The dominant emotion of 2021?

I guess we’ve all been finding life difficult during the ongoing pandemic; possibly feeling overwhelmed and sometimes emotional, but maybe just meh!

A friend shared this recently, and (like an article last year) it rang a bell with me, and helped me understand why I’m feeling like I am in April 2021 (over a year into the pandemic). Could the neglected middle child of mental health, one that can dull your motivation and focus, be the dominant emotion of 2021?

But enough of me! Read this article for yourself, I’m sure you’ll find it helpful.

New York Times: There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing

Don’t let perfectionism rule you!

Committing (at the start of 2021) to writing and publishing at least one blog post a day has reinforced an important life lesson. Don’t let perfectionism rule you!

Give everything your best shot, but know when to stop. Some things you can go back and change, at least I can go back and edit blog posts (for example). But some things you can’t, and you just have to accept that. It’s an important lesson to teach our children.

Perfectionists strain compulsively and unceasingly toward unattainable goals, and measure their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment. Pressuring oneself to achieve unrealistic goals inevitably sets the person up for disappointment. Perfectionists tend to be harsh critics of themselves when they fail to meet their expectations. Source

Perfectionism can (of course) be both positive and negative, but it often drives people to be concerned with achieving unattainable ideals or unrealistic goals, leading to a whole host of mental health problems.

We need to learn the lesson of Islamic rugs and knock the edge off our perfectionism. Flaws in Persian carpets are no accident:

In many handmade Persian rugs and carpets you will discover [a] deliberate mistake. Followers of Islam believe only Allah makes things perfectly, and therefore to weave a perfect rug or carpet would be an offence to Allah. The original deliberate mistake is usually made in the execution of the pattern of the rug and not in the dying of the wool or silk, and certainly not the quality of the weaving. Genuine deliberate mistakes in oriental rugs and carpets may be very difficult to spot and can be as subtle as a different colour used in a flower petal. Source

Finally, I hope you enjoy my eclectic and imperfect blog posts.

Sonic the Hedgehog Energy Drink

Our young children love Sonic the Hedgehog; the video game, movie, and cartoon series. Freddy decided he wanted to make a Sonic energy drink, so we had a go after getting some ideas via Google.

Ingredients:

3 dessert spoons caster (or granulated) sugar

Blue food colouring gel or liquid

Coconut extract

1 can of ‘Sprite’ (or any lemon & lime pop)

Ice cubes (to serve)

Dissolve the sugar in some cold water, add a little blue food colouring, coconut extract, and stir. Add the can of Sprite and serve with ice. Enjoy!

Note: one of the categories for this post is [Health] – obviously as part of a balanced heathy diet. I’m not responsible for hyperactive children as a result of drinking this.

250 Days of Retirement

Today (Sunday 7 March 2021) marks 250 days since my retirement, another appropriate moment to take stock and reflect, as I wrote a similar post after 100 days. In many ways not much has changed because of the coronavirus restrictions, which have thrown so many people’s plans into disarray for a year now.

We’re now very well settled in our new house and life, but still have jobs to finalise and boxes in the loft to sort out – as we did after 100 days! We were hoping for time in January and February 2021 to get many of these jobs done, but we’ve been home schooling Freddy and Matilda because of coronavirus lockdown. This has been very draining for all of us. They restart school tomorrow (Monday 8 March).

Pollyanna continues to lose opportunities to make new friends and meet old friends, but we’re pleased she has a confirmed nursery place (at the same school Freddy and Matilda attend) in September 2021.

I’m continuing to look after my health, and have had the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. I’ve taken up running again, but this isn’t easy at my age (67 in a few months) and after a three year break, although I’m already starting to reap the benefits and I’m determined to run regularly again.

Overall, we’re continuing to move on, settling into our new routines, and actively building our new life together as a family. It’s just taking much longer than we expected or intended.

Coronavirus Vaccination

To say I was excited when I received my vaccination appointment would be an understatement.

However, you would be wrong to think I’ve been living in fear since March 2020, although I’ve had a measure of concern because of my age, susceptibility to chest infections, and underlying asthma (although well-controlled). And, even though I’m generally fit and healthy, I’ve been scrupulous in protecting myself and my family from coronavirus.

Our surgery was really well organised, and the longest wait was fifteen minutes afterwards (in a marquee) to make sure I was OK. I received my first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and I’ll get my second dose in twelve weeks time.

I do encourage you to have the coronavirus vaccine when your turn comes, please ignore all the rubbish that’s spoken and written about them.

The coronavirus vaccines are based on decades of scientific progress and practice. Yes, the development has been speeded up because we’re in a crisis, but scientific corners haven’t been cut. Remember, the flu vaccine is a new vaccine every year, and is based on the same scientific foundations. Be grateful for the 24/7 commitment to this cause, and please don’t spread misinformation. See here.

