As we head towards the end of a year that has been unlike any that I've lived through before, I've been looking back and wondering what I can take from it - what have I learnt and how will I use that knowledge as I go forward? I've experienced dramatic changes, some in my personal life - I've relocated back to Bristol to live with my 96 year old mother as her carer, some in my businesses; I've (virtually) met many wonderful people, several of whom I now feel privileged to count as friends; I've learnt new skills and I've also discovered more about myself and what is important to me.
Although it's not new to me, during the last year I've become even more aware of being in the moment. Without being morbid, a pandemic inevitably makes us more aware of our mortality, and the importance of finding enjoyment in the small things in life. Over recent months I’ve been lucky enough to have one-to-one walks with friends. The opportunity to walk through woods, fields, and parts of the city I haven’t seen for years, or maybe never before, has allowed me to be aware of the changing scenery, the joy of walking, the pleasure of being in the company of people with whom conversation is easy, interesting and stimulating. I go running as much as possible, which also offers the chance for mindfulness. I notice what’s around me, the sun on how I feel as I pound streets or woods – any aches and pains, or on a good day, the ease with which I move. I've looked inside myself, and learnt more about who I am, what's important to me, why I react in a certain way. Partly due to my upbringing, and also to my counselling background, I've always tried to be empathic and understanding with other people, but now I'm trying to do that for myself as well. I've become even more aware of my feelings, and how I should be kind to myself if I feel sad, stressed or anxious, accepting that's normal (especially right now), but finding ways to do something that helps boost my mood - have a walk, a run, talk to someone.
Exercise is something that I've found really does boost my mood. From my own personal experience, right from my teenage years, and also through studying the effects of exercise on mental health at UWE, I understand the benefits of physical activity. In the first lockdown I stayed at home, so running and walking weren’t an option. Instead, because the weather was so glorious, I did workouts in the garden every day, and some pretty hardcore garden clearance. Later, I started running and walking again, and all these forms of exercise not only helped me feel physically fit, but helped my mental wellbeing, by clearing my mind and giving me a way to deal with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic and changes in my personal life.
I've realised over the last year how important social interaction and being part of a community is to me. Most of my community is virtual, but no less important for that. I'd never 'Zoomed' before, and thought that networking online would lose that vital face-to-face contact. How wrong I was! Much as I miss actually seeing people, the virtual world has opened up connections that I could never have had in the real world. I've been blown away by the support I've received from my networking family - some of whom I've never actually met, but all of whom have been there ready to support and encourage, share my worries, boost my positivity, and celebrate my achievements.
My family has always been important to me, and, like so many people, one of the hardest things has been not seeing them. I'm grateful for the fact that most of us can keep in touch with others so easily these days - phone calls, texts, emails, social media, virtual chats - it's so much harder for people who don't have access to these forms of communication. Being able to meet people for walks has also been a boost to my mental wellbeing - an opportunity to spend quality time with friends out of doors, being there to support each other as we talk about our hopes and fears.
Something that helps in these strange days is resilience, flexibility and hope. I know that for many people who have gone through devastating losses there can be few reasons to feel any hope, and I count myself very lucky. One of my businesses, a furniture shop, was closed each lockdown, and I then decided to open by appointment only, in order to keep myself and my customers as safe as possible. Although I've lost sales during the pandemic, my new way of running the shop has been welcomed by customers, who know that they have my undivided attention while they're in the shop, and it has also given me more free time than I've had for years. Rather than mourn the loss of revenue, I've learnt to celebrate my new opportunity to work flexibly. I now have time to meet for walks with friends, to network and meet many wonderful new people, to learn new skills and build up my personal training business, and to take time to take stock, and enjoy the twists and turns of my journey.
So what can I take into 2021? I think the importance of appreciating what I have right now, because who knows what the future holds - my family, friends, networking community, customers and clients, the fact that I still feel optimism for the future, and, mixed in with a certain amount of apprehension, excitement about what it might bring. And I know that, whatever this next year throws at me, whilst I can't control everything that happens, I can try to control my mindset, and practice gratitude and hope. And, knowing how much the care and support I've received from so many people this year has meant to me, to try to make a positive difference to other people's lives.