We are all familiar with the various challenges that the pandemic has forced us to endure: requiring us to lockdown, forcing us to isolate and keeping us away from our places of work. Many people have not seen their colleagues in months. Some people have been forced to avoid their loved ones due to fear of catching and spreading the virus to the most vulnerable. We have learnt a lot during the last two years, primarily that at times like this that it is more important than ever to stay connected to the people and the world around you.
I expect many people are extremely grateful for Facetime, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and all the other tools that enable us to stay in touch with friends and loved ones both near and far. It’s wonderful that I can video chat with my friends in Chile and New Zealand. One may think with modern technology that we are more connected than ever. But is this really the case? What does it actually mean to be connected?
Firstly, there is our connection with the world we live in, Mother Earth, or if this sounds too abstract, we could simply refer to it as ‘being present’! How often do you walk down the street, while typing a message on your phone, thinking about which shops you need to visit and what you need to buy, while possibly pondering what you might have for dinner, as you obliviously pass others by also glued to the screens in their hands? When was the last time you looked up? Took in the world around you? Had you never noticed that strange emblem on top of the post office building, or that the creator of Rupert Bear lived in the house next door to your local pub? Next time you go into town or visit the supermarket, try to be fully present. Leave your phone in your pocket or bag, take some deep breaths, and take in the world around you. Using your senses is the quickest and most effective way to become present and connect with the Earth.
If you are lucky enough to have access to some green outdoor space, get outside for a few minutes each day and take in your surroundings. Feel the ground beneath your feet and the air against your skin. What else can you feel? What can you see? Hear? Taste? Smell? You could keep a journal on your experience each day or try focusing on a particular plant or tree in your garden and making a note of any changes. Nature definitely has a positive effect on our health and well-being.
In her paper, ‘The effects of Green Exercise on Psychological Health and Well-being’, Dr Jo Barton, a professor at the University of Essex, discovered that nature, as it is inherently fascinating and does not require specific focus, engages our involuntary attention thus helping us to relax while restoring our mental fatigue. This is opposed to voluntary attention which we use when we are concentrating on a task such as writing an email or following a recipe, which requires high amounts of focus and energy.
In Japan, Dr Qing Lee, secretary-general of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine for Nippon medical school, says that it is not just psychological and that walking in forests or forest air-bathing (ShinrinYoku as it is known in Japan) can be beneficial for anxiety, depression, fatigue, confusion, and anger. As well as the stimulus of the senses, with the most profound effect being on our sense of smell, the experience of being in the forest stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us to relax, so nature is good for you!
Communication in the Community
Communication is the act of giving, receiving, and sharing information – in other words, talking or writing, and listening or reading. However, when engaging in a conversation with someone, did you know that 70% of communication is non-verbal? So, what does this mean? We are constantly giving off signs with our body language, eye movement, the pace of our breath, the colouring of our skin. In fact, there are so many subtleties, it would be impossible to pay attention to all of them. Great communication is certainly an art and with the introduction of mandatory mask-wearing over the last couple of years, an art that has been significantly challenged. It’s no wonder that we have become more disconnected. It is more important than ever to take the time to connect with people. Next time, you are in the supermarket, make eye contact with the cashier, ask them how their day has been. Next time you see your neighbour, take a moment to ask them how they are. Reach out to a friend or family member you have not seen for a while. Connect with the people around you and have a real conversation with them. See if you can pick up on some of the finer expressions of communication and find out how they are really feeling. Often just expressing something that is making you feel anxious acts as an instant release, and you will feel better from just the contact alone, so will they!
So finally, we come to connecting with our inner sense of being, your inner voice. A lot of the time, we operate on automatic pilot; running around completing tasks while thinking about the next one; and are seldom present or even aware of how we really feel about something, so take a moment each day to just be still. Once again, use your senses to bring your body and mind into the present moment. Although for some of us, this may feel like an alien concept, one of the easiest ways is to focus on your breath. As you do this, you may notice that your breathing slows down. Take a moment every hour or so to reflect on how you feel, close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and find that sense of inner calm. When we are in the present moment, it is strange how all our woes just slip away!
Although it is amazing to be able to connect with friends and family all over the world and there is every reason to be grateful for the advances that technology has made, it is also important to take a moment to remember the simple things in life and find our presence again. Sometimes we need to disconnect, so we can truly connect again.
Below you will find a free download with some simple exercises to help you stay connected.