures to catching the virus. See this BBC news article that discusses living with Covid after lockdown eases for further advice. I have heard some scientists say that it is the number of deaths that we should be more concerned about rather than the current number of cases as an indicator of COVID-19’s current status. This doesn’t deflect from those who are currently ill with Covid though.
accepting that there’s only so much of our environment that we can control. We can’t control whether people around us will still choose to be cautious and wear masks in public areas, especially indoors or on public transport. We can only be responsible for our own actions.
Not judging others for having different standards to our own particularly now that restrictions have almost ended. Some people have embraced all that freedom day has brought in England. However others of us are more cautious and are still limiting our behaviours, e.g. how far we may travel and avoid public transport as much as possible.
For some people, agoraphobia, the fear of people or going outside, has settled in, leaving them housebound or very anxious to go out. If you’re struggling to adjust to being around people again, a constructive way to do this is to gradually expose yourself to new situations over time.
If it’s about getting out socially again you might want to start by:
Just going to your front door and breathing in some fresh air.
Try walking around the block near your house.
Go to a busier place in terms of numbers of people, e.g. your local park at a quiet time.
Try somewhere a bit busier like a shop. (Have an escape plan in place in case of overwhelm or the start of a panic attack).
Then keep building up your exposure to larger groups of people until you feel confident again in crowds or socialising with a group of friends.
For me, I’ve used this technique to handle busier places, e.g. my local town centre. After getting used to quiet times at the shops, I’m slowly building up my tolerance of crowds. Spending time doing my work in a local café has helped, starting in a quiet period e.g. early morning but gradually getting used to busier times and making decisions as to what I can and can’t tolerate at the time.
If you do find yourself getting panicky or needing to escape, be kind to yourself. So maybe it didn’t work out as planned this time but you can try again. Being self-compassionate and recognising your limits is also important and you’ll get there at your own pace. As restrictions started to lift several months ago, I attempted to do several tasks whilst out at the shops. I’d underestimated how long long the queues would be in one shop that had only opened the previous week, and then realised I wouldn’t have time to do all I’d planned. Being kind to myself, I had to choose to miss an online activity after and leave some of the shops out to take the pressure off myself as I was feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of tears. By deciding on this more realistic schedule, I was able to just get the most important tasks done and escape the busy shopping centre, taking time to give myself some positive self-talk and let go even of the online Pilates which had been really important to me. Some deep breathing also calmed me down in the moment & talking to someone about what had happened when I returned home.
What is causing you anxiety post-lockdown? Can you need to break it down into smaller steps to gradually overcome that fear? The examples above may help guide you.
Needing further help and support? Get in touch with me to set up a 30 minute discovery call to discuss how I can help you put together your own anxiety toolkit to better manage your anxiety better long term.
Recently I’ve been contemplating the impact of my time spent on screens , particularly my social media use.
A few weeks ago, it felt like I was drowning in all of my screen time. Having to think of new content to write for Instagram was especially weighing down on me and I know I was becoming mentally exhausted from all the impacts of lockdown on and off screen. A poignant aspect to note is that lockdown forced us to use video calls more, for work and socially. As well as being a way of staying in touch with others and continuing to get our work done, there is a draining aspect to it all, physically and mentally.
I felt particularly for our younger son, who had online lessons for the 2 months of the 3rd lockdown, all via video call lessons, for roughly 5 and a half hours per day. I noticed that it made him more mentally tired. However I believe that as most of us continue to be online or using our electronic devices more, it mentally and physically tires us out more too.
After realising that I was swamped in the demands of posting and keeping up with Instagram, I decided I needed to take a break from all social media for a while. So along with Facebook, I took a social media fast for a week as part of Lent, where Christians either give up something or take something up to help them focus more on God in that period. The hope was that it would give my eyes and brain a break from the overwhelm that often comes from being on social media and would give me space to pray or do other activities away from screens.
Worldwide the daily average amount of time spent on social media is 145 minutes (2 hours 25 minutes).
[Source: Statistica, 2021]
The first day was difficult, and I admit to giving in to the temptation of scrolling on both Insta and Facebook . It did get easier from there on and I was able to step back from looking at either one. I noticed I felt calmer and less mentally tired. I got to the end of the week without having done any sneaky peeking at either app.
Revelation came to me, though, when I jumped back onto Insta. The first post I saw, I found myself comparing myself to the person concerned and almost immediately that muddle-headed mental tiredness caught me again. I almost completely decided to stop then and there but because I was composing a post for work, I kept going. In fact, 30 minutes later, I was still umming and erring about a photo to use and almost gave up on it! I hated what this app was doing to me mentally and how it was slowing down my mental performance. In that moment, I just wished I could stop using social media altogether but I knew that wasn’t going to be completely possible as I use it for work. I chatted with my elder son about how going back on social media had made me feel and he also suggested coming off it completely!
Since then my motivation to use Insta or Facebook has been much lower, particularly after having a lot of online meetings the following week. I could see the detrimental impact this had on my already dwindling concentration and the mental exhaustion grew!
Now, I have reduced my number of social media posts per week and am looking for ways to stay off my screens as much as practically possible!
