The ongoing restrictions and lockdown have seen levels of stress and anxiety rise. It has become difficult to switch off as the boundaries between work and home life blur. Burnout has become a serious issue with many people now working even longer hours and being tied to endless Zoom meetings that you can’t be a minute late for. This is understandably causing mental and physical exhaustion. People who are overworked and also feel undervalued are more likely to experience high levels of stress.
Added to this is the pressure many fundraisers feel around the need to secure essential income along with constant news of restructuring and redundancies as COVID-19 refuses to go away.
Some organisations can see clearly how hard their staff are working and they’re rewarded with TOIL, early closing, shorter hours and duvet days. Getting decent rest and sleep is without doubt important and much needed if we are to function at the top of our game and be healthy and productive.
I love the idea of staying in bed watching old Cary Grant films, dunking biscuits into my tea, soaking in a hot bath but is it going to make me feel good? Okay, just for one day! But as we enter a new year, one which will likely throw many challenges our way, how can we work on building our inner strength and resilience so we are ready to face adversity and whatever 2021 throws our way?
We can’t change the circumstances but we can change how we address them. What we do outside of our traditional work boundaries can help ensure we have the energy and mindset we’ll need. And is our aim just to get through, to survive or is it even to thrive? That simple switch in outlook already put us in a better position.
Cold water swimming has seen a huge surge in popularity. Apart from the release of endorphins and a state of euphoria many participants feel (once they’ve warmed up) if you can steel your mind to jump in you’re setting yourself up to be able to face whatever challenges the rest of the day places your way. The biscuit with your tea will taste that much better afterwards too.
Wim Hof the Dutch ice-man, has developed a worldwide, cult-like following encouraging his disciples to use ice baths, breathing exercises and a positive mindset to increase energy levels and reduce stress. The cold shock and breath holds activate the eustress (good stress) our bodies and minds need in short doses, as well as engaging the sympathetic nervous system, reducing inflammation and boosting immunity. What’s not to like about that during a global pandemic!
But if swimming is not your thing (and during this lockdown outdoor pools are closed) – any exercise, preferably outdoors will boost your mood as well as self esteem. It can also reduce anxiety, depression and negativity. I’ve heard many people say how much easier it was during the first lockdown when we were blessed with Mediterranean weather. Anyone can go out in 25c! It’s in winter that it becomes more fun – the colder, windier, wetter and darker it is the more you need to summon your inner powers of motivation to get out there and to choose discomfort ahead of staying in bed.
Meditation is something else we can use to calm the chatter in our heads and those nagging negative thoughts - we learn to be mindful of them but not over run by them. There are many apps out there to guide you through this – 10 minutes a day to start is all you need. A regular practice can help us achieve a state of relaxation leading to enhanced mood, lower blood pressure, improved digestion and a reduction of everyday stress. It teaches us self awareness, focus and to be present in the moment, so when we’re with family and friends we’re not thinking about what the boss said or everything on the to-do list.
What we think today of as yoga, bending our bodies into difficult shapes (the asanas) was a practice initially developed for warriors to prepare their bodies for harsh physical conditions and combat. The Indian army still practice today for that purpose. Yoga is more than an exercise practice though, as a philosophy it aims to end suffering, teaches us to be compassionate and again uses the breath (pranayama) to boost our wellbeing, strength, balance and flexibility.
Yoga, meditation, exercise and cold water won’t suddenly help us see life through rose tinted glasses but they will give us strength to find comfort in the uncomfortable. They will also make us fitter, healthier and happier.
Also find time to read and reflect (in a hot bath this time even). Stoicim is having a resurgence – not the stiff upper lip, button-it all in type but the Roman variety led by Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. What did they ever do for us I hear you say?! Marcus famously ran the Empire during a global plague pandemic, fought a war with the Parthians and had his own health and family issues to deal with but he addressed his fears and anxieties - he famously took time to journal, to be compassionate, not be led by ego, to fast, to plan and visualize for the worst. He took regular exercise and (although no evidence) probably a cold dip! The Outdoor Swimming Society have positioned Zeno as a figurehead to inspire swimmers (of all abilities) across the country to take a plunge this winter into cold water.
So there will be challenges ahead and many that we can’t influence although by pushing back on Zooms and pushing ourselves to get out of our comfort zones we can face them when they come like the fundraising warriors we are!