Down for Everyone or Just Me?

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We’ve all been there. When you click on a website and nothing happens.

Is it me? Is it my wi-fi? Is the site down?

It happened today when I wanted to track the status of an envelope of important documents with Royal Mail.

What do you do? Ask your friends on Facebook? Check Twitter to see if it’s down for everyone?

Well, as it happens, there’s a website for this problem.

It has one job, and it does what it says on the tin, is it down for everyone or just me? It’s a really useful site.

So, was Royal Mail down for everyone or just me? It was just me, nothing personal I hope.

A Calming Influence (Gaz Rose)

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The other day I posted on Facebook: OK friends, I need album suggestions of seriously calming music while I work this evening. Wrong answers also welcome. Go! I received some great suggestions, and I’m working my way through them.

Gaz Rose replied (with a smile), “Would it be wrong of me to suggest my new one? His brass neck cheek was just the nudge I needed to buy and download it, it lived up to the promise and I can thoroughly recommend it. Find it in the usual download places.

There’s no real official blurb, it’s simply an album for personal or corporate reflection, using Christian songs as a basis for the relaxed feel music. There’s something for everyone, including a track for the Christmas market – which I skipped by the way. The album finishes with an arrangement of Ascalon, his favourite hymn tune.

Gaz hasn’t paid me to promote this, but he owes me a coffee!

Maintaining Mental Health

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Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Looking after our mental health is always important, but especially so during the lockdown associated with the coronavirus pandemic. As this BBC web page says: Coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty and the constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless. All of this is taking its toll on people’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD.

How has the lockdown affected your mental health? I asked this question on Facebook and the following are some of the responses I received. They have been sensitively edited and permission for sharing given.

Karen: I’ve been struggling big time with not being able to talk to people properly and my depression has hit an all-time low, but I feel it’s not fair to speak to my doctor about it because they’re so busy with everything else. We have a houseful, so it’s not caused by loneliness, simply not having breathing space and time to think. I’m finding I sometimes just have to walk around the garden alone and talk myself out of the way. I feel we’re all grieving as well as my nana died recently, so keeping busy is my only way of getting through it apart from my 10 minutes out time. Not sure how helpful this is, but helps to share how I feel and not feel like a failure as a person and mother.

Joy: For a couple of weeks leading up to lockdown I was really anxious about going into lockdown. I stood and cried in the chemist queue. I knew I was getting very low and feared what lockdown would do to my mental health. To be honest I envied two people I knew who had passed away before this. I was becoming forgetful, forgetting things like bringing the washing down in the morning which i do I every morning, and forgetting to take my daily medication which included anti-depressants which also didn’t help my mental health! Once I realised this was an issue I gave hubby permission to remind me every morning. First week of lockdown I woke up feeling quite panicky, but got better as the day went on. I’ve had to learn not to put myself under pressure to achieve anything great. Getting through the day is in itself and achievement. I always use my one allowed walk each day. Three weeks into lockdown and I’m doing better than I thought I would. I can now get my head round cooking proper meals, but still can’t keep on top of housework. Initially, I was more anxious about lockdown, now I’m probably more anxious about the virus. Sorry it’s a long one but it’s done me good to share.

Paula: I’ve found it hard, but have found incorporating daily exercise and limiting the wine has helped! I’m still working, and so is my husband, so that has helped keep some sense of normality!

David: I’ve not struggled as much as some, partly because I’ve been working from home for three years now. I have my own business, so actually having work to do every day has filled my day. So, in a sense, I didn’t expect to struggle, but there have been a few for me, just the unsettledness of the situation has had an effect on my concentration levels. I’ve been used to my daughter being out at school every day and my wife in and out all the time. Now there are three of us rattling around this modest 3-bed semi, it’s really strange and has taken some adjustment for me.

Kate: I’ve been up and down through this so far. Trying to keep busy, but there’s only so much to do. It’s the isolation that’s the hardest. I’ve been exercising a lot, which helps, and playing lots of music. And also allowing myself to feel a bit rubbish, because it’s a rubbish time. It’s ok to struggle a bit, it’s really hard.

Kevin: It hasn’t really affected me, I’ve spent a lifetime social distancing anyway. I think though if you are suffering, it probably helps to keep busy. Writing a blog or an online diary documenting your feelings and day-to-day experience is a good idea. Something you can share that might help others, who in turn can help you. There’s always cooking, gardening and a myriad other hobbies that needn’t cost a lot.