Don’t get me wrong, social media does have some positives though. At a time when it’s not easy to see loved ones, work colleagues nor friends face-to-face, social media does offer that opportunity to connect online. Sharing some thoughts or reading others’ comments can help us feel and stay socially connected. We may read someone’s positive words and be encouraged or enjoy a beautiful photograph that some has shared on Instagram. I’m thankful that writing this blog enables me to engage with you, the reader, wherever you may be in the world.
How do you feel whilst on social media? What are the benefits it brings you? What are the pitfalls to be aware of? Do you need some boundaries and limits to help manage your screen time better? I’d love to hear your thought and comments below.
Happy February, well, that sounds more timely than Happy New Year, as this is my 1st blog post of 2021! I’ve been a bit torn as to what the topic would be, but I think that as we are drawn into a new month of lockdown, it’s important to share what may help you get through.
Last week, Jo Robinson & I led our workshop on Winter Wellness, and part of the session included discussing what our mental health challenges are in this season, as well as what helps us to overcome them.
1. A small, but powerful, action for me has been getting out for a daily walk. Yes, some days they have been quite short when I’ve felt tired or it’s raining, but getting out into daylight exposes us to natural light, which in turn can generate Vitamin D in our bodies. I also supplement this with 30 minutes sitting in front of my light box, that simulates daylight to compensate for the shorter days, and hopefully tops up my Vitamin D.
2. Staying social connected is another essential for me, and part of our social wellness. I realised when I left my previous education role that I really missed working as part of a team and how important social stimulation is for me. This was really brought home to me in the first lockdown when I couldn’t just meet up with a friend for coffee or a walk. So I have made a commitment to myself to reach out to someone daily, whatever that looks like: phone call, zoom call or a socially distanced walk (although this is happening less as we’re on such a high alert level for Covid). Research has shown that by looking outward towards others helps promote happiness and takes us away from unhelpful inner ruminating or self-centredness. With #TimetoTalk Day last Thursday, it’s more important than ever that we look out for each other and be prepared to be more honest about our mental health.
3. Being creative at least a few times a week, ideally daily. Back in lockdown 2, doing some kind of Christmas craft kept me sane and focused me on something constructive aside from work and managing the home. I made Christmas decorations for friends’ Christmas presents, worked on a wooden tree Christmas sign and designed a nativity stained glass window for our front window as part of our church’s advent light festival. Ok, I’ll admit that post- Christmas we mightn’t have the motivation to do so much, but just trying out even a simple card making activity or writing some thoughts down can help our minds to switch off and stay concentrated in the moment. I’ve started bullet journalling and am currently doing a doodle art course with Mind in Harrow which is helping me to manage my stress and anxiety better.
I could talk about other areas that I’ve found helpful but keeping things simple is important at the moment too, especially if we’re struggling with motivation. See my previous blog on Managing your mental health for more ideas.
So what things are helping you to survive lockdown? What not have a go at writing them down, so that when you’re bored or at a loss as to what to do, you can look at your list to remind you of what helps and to inspire you?
I just wanted to end the year by sending you my new poem , partly on a Christmas theme. It’s been such an odd year, no one could have predicted what was to come.
But I’d like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas, whatever that looks like for you. I pray you’ll be able to take the day as it comes and remember the good things, no matter how small and simple they are.
I look forward to greeting you again in the New Year, and just wanted to make you aware that I’ll be running an online Winter Wellness workshop on Thursday 21 January in the evening. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest. More details to follow…
Whilst reading Dr Kate Middleton’s Refuel book about managing stress and avoiding burnout, one piece of advice really stood out. She talked about taking some time out, even a few days, to rest and recover.
Fortunately, I’d been watching an online retreat from the Royal Foundation of St. Katharine’s and discovered that they were open for overnight stays. Swiftly I decided to book a two-day retreat for the following week. I couldn’t wait! After several months of being unable to find any respite, (I am a carer to one of my sons with special needs), I had become quite desperate for some space to myself. It gave me something to look forward to, kept me motivated for the wait I had to endure.
I was quite busy beforehand and didn’t really have time to plan ahead as to what I’d do whilst there. I started packing the day before but kept it to a minimum so that I could practise some simplicity whilst there. However, I include some items to pamper myself with, such as nail varnish, a face pack and an uplifting shower gel (to name but a few items!)
On the spiritual front, I also packed some Christian books to help me to destress and focus more on God. I was able to finish ‘If Not Now, When?’ by Fernando de Paula: a really helpful book, showing me how to better live in the moment and value each day that God has given me. I started reading this during lockdown but wasn’t in the best place to receive it. Over time my improved mood has meant that I have been more motivated and hence more open to completing the activities at the end of each chapter. On some level I’ve been able to let go of the past, feeling more positive and looking forward to what God has in store for me.
I have continued with Refuel and the chapter on staying calm that discussed practising mindfulness and introduced an exercise to try out really stood out. Previous chapters had looked at 1 Kings 19: where Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal and was experiencing a low period after the adrenaline rush of this event. I reread this passage and contemplated how God refuelled him – Kate made the point before there was any healing for Elijah God made him rest, eat and drink. I was thankful to be in the tranquillity of St Katharine’s that was already providing these things. The food there was amazing, not having to cook, having healthy, gourmet dishes, really helped my mood and physical body. I felt challenged to be more mindful of making healthier and appetising meals on arriving home, increasing my fruit and vegetable intake that I’m sure my family will appreciate the more appetising bit!