As a friend pointed out: The only corners that have been cut are the waiting for funding for each step through the process (it’s been made available immediately instead of waiting until the next financial period or whatever), and the hunt for a suitable selection of people to test the vaccine on (they have been inundated with volunteers). It just shows what can be done when there is the motivation.

Five Covid-19 vaccine false theories – debunked

BBC Headroom

I’m a great supporter of the BBC and all the services it provides (advert free) funded by a licence fee, one which is fantastic value for money. BBC Headroom (an excellent example) is a mental health toolkit, a site that’s especially important with all the current challenges created by the coronavirus lockdown.

We know we can’t solve all your troubles, but we can give you tools to help.

Whether it is everyday tips, sounds to relax your mind, strategies to cope with parenting right now or films to get you talking, we are here to help you look after yourself and your loved ones.

It’s a really helpful site, one that’s well browsing. Lockdown or not, we all need to look after our mental health and wellbeing. So, why not check out these great resources?

Social Distancing Reflections

There are so many health benefits of human contact and hugs, and these benefits have been denied many during the current coronavirus pandemic. In addition, dating for single people is fraught with difficulties, and it’s a total nightmare for tactile individuals.

As Virgina Satir, a respected family therapist said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” It concludes that hugs are having a great role in improving our life’s quality. In addition, hugs also have many health benefits you have never expected before. Source

You can easily find out more by clicking on the above link (and Google is your friend), and it’s well worth doing so. I might blog about it sometime, but it’s not the main subject of this post.

One friend commented that being safe (in lockdown) isn’t the same as being alive, because alive isn’t the same as thrive. I know that many can identify with this inability to thrive in lockdown. She also said, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I’m losing both good and bad parts of me. I’ll never be the same after this”.

Since the start of pandemic I’ve been reflecting on how social distancing might affect our long-term human interaction, especially with strangers. Initially, I discouraged handshaking in Wallsend Corps, greeting each other by touching elbows. This was met with a mixture of amusement and anxiety, the latter due to the uncertainly of what the future might hold, but it wasn’t long before the first lockdown was announced.

A phrase I coined at the start of the pandemic was: Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection. If I could go back twelve months I would change it to: Physical distance with emotional and spiritual connection, as this better reflects my considered thoughts. We need all the social connection we can get within the restrictions. But laptops, tablets and Zoom meetings have their obvious limitations, we need actual human contact to thrive. That said, video calls have been a lifesaver for many.

Another friend said, “Our [adult] son has profound and multiple learning disabilities including autism. He is in a care home. He is non-verbal and touch is how he communicates whether it’s to hug you, hit you or take you to something he wants. Needless to say social distancing hasn’t been good for him. When he sees us to wants to come over to us but can’t. Socially distanced walks with a carer bringing him in the wheelchair to make sure we don’t get close to him is the best way to deal with. Once when on the walks he tried reaching out to stroke a dog that came up to but had to be pulled away. When the dog came up it was lovely to see his smile but heart breaking to see his disappointment when he wasn’t allowed to touch the dog. I dread to think how all this is affecting him long term. However one lovely thing when we’ve done video calls with us, he will touch the screen to acknowledge us.”

I’m not coming to an overall conclusion, but these are personal reflections. We all know how physical distancing is affecting us and our loved ones, but we can’t be sure of the long-term effects. Will we remain ‘distant’ from others, even when we go back to some sort of normality? Reaching out to others, with its associated physical contact, is vital for us to thrive individually and collectively. May we never lose this.

Reject Blue Monday

Today is the third Monday in January, a day designated as Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

Unfortunately, this trivial label actually damages our understanding of mental health, just for the sake of a superficial piece of clickbait. Yes, I guess my title is itself clickbait, but if this article helps you to understand actual depression better it will have achieved its purpose.

We all know that in a normal year January can be a difficult month for our mental health (for a variety of reasons) and 2021 is not a normal year. So, even though the concept of Blue Monday appears to make sense, I feel we should reject it even more this year. The very real challenges we face this January make my premise even stronger this year, Blue Monday just isn’t real.

You’ll hear people say that it’s been worked out using a ‘scientific formula’. In fact, it first appeared as part of an advertising campaign for a holiday company, hardly the rigorous, evidence-based approach we might expect. Even the person whose name was on the original press release has since distanced himself from Blue Monday, admitting he was paid to help sell holidays. He now campaigns against Blue Monday.

Having said all that, the date continues to surface every January, and is increasingly linked to mental health and depression. In fact, it’s simply a day when we’re all supposed to feel a bit down, but even that is far-fetched if you give it some thought and view it through the lens of common sense.

A few years ago, the charity Mind attempted to dispel the myth that Blue Monday had anything to do with depression.

Depression is NOT something that happens one day and disappears the next, as if it has trivial ’causes’. Blue Monday is mumbo jumbo, pseudoscience that only serves to add to damaging preconceptions about depression and trivialises a serious illness that can be life-threatening. Depression has nothing to do with the third Monday in January.