Kerrie: I’m an introvert and enjoy time at home anyway. I’m never bored and could often go a weekend without speaking to or seeing anyone, but having a two and a half-year-old on my own, and as a key worker also trying to work from home I’ve found it very hard. I don’t have time to do all of the things I can see others doing, such as reading and other hobbies. My mum can’t come and help at all as she’s on the vulnerable list. Getting shopping is difficult. I don’t drive and I’m a single parent now, my daughter also has a heart condition, so don’t want to risk taking her into shops so I rely on friends to get what I need and just muddle through. I feel huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my daughter and also huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my work. I’m a Domestic Abuse Practitioner and I know this is increasing at this time, but there’s little I can do with no childcare and a toddler on my own. My mum doesn’t have any facility to video call and we both don’t drive so are cut off. But I think of Anne Frank, Terry Waite and others who had to endure far worse and know we have to keep on keeping on.

Heather: For me physical exercise truly helps. As a nurse I encourage grounding techniques, there are many suggested. I also recommend: Headspace. Helpful techniques.

Finally, Sarah helpfully suggested some advice being given out to students:

  1. Reach out before you freak out! Call a friend, a family member, pastor (teacher in our setting) or a hotline – it’s better to talk before it’s too overwhelming.
  2. Be gentle with yourself. If all you managed to do today in this pandemic was make it out of bed to go to the bathroom or grab a glass of water or something to eat, well done – your survival brain is working hard enough for you so take the time to rest.
  3. We are all in this together – no one has it all together right now no matter what Facebook or Instagram says, this is an unprecedented time we are all trying to figure it out.
  4. Stand outside and ground yourself for at least 5 minutes (15 is better). Feel the sun/wind on your face. Touch the plants. Take your shoes off and let your feet feel the earth below you. This is a scientifically proven technique to assist mental health, grounding is vital.
  5. Finally, just know that you are not alone. Reach out before you Freak out!

Thank you everyone for your contributions, feel free to add any more thoughts in the comments. Be affirmed, John.

Four by Four and Four by Sixteen

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Photography (a smartphone is all you need by the way) and writing, whether personal or for work, are two of the things that are currently helping me maintain my mental health and sanity in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Partly by accident, but also by design, I’ve developed a way of posting them on social media and here. I take four square photos and then stitch them together with an Instagram app to make a four by four photo which I share then to Instagram (and automatically to Facebook and Twitter). I repeat this three more times, and then stitch the four stitched photos together into a four by sixteen photo. The above stitched photo is today’s offering from my afternoon walk in Richardson Dees Park in Wallsend.

I then add all the individual photos to a Google Photos album, and you can see the ones from today here. I’m particularly pleased how the dandelion shot turned out, I spotted it in a ray of sunshine that didn’t extend to the background, making it stand out dramatically.

I also took four photos of some fungi on a tree stump that I’ve stitched into a standalone four by four one. Again, you can see all the individual ones here.

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Oh, and even though I concentrated on nature, I was with my family. Here’s the one shot I did take of them (Naomi was taking photos of the children), and I immediately loved it.

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A Year of Us (Naomi Ager)

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Naomi and I have been considering the adverse effect the coronavirus pandemic lockdown can have on couples, especially those (like us) with young children. I posted something to this effect on Facebook today, not because we had fallen out, but because we both recognise that couples need to work harder on their relationships in times of crisis. This is her guest post. Thank you Naomi, I love you.

I saw this book on Amazon and, given the stress we find ourselves under as a family, but more so as a couple in these days of lockdown, I thought engagement in a couple’s journal together might work in some way to deepen our connection and allow us to explore each other and not lose sight of ‘us’.

There’s always something else you can learn about the person you love whether you’ve been together for a week or 60 years. By sitting together each evening to explore the 365 interesting questions laid out in this book, I feel it will give us a beautiful insight into our hopes and dreams, as well as our most desperate needs that perhaps are going by the wayside right now.

I’m personally finding it difficult to do something as simple as engaging in meaningful conversation when the children have gone to bed. But, having explored this book prior to us starting it together, I think it will give us the opportunity to bring up issues whether deep and heartfelt or more whimsical in nature.

In this period of lockdown, it’s more important than ever to maintain healthy discussions as a couple and to ensure important things are openly talked about. Things such as family finance and sex life (for example) and hopes for now and the future when we are eventually released back into the big wide world again.

