How are you, friends? A big virtual hug and collective *sigh* as this week we enter the second lockdown in England, this time heading into winter. It is tough, many of us are feeling a bit weary, defeated, anxious or angry. All this is a perfectly natural human reaction to what continues to be an incredibly challenging year.

But we don’t have to do it alone. We have eachother and we have God with us – in all the difficult disruptions of Covid.  And there are a heap of great resources and ideas to help get us through Lockdown 2. So I thought it might be useful to list a few here that you might consider to help you through the next few weeks.

 

Better together

Firstly, isolation makes everything feel worse, so let’s really lean into opportunities to connect with eachother (within the lockdown regulations). Online meet ups are the most straightforward for now, and there are so many groups at Zeo for you to try – just give one or two (or more!) a go for a while, you aren’t signing up for a lifetime! 😉 There are prayer-space groups, teaching groups, discussion groups, social groups and a new sunday evening group looking at how to live well during the pandemic – all sorts so take a look HERE for sign-up.  We are also looking at forming some new coffee and chat type groups if you would like to meet a small group of new folk in a relaxed and informal way – so stay tuned for news of that. You will have a very warm welcome and who knows, you might make some great friends and enjoy the company you find there. If you are reading this blogpost and do not attend Zeo church, do take a look at the Zeo website and see if there is something there that piques your interest in the groups section? If you are not looking for a faith centred group, maybe check out the myriad of interest groups that have online meet-ups – craft groups, writing groups, bookgroups, cookery groups – there are lots of fun things to get involved with out there to dip a toe in so ask around and maybe get a recommendation from a friend?

 

Looking after your body also helps to look after your mind

In very real ways taking care of our bodies well (which is great in itself) can also help our minds and emotions. All the normal things – good nutrition, plenty of water, exercise, sleep – right now they all need our attention to maintain our general wellbeing and feeling of being able to cope. There is acute need for self-care.

We are still allowed to meet for exercise with one other person outside our household – so if you are able, why not wrap up warm, pull on the wellies or walking boots and go for a socially-distanced stomp and blast of fresh air with a friend – this is the only way we can really meet up with friends face to face, so maybe make it a regular thing? Sometimes finding someone we can make a regular arrangement with helps us to actually get out and do it rather than waiting for the mood to strike? I have a very hearty Norwegian friend who says there is no such thing as bad weather just inappropriate clothing – so grab the bobble hat and the rain mac and go for it – splashing in the puddles isn’t just for the kids!! There is nothing like some exercise and fresh air to raise the feel-good endorphin levels and raise the mood, so if you are a hiker, runner, biker, this is such a good time to enjoy those activities whilst others are less available. If those things are hard for you, are there some gentle indoor exercises you can do to keep you moving and feeling less sluggish? Our very own Caroline Stephens does wonderful pilates classes and there are all sorts of options online – many free. Just check with your GP if you are pregnant, new to execise, recovering from injury etc.

If sleep is a challenge right now ( I hear ya’, me too!), Kate has recorded some useful advice here.

Good food and nutrition can be a particular challenge when there are financial pressures or loss of income. Did you know that there are some fanatastic local projects that each week give away lots of beautiful food that have been donated by local companies – take a look here and here!

 

The consolation of nature

Just getting outside if you can, even just for a few minutes a day, can be such a source of consolation. Even in winter, seeing the big open skies overhead, watching the birds soar, taking in the majesty of trees and rivers – all these things are free and uplifting. There is also something very special in finding headspace with God amid the natural world He created – finding a few minutes of silence, breathing in the presence of God – maybe with your back against a mighty oak tree, or looking at a tiny acorn in your hand, the delicate tracery of an autumn leaf .These simple things can bring us home to the wonder and loving presence of God in tactile, sensory ways. It is a simple, often much needed gift you can give yourself, and a chance to connect to God and sense the flow of His Spirit through all things. Take a moment to listen to your own heart, to the whispers of God over you under the canopy of a woodland, in your local park or on the margins of a field. If you are feeling poorly or have physical restrictions that make getting outside harder, just looking out of the window and pausing to take in the moment with God, or asking a family member to make a little nature collection for you to marvel over – it might sound like a small action, a teaspoon of hope, but these tiny joys can add up.

 

Online advice and support for your wellbeing

If you feel your wellbeing is taking a battering right now, you are so not alone. Please consider reaching out to a trusted friend or family member or contact the pastoral team at Zeo at

There are also some wonderful online resources specifically designed to help support your mental health and emotional wellbeing. Some particular resources from trusted friends of Zeo Church include The Mind and Soul Foundation, Headstrong (for young people), Kintsugi Hope, Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries – so much information and support offered here. Also please check out this recent recording by Dr Kate Middleton on this very topic of how on earth we maintain wellbeing and hope right now – chock full of lots of really excellent psychological and spiritual advice. If you or someone you know needs some immediate crisis support as well as your local GP there are some good helplines to call or text – many are listed here on the Mind website.

 

Drawing close to God

As followers of Jesus, we know that we are not alone in our struggles and weariness right now or ever. But sometimes, especially in times of great pressure and uncertainty when there is so much to cause concern and spiralling thoughts, we might need to get really intentional about drawing close to God – with others and/or on our own. I have already mentioned finding groups to gather with at church, and finding headspace in nature but there are a couple of other things that might be of use. Christian mindfulness invites us to pause regularly throughout the day, and allow our awareness to drop from entanglement in the busyness of our often anxious thoughts to a deeper place of awareness of God with us. Just pausing and nudging our attention to the present moment and of God holding us right here, right now in his perfect love is never time wasted. Becoming present to the state of our own hearts and breathing slowly, sensing the presence of God in the quiet, can help break the cycle of endless rumination and worry and wake us up a bit to goodness and wonder that is also available if we search for it. I have written more about mindfulness in my last blogpost if you would like to read a bit more. If you find prayer apps helpful, I can recommend Soul Time, Lectio 365 and Pray As You Go. The Ordinary Office also offers beautiful pauses to pray together during the day (and even one at night if you can’t sleep). Finally, something like very simple journalling or drawing your thoughts about the day, where you have felt God present, where there are things to be grateful for (however tiny or ordinary) can help with the negative bais our brains naturally fall into under stress. Limiting consumptions of social media and news can also help wellbeing – it ain’t pretty out there on the internet news right now, know when you need a break?

It is true, we might need a little extra imagination to find peace, laughter and connection during lockdown, but let’s be people who take compassionate care of not just our own needs and limitations but of those of others around us?  Let’s help eachother with generous acts of love and help and really be there for our families, church and local community. I hope some of the  suggestions above help a bit with all that, and may we together find beautiful and reassuring sources of love and joy that refuse to be extinguished by the very real difficulties of living through a pandemic.

John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.”