Journeys

Today’s blog is written by the University of Cumbria’s Chaplain, Rev. Caroline Kennedy.

During lockdown, the journeys we’ve been able to make have been restricted, and for many of us that must be quite a change. If you’re someone who loves travel and has looked forward to and enjoyed, exploring new places, or holidays in other countries, then life might feel smaller and limited right now. And if, like me, you’ve been used to travelling for work or study, hopping on to trains or taking the car out regularly, you might also feel that life is a bit narrower. Even shopping is something most of us go out less to do, and the enforced changes brought about by lockdown will surely have an impact on our habits, possibly meaning that online buying is the preferred option for many of us in the future.

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To state the obvious, journeys involve movement; the going from one place to another. Before lockdown, we probably took the small everyday journeys for granted- going to see friends, calling in on relatives, meeting in the pub, having something to eat in the Cube if we were on the Fusehill campus…and although things are changing and lockdown is easing, it’s hard to imagine that all of these things will come back fast. Yet a journey doesn’t have to be understood solely in terms of physical movement. Journeys can be connected to inner growth and change, to experience and to the passing of time. You’ve no doubt heard phrases like ‘life’s a journey,’ and ‘life has many paths.’ The image or metaphor of life as a journey is a very ancient, deep seated one, and it can help us to understand and grapple with the idea that life holds tough times as well as periods of happiness. In a long journey made on foot it’s probable there would be different scenery, places where the path was steep and rocky, as well as points of being high up with wonderful views. The journey metaphor can encourage us in the places where we struggle and seem to be making no progress. It reminds us that there could be something wonderful round the corner, that at the end of a steep uphill climb there’s often a great view, and that stopping to look back and see how far we’ve come is a really important part of journeying well and understanding our current situation. 

I wonder what stage of life’s journey you’re in now? And whether you feel as though you’ve reached the top of a hill or are starting to climb a very steep one. Perhaps you have a sense of reaching a plateau, being in a flat place where there’s not much change. Maybe, because of the pandemic we’re still facing, the view you’re dealing with has suddenly switched from a wide open space where you could walk or run fast, and knew where you were going, to a ravine you didn’t expect to come across, or a place with a high wall blocking your progress. Whether you’re a student about to graduate or planning to go into another year of study, or a member of the university’s staff, the view you have now is probably different from the one you saw before the arrival of Covid 19.

The writer of psalm 139, addressing his thoughts to God, says in verse two: “You mark out my journeys and my resting place.” This person, living in what we think of as the Mediterranean basin and believed to have been writing from his position as king almost three thousand years ago, surely understood life as a journey, held and directed by a god who wanted his character to develop and saw a much wider picture than the circumstances faced by the writer at the time. And taking a wide perspective, understanding our own situation as part of something much bigger, can be a very helpful lens to see things through, one which eases anxiety, and lessens the tendency to drive and put pressure on ourselves.

In fact, understanding that the world of our own immediate experience isn’t all there is can be part of what ‘s called awe. The word ‘awesome’ is so commonly used now that we can take it generally to mean ‘good’ or ‘great,’ but awe is actually about wonder; about being aware that there are things so amazing and so much bigger than us, that we’re left breathless. Like seeing a huge mountain topped with snow, a waterfall higher than we’ve ever seen, or being in a powerful storm. American scientists have found that experiencing awe releases endorphins, the hormones that make us feel good. So to be able to experience awe, or a sense of wonder at what is much bigger than us, is a great attitude or ability to carry on a journey through life. If you’re based near our Ambleside campus, then getting out into the countryside close by could be a good way of promoting this. Looking at the night sky or getting up early to watch the sun rise are recognised ways of promoting a sense of awe and wonder at the mystery of the natural world around us.  Being up on Donkins Hill at the heart of the campus itself gives a great sense of the mountains close by, and a feeling of being held in a wonderful, colourful bowl of countryside with all sorts of possibilities for exploration and escape from day to day pressures. The campus isn’t open currently, but when it is, try standing or sitting up on Donkins Hill and just take in the view. 

Take notice of your surroundings, low mist in the evening light at the Ambleside campus

To continue with the journey metaphor, if we don’t have a map or SatNav, if we come across unexpected disasters, or if we meet people along the way who ask us to go somewhere with them for a while, there will be points when we need to stop and rest, re-think our route or direction, look for another way, or decide to spend some time taking in what’s right in front of us. I wonder whether you feel the compass that guides you through life is a reliable one, or whether you’ve always been too busy to really think about what helps you navigate each stage? Whatever is leading you, the practice of stopping to look back and see how far you’ve come is a good one to remind yourself of your achievements so far, and how much ground you’ve covered. And if you need a bit of encouragement and are feeling low in your own sense of value, taking a few minutes to write a list of your achievements (academic and personal- from gaining qualifications and completing assignments to things like walking the Roman Wall,  finishing a book, writing a blog,  managing a budget, making new friends…anything that for you has meant a step forward), is a great way to remind yourself that you have ‘made progress’ and are in fact, journeying well, whether this particular time feels like being stuck in a bog or not. 