Slowing down my daily pace also helped and I’m aiming to maintain this in even small ways, now too. I was kind to myself about relaxing my quiet time in the mornings so that it didn’t feel so rushed or a tick box exercise. The first morning I attended Morning Prayer in the Chapel and focussed on the liturgy and just being present in the moment. It felt so good to just breathe and ‘be’ a bit. No agenda, no plans apart from breakfast, lunch and dinner! I decided to do some writing for my mental health memoir around the theme of retreats!
The weather was beautiful, so I could sit out in their garden in the afternoon to eat lunch or read a book. I loved just enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face. I found journaling my thoughts really helpful, sometimes turning these into prayers for the issues I was grappling with.
I’d planned to meet up with an old friend living nearby and we met over a coffee at the Yurt Café, also run by the Foundation. It was a glorious sunny day to be sitting outside. It was wonderful to catch up on the past 2 years or so and how our kids were doing. In fact, it was a Spirit-filled time where we were able to share and pray for each other, picking up our friendship where we’d left off.
From the library I’d borrowed a few books: a meditation with art book by Sr Wendy and Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis, the first part of his autobiography. It was interesting to read about his childhood and where his Christian beliefs had started from. It was useful to see his writing style to feed into my own memoir writing too.
There was also plenty of time for solitude too: I woke early each day and took a walk down to the River Thames, a short walk from the Royal Foundation. One day I walked via Shadwell Basin to Wapping, whilst the next day I walked in the opposite direction to Canary Wharf , giving me the space to enjoy God’s natural and manmade creations which were awesome and quite overwhelming with the towering buildings! I saw the sunrise on Day 2 and caught some great light for my photos, including views into the City, across the River and of Canary Wharf. Sometimes I listened to worship music on my way but at other times enjoyed the silence and beauty around me.
I found the liturgy comforting in the Chapel services. Isaiah 43:18-20 leapt out at me:
“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert
To give drink to my chosen people.”
God often speaks to me through water imagery and these verses gave me hope, a sense of being refilled and refreshed, ready to return to the real world.
My time away may have been different to previous retreats but one that blessed and uplifted me, restored and renewed me. As I assimilate back to family life, I intend to keep some of these practises alive to remind me of how God spoke to me and how to daily live this out.
Is there some way or some place you can get some quiet time to be with God? What does that look like for you? Perhaps diarise some time to make this happen in the next week or so.
With World Mental Health Day just around the corner, I want to reflect on how all things writing that have helped me get through the past 6 months. Part of that has been practising what I preach on writing for wellbeing and recovery.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy. There was a point in lockdown where I was struggling with depression, in part due to running away from how I was feeling. It was at that point that someone challenged me to start writing down how I felt again and face my fears. It took a while and initially took the form of single sentences acknowledging the negative thought, eg. “I’m not good enough at this.” Then it evolved more into journalling, a mixture of feelings and reflections on why I felt like that. Over time it has become a daily practice, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a page or two, depending on my mood. In my more creative moments it has been a poem or blog. The result has been a lifting of my mood, fresh perspective on my situation, and a greater ability to problem solve. And so I’m coming to terms with being a poet and often this is how I express my deepest thoughts or process a situation I’m going through.
Tomorrow (9 October) to celebrate World Mental Health Day, I will be running a session using poetry to express how we feel, alongside Amanda Epe and Jo Robinson. I’m excited and looking forward to sharing some of my own poetry. If you’d like to find out more or book your space, click here.
Writing can take many forms, and it’s about finding out what works for you. Self-expression is important. It can help us better understand ourselves and take those thoughts buzzing round our heads and get them out into the open or onto the page.
What can you do today to acknowledge your thoughts and get them down on paper?
Just before leaving for our family holiday, I came across my achievements folder, which included this old 1990 Wycombe High School magazine. I’d kept it as the editor selected my cartoon of the return from a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Surprised that it had been included, particularly as I’d forgotten to add my name, it makes me smile.
Fast forward twenty nine years later, and it’s my elder son’s turn to experience the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition: this time by canoe! At the award ceremony, I found tears of joy springing up, to see just how far he’s come in the past 2 or so years.
From a socially isolated , angry and mixed up teen, fighting the changes through puberty, to a well-balanced, thoughtful and caring young man who is confident in his own unique identity and able to express his views in a respectful and clear way. In fact, he shocked his fellow students and teachers whilst on the trip, by finding his voice by assertively directing each team member in their rowing, ensuring the group made it to their destination in time! I am thankful for all the good that have come out of my son’s difficulties these past few years, as God has brought healing and redemption to a hugely painful time in our family.
We have just returned from a week in the wet, wilds of the Scottish Borders, refreshed, refined and relaxed, having built new family memories, where we’ve been blessed by each other’s company and learned more patience and tolerance of each other’s weaknesses!