It was the best of times; it was the worst of times

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

We are living through a unique time within living memory, and the ramifications will almost certainly be unparalleled. Almost globally, people have been confined to their homes, other than for essential work and purchases and, in England at least, even the allowed hour of exercise per day is reportedly under threat. With a minimum of a week left living with these restrictions, but quite possibly much longer, just how much of this is doom and gloom?

Before I get into the meat of this, I'd like to make clear that I will not be giving advice or opinion contrary to current government guidelines, and I would like to emphasise that during these challenging times, the only advice you should be following is that given by official sources, such as the UK Government directly through their website, the NHS, and Public Health England. You should not be following advice from other online or real world sources, regardless of how respectable and well qualified to comment they appear to be. Sources you should disregard include, but are not limited to, any social media account not controlled by one of the aforementioned authorities, newspapers (online or in print), television news, radio news, doctors, expert interviewees on television and radio, celebrities (no matter how seemingly qualified), or anyone else you happen to know or follow. All of these, yes that includes the news, are designed to entertain you and draw viewers, listeners or readers, nothing else!

Now for the real reason I'm writing this; what you can do about the situation. Well, short of following government guidelines, and assuming you're not on the front line saving lives (if you are, thank you!), then probably very little. This might sound ridiculous, but the vast majority of us cannot positively impact the current situation one bit, outside of key figures in research and the NHS, and those performing vital job roles. Even with that considered, outside of people's work, there is nothing they can do to change the situation. So why am I bothering to talk about it? Simple, we can change two things; our view of the situation, and the way we are reacting to the situation. With the exception of those key workers who are bravely working long, difficult shifts to keep the country going, the majority of us will find we have more time on our hands. Unfortunately, a lot of us are spending that time watching and reading the news over and over again, and trawling social media, filling our heads with, largely negative and gloomy opinions, being thrown carelessly about by nearly everyone. This is neither useful, nor healthy. Do I want you to quit the news? Preferably, yes, but if you insist on consuming your dose, then limit that dose to once per day, or less if you're able. Do I want you to quit social media? No, but I would love you to change how you use it. I would love to see you reconnect with old friends, improve connections with current ones, and repair failing family ties. I would love you to connect over other topics and subjects, ones that have nothing to do with what is going on. I'd love you to find informative, educational and inspiring content and people to follow, and to take time to remove those who bring you down, or who you constantly find yourself rolling your eyes at. Social media algorithms are a rollercoaster; follow one far right activist, they will push you towards more, follow a vapid celebrity building their career on the back of likes and shares, they will push you to similar accounts, BUT, follow inspirational leaders and thinkers, you will see more of them. Follow sports stars and academics breaking the mould, you'll get suggestions like these. Social media is a mirror; it will reflect back to you your behaviours and habits, and magnify them to try and sell you ideas, products and services. The power to make that a positive thing, lies mainly with you!

All of that said, try to limit your screen time. Sure it's tempting to be online all day, I have certainly struggled. But the truth is, staring at a screen all day comes with downsides. We can achieve balance between staying connected and avoiding loneliness, and being productive and not becoming slaves to our electronic devices. The list below might seem simple, but these are just a few things I'm forcing myself to spend time on each day to come out of the other side of this somewhat improved, regardless of when that might be!

1. Read

Pretty straightforward, right? Pretty dull too? Okay, I get it, not everyone wants to read, but consider, you can read about pretty much anything. Made up stuff. Real stuff. Stuff that is partly real, partly made up. Scientific stuff. Natural stuff. Funny stuff. Social commentaries, biographies, fantasy, classic novels. There are so many choices, it's difficult to say nothing is for you. Reading, as opposed to watching television or listening to music (though there is time for that stuff too), improves your grammar and conversational ability, challenges your imagination, helps with your spelling and teaches you new words, challenges you to think differently and consider other points of view, introduces you to new subjects, and gives you something to talk to people about. All in all, you could do a lot worse than commit an hour each day to reading!

2. Exercise

I own a gym, of course I would suggest this. But let us think for a second; exercise improves metabolic health, strengthens the immune system, makes you a more capable human, releases endorphins and reduces stress, exposes you to fresh air and sunlight, keeps your body weight down, reduces your risk of chronic disease, improves your cognitive abilities and helps you sleep better. In the current situation, I would argue that these things are even more important than normal, and I think they're as important as it gets then!

3. Improve your meals

I usually cook three meals every day. A little extra time allows me to take more care over preparation, make more interesting meals, and learn new culinary skills. Sure, I'm no chef and unlikely to become one, but my meals are getting tastier, and I'm enjoying taking the time to prepare them , then savouring the spoils. It's pretty rewarding! If you really don't like cooking, you should think about using extra time to batch cook. Make a few meals in one go, so you don't have to do it as often!

4. Write

Most people will probably consider this a bit crazy. The truth is though, whether it's penning a fictional tale, recounting your day and its lessons in a journal, writing a letter to someone (I know, imagine, right!), or writing something like this blog, it's an outlet for your thoughts, and one I certainly find quite valuable. You might be surprised how much better you feel after laying down what's in your head onto paper, or even electronically into a document, and reading back through it to see if it makes sense. It's liberating to say the least! There's also a strange comfort to be found in knowing your thoughts are somewhat coherent! If you throw into the mix the pleasure of receiving a response, be it in the form of a returned letter or email, or a comment on something you have written online, I'd contend writing is a pretty sensible use of your time.

5. Improve your environment

Most of us are in a semi-constant state of dissatisfaction with our surroundings. I like order, tidiness, things in their right places and clean and organised. The truth is though, that the majority of the time I can'r maintain it, at least not how I would like, because I have a busy job (or two), dogs, and hobbies. Something has to give, and it's often the mundane DIY, cleaning and organising jobs that get laid to waste first. As any good Feng Shui guide will tell you, a clear space allows a clear mind. Okay, Feng Shui isn't my thing, but that doesn't mean I don't see value in the ideas. If my space is tidy and organised, I tend to feel better. It's not a panacea, but it's not a bad place to start either!

You'll doubtless think of many things I haven't even begun to mention, particularly if you have children! What I've chosen to highlight though, are those things which I think will help you see the other side of this situation healthier, better informed, and sane! That doesn't mean I think these are the only valuable pursuits in which you might engage, but they are certainly up there. There is a distinct lack of television in my list, but that doesn't mean I haven't watched any! I've listened to a lot of music too. I've also continued to work a lot. This might not be a choice for you, but it might be the perfect time to get a little side project off the ground. Why not register that business you always said you would set up? Why not make the first few items you always promised yourself you would sell? Whatever you have told yourself there isn't time for, there currently is, so what have you got to lose?

I hope if nothing else, this has given you food for thought. If you have your own ideas, or have put one of mine into practice, please let me know in the comments.

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