It’s also important to talk about our hobbies and interests with each other, and in turn to encourage the person we share our lives with and love with the things that interest them. I want to take even more of an interest and have a better understanding of what interests John. So maybe I’ll read up on stars, planets, space and the universe or listen to one of his weird and wonderful music albums.

Making time to talk about our interests outside of homeschooling the children and general survival at this time, in my opinion, can only solidify the foundation of our relationship and improve life massively, especially whilst living under such pressure.

I plan to share a lot of the daily questions with my friends on Facebook, so they too can sit with their other half, turn off the television, put pen to paper and learn a little more about each other.

Digital Wellbeing (Sue Thomas)

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Our lives crossed when I lived in Leicester and we’ve been Facebook friends since. Sue Thomas has some important things to say about digital wellbeing and I’m pleased she agreed to write a guest post for me. Her book is excellent, click here for details.

I have spent the last 15 years researching the connections between nature and our digital lives, trying to find out whether it is possible to get a real connection with nature through technology. After speaking with and studying many important thinkers in the technology industry, environmental psychology, design, and urban planning, I felt certain that it is.

At times, my findings have been seen as controversial, but today in the COVID-19 epidemic that has changed. Now, digital wellbeing is becoming a lifeline for people stuck indoors for days and weeks on end. Some of the techniques I learnt about, such as watching nature on screens, following wild animal webcams, and listening to recorded birdsong, are being recommended by health experts. More and more researchers now know that such activities reduce stress and anxiety. Even playing a video game with natural landscapes can promote mental wellbeing!

So here are a few tips to help you get the benefits of nature while you’re stuck indoors during the epidemic.

  1. First things first – what can you see from your windows? If nothing much, consider moving the furniture around. A good view of greenery, trees, or even just more sky, can slow your heart rate and help you relax.
  2. When you’re browsing through Instagram, don’t swipe too fast. Take a moment to stop and appreciate the breath-taking sunrises, evocative dusks, gorgeous landscapes and intoxicating blooms. Imagine the texture of those leaves and petals. Recall the scent of that bluebell wood. Remember running your fingers along the bark of that oak tree? The sensuous outdoors is right there in your phone.
  3. Choose a new wallpaper for your phone or computer screen. Research has shown that pictures of dense groups of leafy trees are very calming, so why not search for a jungle or forest? Then make sure you set time aside on a regular basis to just be with that image and sink into it, perhaps even meditate for a short while.
  4. Do you usually ignore your houseplants? Now you have the time to give them some love and be rewarded with a relaxing biophilic experience. Gently clean their leaves with cotton wool and warm water, make sure the pot is moist and they have the light level they need. Chat to them if you like. There are benefits for both of you.
  5. Search for recordings of birdsong. They are everywhere online but the BBC is a good place to start. If you can listen with headphones that’s even better. Just allow your senses to fill with the memories of all the times in the past when you have wandered through a wood, sat in the park or just been out in the garden, yet never paid proper attention to the birds. Now you have the time to do just that. Enjoy!

Other Information: Sue Thomas is the author of Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age, available from Amazon in Kindle and Paperback. Visit her Facebook Page. She’s also on Twitter: @suethomas and Instagram: Digital_Wellbeing.

Sue also blogs here: https://suethomasnet.wordpress.com

See also: Recognising Birdsong

Staying Friends on Social Media

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The algorithms of social media often dictate that we live within an echo chamber of friends who share our outlook on life. But not everyone agrees with us, nor do we always agree with others. The old adage of ‘agreeing to disagree agreeably’ sometimes goes out of the window when passions run high, and social media can be a catalyst to entrench our opinions and polarise debate.

In an increasingly divisive society, we may need to relearn the concept of being nice, affirming each other and appreciating diversity.

When I post something on Facebook I expect disagreement, but I don’t expect rudeness. People can get so angry that others have a different, well-considered opinion from them, one that may be part of their very being.

Often on social media there is no engagement with the issue(s), just simply shouting an alternative opinion, with no concept of nuance in any discussion. We are not heard by shouting. There needs to be respect, both for ourselves and for others. It’s also perfectly acceptable to admit the merits of someone else’s position whilst not necessarily agreeing with it ourselves.

