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.
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…
As we draw closer to Christmas, how are you feeling? Do you feel prepared and have a plan ? Or are you filled with anxiety or worry or even dreading it?
A few weeks back I attended my local Recovery College ‘s “Coping with Christmas” online course. This has helped me to think about how practically I want us as a family to do Christmas this year & in a way that brings some joy rather than mainly stress.
Some tips to manage stress :
Breaking tasks down into small steps, e.g. cooking Christmas dinner.
Make a Christmas budget so that you don’t overspend. Include presents, food, travel, trips, donations, etc. & any extra costs you may have over the Christmas period.
Think about the things you find most difficult over the Christmas period., e.g. finances, relationship, emotions, health wise). Write them down. For each one, come up with how you can overcome this difficulty.
What are the good things you enjoy about Christmas? List them. Look at them when you feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious to remember the positives.
Boundaries : Think about what is manageable & what’s not. Be clear with family/ friends and stick to these.
Self care: What activities will relax & recharge you ? Diarise time to do them, e.g. exercise, quiet time, have a hot chocolate or chat to a friend.
When you start to feel stressed, what helps you to destress? For me, doing some deep breathing or mindfulness really helps in the moment.
Be kind to yourself. How is your self-talk in your head? Is it negative or self-critical? Stop yourself if you notice unhelpful thinking and write it down. Would you speak to a friend like this? What’s a more kind way to speak to yourself? Say this to yourself instead. If you notice these negative thoughts are constant or your mood has been low for more than 2 weeks, this is the time to get help. Make an appointment with your doctor. Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) may help.
As a Christian, I also find reminding myself that what we’re really celebrating here is the birth of Jesus. He came down to earth, fully God, yet fully human, to restore our relationship with Him. Putting my focus back on God can put all the other tasks into perspective.
Reflecting on what you’d like Christmas to be like this year, after such a different 2020 to what we expected, how are you going to prepare for Christmas? How can you put your focus back on God?
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?
I know it’s been a bit quiet from me recently on the blog front. The beginning of lockdown was quite easy to manage but the past two months or so my mood dipped. I’ve been trying to focus on improving my wellbeing, including facing how I’m reallyfeeling by journalling. For a while I found myself not really wanting to ￼address how I felt and so stopped writing my ‘morning pages.’ These are the equivalent of writing a journal, although somewhat longer (prescribed as 3 pages per day.) See Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, for more details.
Instead, I’m now writing a few lines (sometimes more) when I wake up to summarise how I’m feeling. I might add in what’s really helped ( a high point) or emotions I’ve really been wrestling with. It helps me to make sense of where I am emotionally but also may help me to gain some fresh perspective or problem solve about how to move forward. James Pennebaker is a social psychologist who’s done extensive research into the power of expressing emotions, either verbally or in writing and how this can enable emotional, as well as, physical recovery from illness. More about his research and its health benefits are discussed further in the Writing for Recovery training workshops I lead. Click here to contact me to find out more about the workshop or to make a booking.
Gratitude is another kind of journalling that focuses on what you are thankful for each day. When I first heard about this, the advice was to think of 3 things that you’re thankful for just before going to bed. That way you go to sleep in a contented frame of mind. Current advice during lockdown is to write 5 or 10 things to say thank you for, and as a Christian I tend to frame it as “Thank you God for….” but you can also put it as “I am thankful for…”. To be honest, appreciating 5 things from my day is usually enough for me. A friend of mine had said that keeping a gratitude journal has really helped her to keep her mood on an even keel throughout lockdown.
How about having a go at journalling for yourself? All you need is a notepad/ Pc/ mobile and pen to get started: try writing one word to describe how you currently feel. What’s contributed to you feeling that way?
As you start to write, the words may just start to flow and you find yourself getting a few paragraphs down without thinking too much about it. Even if you recognise the emotion you’re currently feeling, that’s encouraging self-awareness and can lead to further reflection about why later on.
I’d love to hear how you get on, so please add a comment below or email me.