The idea that depression is basically the same as feeling low is very pervasive within society, as if it’s ’caused’ by trivial things with the ‘cure’ a matter of ‘pulling yourself together’. Facile responses to depression, such as ‘cheer up’, merely reinforce the preconception it can easily be shaken off with determination and effort. This is not the case, depression is NOT the same as having a bad day.

Depression is way more than simply feeling a bit low, and this is what’s difficult for some people to grasp. It’s about guilt, feelings of worthlessness, lack of motivation, and a sense of emptiness, with simple tasks seemingly impossible to achieve. But there’s also the physical symptoms; headaches, aches and pains, lack of appetite, and sleep disturbances. On top of this can come insidious suicidal thoughts.

It’s an insult to think that the mental and physical complexity of depression can be encapsulated in a catchy named day. The negative things in everyday life that get us down are NOT the things that cause depression, it’s NOT something ‘catch’ from our circumstances. Yes, they can affect our mental health adversely, but they don’t cause depression. Depression can happen in good times.

The ‘why’ of depression is a complex and multi-faceted question. Please don’t trivialise it by falling for a gimmick, reject Blue Monday!

Finally, here’s a Blue Monday we mustn’t reject, enjoy! Click here.

Food Supplements and Vitamins

They say that if you have a good, balanced diet you don’t need food supplements and vitamins. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I feel there is a place for them at times and in certain circumstances. I’m only making personal suggestions here, so it’s important that you use common sense, and seek medical advice if necessary because there can be adverse effects if taken inappropriately.

Because I’m over 65 years old, I take a number of food supplements and vitamins daily: a multivitamin and mineral tablet (formulated for men), a glucosamine and chondroitin tablet to protect my joints (especially as I’m a runner), an omega 3 fish oil capsule (unless I’ve eaten oily fish that day) to help maintain a healthy heart, and a vitamin D capsule.

Vitamin D is essential for the optimal performance of our immune systems, and is produced naturally in the body with the help of sunlight. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become deficient in this sunshine vitamin in the UK and other countries with short days and little sunlight in winter.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency and was prescribed a high dose of this vitamin. I now take a high daily dose of vitamin D in winter, and a maintenance dose during the summer. In the current coronavirus pandemic, it might be worthwhile thinking about taking this vitamin, but please take medical advice as you can take too much.

Each of my young children also have a daily chewable age-appropriate multivitamin pastille, and they always remind me at teatime in case I forget.

Do you take food supplements and vitamins?

Normalising Abnormal Stress

We are living in strange and stressful times. We may feel we’re coping or might be run down, weary and possibly at the end of ourselves. We may be berating ourselves for falsely believing we should be coping better. We may even have experienced the whole range of emotions and feelings over the last few months.

In this final month of 2020 there are still many signs that our lives aren’t normal, for me it’s a sense of sameness every day. Yes, I know I’ve retired, but even allowing for that there’s an absence of variety in daily life that we possibly took for granted before coronavirus.

I wonder if we’ve normalised the abnormal levels of stress that living in 2020 has created?

Back in March 2020 we quickly adjusted to our new reality and easily adapted to our new circumstances, even if it presented us with huge challenges and struggles. We generally understood the need for the lockdown. We made allowances, we cut ourselves and others some slack, remembering we were all in exceptional circumstances. For the most part, we lowered our expectations of ourselves and others.

But, here we are, nine months later, and feelings and circumstances are different. We can easily forget that life isn’t normal. We’re living with fear, uncertainty and isolation, all of which are difficult in so many ways. Have we have forgotten what it’s like to live without this background stress, this constant weight bearing down on us? Have we stopped making allowances for ourselves and others?

Don’t beat yourself for not doing more. Don’t criticise yourself for not coping better. Don’t feel bad for not being as productive as usual. Don’t expect to be upbeat all the time.

There’s hope for the future with a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, but there are still struggles ahead. Christmas is going to be different this year, and so we can’t necessarily rely on the usual comforting traditions to carry us through. We have to find other avenues of strength and support. We’re still in tough times.

We have to make allowances for ourselves and others, we can easily act ‘out of character’ because of circumstances. Lowering expectations of ourselves and others is vital, even though it’s counter-intuitive. When we or someone else acts in a negative way, we need to ask ourselves what might be causing it.

This approach helped us recently in dealing with a problem that could so easily have resulted in a confrontational argument, but we approached it sensitively to achieve a win-win situation. The presenting problem was actually a symptom of deeper issues related to coronavirus stress. What could have gone badly wrong (we were also stressed) became a wonderful opportunity to draw closer together. I merely use this personal example in the hope that it helps you, we could equally have been the ones causing the problem because of our background stress.

Humility and thoughtfulness for others are always vital.