Please don’t think that I’m saying I’m perfect in this regard, I’m not. But I do feel we all need to take a careful and humble look at ourselves and how we respond to things posted on Facebook and social media generally.

Personally, I approach this as a person of faith, and so many of my attitudes, thoughts and actions derive from this and make me the person I am.

Paul writing to the Philippians says: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Here is the context of the whole passage, where Paul suggests we should have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Be kind to each other.

Unseen Promise

The promise of a better life is a tempting offer. For those living in poverty, in even the most beautiful parts of the world, the dream of providing for your family becomes a constant and agonising ache.

In the Philippines, a sun-kissed paradise of more than 7,000 tropical islands, one in five people live in poverty and the luscious setting shrouds an ugliness which lies beneath the surface. Preying on the vulnerable, traffickers deceive and exploit, enticing people with the promise of dreams fulfilled.

People who are desperate to support those they love, believe the lies and accept opportunities to journey away from home unaware of the reality which awaits them. The promises remain unseen and the dreams remain unrealised.

Traffickers see people merely as commodities, ignoring the truth of who they are – children of God, full of promise and dearly loved by the One who created them.

The Salvation Army is raising awareness of the reality of trafficking, mobilising communities to protect themselves, supporting survivors and helping to improve opportunities at home so the drive to leave is lessened.

Through prevention, protection and partnership, we are supporting people to reclaim the promise that exists within them and rebuild their lives.

If you would like to donate to support this work, you can donate online at donate.salvationarmy.org.uk/anti-trafficking

If you want to connect with The Salvation Army International Development UK on social media you can find us on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Follow to hear about new campaigns and updates from our projects. You can also find out more here.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a

See also here: Hidden in Plain Sight

Resolutions anyone?

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It’s said that New Year resolutions are a to-do list for the first week of January; we might smile, but many a true word is spoken in jest.

I asked some friends on Facebook for their thoughts on New Year resolutions, and I received some interesting responses:

I don’t bother making them.

I made one many years ago, it was never to make any more. I’ve stuck to it.

I make the same one every year and break it at that exact moment. I resolve to not make any New Year Resolutions.

Are they not just a bit of a joke? I’ve never taken them seriously. I find making small goals throughout the year is a lot easier.

I see them as a declaration of good intent, sometimes purposeful but often lacking in any real commitment.

If you want to achieve something, and you are serious about it, simply set the goal whether it is New Year or not.

One of my friends followed up their initial comment with these helpful words:
I do see January as a time to start afresh and perhaps pick up things that have been dropped throughout the year. So, for example, I’m planning on starting running again having let it slip through autumn and winter. But I don’t like the pressure of New Year resolutions and the feeling of failure for having set unrealistic goals because of the apparent expectation of society to do so.

If we are going to make resolutions, we need to be realistic and set achievable goals, describing them in specific terms. Maybe large goals are best split into smaller ones, with a planned starting date and time period. It might be helpful just to focus on one or two things, rather than a whole list. Ultimately it’s about aiming for things that are important to you, not what you think you ought to do or what others expect of you. See also here.

As for my resolutions, get back into the habit of running and aim for better sleep.

Thank you Hannah, Tris, Leanne, Mark, Paul, Stephen and Emlyn for your thoughts.

Security for Facebook

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My observation of comments on Facebook (and other social media sites) suggest that there is considerable confusion between cloning and hacking.

Cloning does NOT involve someone getting into your account, so your password isn’t compromised. Hacking (on the other hand) DOES mean that someone has gained unauthorised access to your account, and you will need to regain control and change your password.

So cloning a Facebook account is NOT hacking; it’s when someone copies your personal details and tricks your friends and others into thinking it’s you. It can happen because your security settings allow the general public to see your friends list. Cloning can’t be prevented, but it’s less likely if you set the visibility of your friends list to [Friends only].

You can prevent hacking (when your account IS compromised) by setting up two-step verification; this simply involves a verification code being sent to a previously nominated mobile phone when there’s a login attempt from any new browser or device. This way, you are alerted to someone attempting to hack your account before it happens, and can deal with it.

Two-step verification is widely available for many websites.

People often complain about Facebook (and rightly so sometimes), but the tools needed to limit cloning or prevent hacking are already available, and have been for a considerable time. They take very little effort to set up, but may prevent big problems later on.

Spend a few minutes every so often to review your security settings on Facebook and other websites, you know it makes sense.

See also: Spotting Hoaxes and Scams Online