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In his role as Club Chaplain, John Toller has written a piece about the current situation we are in and looks at specific areas where, as individuals we may have problems.

A few years ago I had a coffee with a mate (at the time he was chaplain at Cowdenbeath FC), and he talked about an NHS-run event he’d been to about preparing for a pandemic. It was very interesting, we had a good chat, but it was hypothetical, ‘what-ifs’, pretty hard to imagine in real terms. And even though the experts have been expecting a pandemic for years now, I don’t think anybody has been ready for the impact it’s had; I don’t think anybody could have been ready.

Where I think we’ve been most unprepared, and where I find my role as a minister and chaplain is most impacted, is all the indirect stuff: daily life, just going shopping, is more stressful; leisure is more difficult; holiday and events are cancelled; businesses and jobs are under threat; people face personal money difficulties; and there are pressures in close confinement with family – not just those who are particularly challenging, whether we are carers or they are addicts or abusive, but just being confined for an indefinite time with kids and partners and not having personal space! Then there’s family things: family members who’re ill and you can’t see them, if it comes to the worst can’t even say goodbye.

It’s pretty heavy…. So it’s not surprising that Back Onside and other mental health charities are dealing with a far heavier load than ever, and we’re only really at the beginning of all this. Just saying that ‘things will be alright in the end’, ‘this too shall pass’, it’s not a lot of comfort. But still, it’s not all bad news. There are ways we can protect and maintain our own well-being – which will mean we’re able to support each other more effectively. Most of it is pretty simple, and I’m not trying to insult anyone’s intelligence – but when our usual routines are all to pot it’s important to think carefully about this stuff.

Exercise & Eating
My brother-in-law has just been for two runs in three days. He’s not unfit, but that’s unheard of! I wondered if it’s because he’s just had a significant birthday, but my sister says he’s taken the exercise guidelines as compulsory! For as long as we’re able to get outside to exercise, do it. It’s a huge part of mental well-being, something we know but don’t always do; and if we’re stuck indoors most of each day it’s even more important. If you can’t get outside, exercise inside.

Eating well is important too (he says with a mouthful of chocolate biscuit and cup of coffee)…. Its so easy to stick with the lazy, junk food options, but healthy eating isn’t just important for the body, it’s important for the mind as well.

We tend to think of relaxation as sitting doing nothing – really, it’s anything that ‘fills’ rather than ‘drains’ you. Social media is a drainer; take time every day away from it. The news, particularly at the moment, is a drainer; don’t watch/read too much of it. Fillers are different for everyone – I read, play guitar; my wife does crafting. Unless you live alone it will mean trying to get personal space, where possible – that’s not selfish, it’s a way of recharging physically and mentally so that you can protect your relationships.

On relationships, as well as needing space, we all need someone to listen to us – which means we should try to be available to listen to others as well. We might not be able to say at home how we’re feeling – especially it’s people at home that are driving us up the wall – but we need to express it so that it doesn’t just build up. It’s a release, and it helps gain perspective. Speak to people on the phone/facetime regularly (not just email/text), and find positive things to talk about as well as being open about negative emotions and situations.

Perspective is pretty hard to maintain when it seems like the world’s gone to pot. I have a journal I use, and I’ve set aside a double page for things I’m thankful for during the pandemic; somewhere else, at the end of every day I write down three things, often seemingly insignificant, that I’m thankful. For me, it’s a spiritual thing, because my thankfulness is directed to God, and it’s inspired by a particular part of the Bible about thinking on things that are good. If you’re not religious, I’d still say this is massively helpful, and it really helps my mental health.

Focusing on positive things doesn’t mean being in denial about what’s going on around us – it helps us keep that perspective, helps us process the negative without being overwhelmed, and as it protects our own minds we’ll be in a much better place as a partner, parent, child, friend, colleague, neighbour – it will benefit everyone.

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