On March 1st it was St David’s Day. “And what,” you might be asking, “has that got to do with where I am now? I’m really not interested in hearing about some old saint…” 

Fair point. Saint David though, has a link with the practice of kindness which is being recommended nowadays to boost our mental health as we journey through life. During Mental Health week recently, kindness was the theme that was promoted. Saint David (the patron saint of Wales), is believed to have said to his followers before he died “Do the little things.”  This didn’t mean finding tiny and easy tasks.  It meant doing the things that seem very ordinary and wouldn’t attract attention. The things you can’t point to on your CV when you want to demonstrate success, but that really matter to other people. Like taking time to listen to someone who has trouble expressing him/herself, encouraging someone who’s feeling low, sending a card or making a call to an elderly relative, praising someone who doesn’t get much praise, cooking dinner when others are tired, and being generous when you feel overlooked. Doing things for others makes us feel good, and the value of the ‘little things’, unseen by the wider world (and that’s the point), shouldn’t be underestimated. These actions move us in a direction that’s to do with contribution and service, with the development of our character, and they add to our inner journey, our growth as people. When we feel stuck and bored, unable to make progress in the way we’d thought, or to move on in a way that’s visible to others, noticing what we might be able to do quietly for good, in our immediate environment, paying attention to the ‘little things,’ can help us to re-focus, look out and move in our souls. 

The organisation Mind says that giving to others is one of its Five Ways to Wellbeing. Being kind to someone else is also being kind to you. And in times of change, when things may feel uncertain and unclear, as they do now on a national and worldwide level due to the Corona pandemic, it’s worth remembering our ‘circles of influence’ as Stephen Covey, the Leadership guru and organizational consultant advises. These are the areas of our lives we CAN control, and they encompass the values we decide to live out, the amount of time we put into our relationships, the way we behave in our families, the encouragement we give to our friends, the level of effort we put into our studies as well as many other things. These are all the things under our hands, the things within our reach, which done well, can actually be transformative. They’re the steps along the way to successful living, and they involve us in the process of prioritising and deciding what is most precious, most of value to us. 

I’ve spoken to lots of people who, over the last few months, say they’ve re-evaluated, changed their priorities, and don’t want to ‘go back to normal.’ This could mean they want to slow down, spend more time with their families, get outside more…make changes which mean that their lives will seem richer, not in financial terms, but in relationships and feeling alive. You could say they’ve decided to change direction or take a detour on the journey of life. Perhaps they’ve found a shortcut or gone off the main road and decided to travel a bit more slowly, but in a way that seems to have better views!

Wherever you are on your journey, remember that it’s important to be you. Your life matters to the world, and you will have skills and abilities and experiences that no-one else will have in quite the same combination. There are things that only you can contribute and bring, and taking time to notice and reflect on your skills and the things you enjoy is important to help you understand which direction to take and when to stop for a rest.  Put hope, and faith in the way you’re made, generosity and openness in your backpack as you journey this year, as well as some awe and wonder, courage and patience…I’d love to know how you get on, and imagine you’ll make great progress! 

5 Ways to Wellbeing during self-isolation

Like most people, I would imagine that the students and staff at the University of Cumbria are adapting to a new way of living thanks to the pandemic of COVID-19 aka the Corona Virus. In particular, getting used to self-isolating and social distancing. The very first point I want to make is that in a world of misinformation, in this rapidly changing world; it is important to get accurate and up-to-date factual information. So wherever you are in the world, a good starting point is the World Health Organization (WHO) who have a Corona Virus specific website. WHO have specific guidance on how to stay safe. If you are in the UK, the government have a website for people to find accurate and more local advice and information. Assuming you have read the guidance, and your are self-isolating or using social distancing, here are some 5 Ways to Wellbeing ideas for you to try or to help you think of your own techniques.

  1. Connect with people

Connecting with people when in self-isolation might sound contradictory, but it isn’t. There are a number of digital apps such as Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp that can enable you to video conference to your friends, family, colleagues, etc. Make time to have some daily contact with the ones you love and care about. Sometimes it might be worth planning ahead, and setting a specific time of day to connect with those that are closest to you. If you are coping well, think about those who you know with particular set of vulnerabilities such as those who live on their own, those who have long-term physical or mental health difficulties, or those who are much older and may feel physically and psychologically distant from others.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Also keep connected with the outside world where you can. Keep up-to-date with the news, but remember to only look at reliable news sources, and also remember to take a break from just reading about COIVD-19. Reading blogs, or listening to podcasts can also be a way of connecting to the outside world. Remember if you are a student or member of staff, you can connect anonymously to others out there via the Big White Wall, which is an online mental health and wellbeing community, that is there to support you 24/7.

If you are with others in the same household and it is safe to do so, why not switch off the telly, and play games for a change? It could be board games, card games, or other types of games. Stuck for inspiration? Try these “parlour games“.

2. Be physically active

At the time of this blog being published, the UK government is still encouraging people to take up some form of physical exercise each day. A minimum of 20 minutes per day is advisable, but if you can do more, then go for it. Simple yoga could be a start, and you can even do it from your chair. If you are little more adventurous, there are plenty of apps out there including the “30 Day Plank Challenge”, look for it on your usual app store. The NHS also has a 10 minute home cardio workout available online and it doesn’t require you to have any gym equipment. One of the University’s lecturers, Mark Christie has even got some fun exercises for you to try out.

Paper O-lym-pics

If you can, give friends, family, peers words of encouragement to keep active, as it can be very challenging to keep motivated and physically active. Being physically active also helps with your mental health and wellbeing too.

Other options of getting exercise into your daily routine when stuck at home or halls is to spring clean. Now is a really good opportunity to get those nooks and crannies cleaned that often get neglected. Depending on your type of accommodation, you could aim to do one room, every other day. Sort out anything that is broken or no longer used. Anything that is still good working order, or reusable that you no longer need, you could either sell or give away once it is safe to do so. If you have a garden, may be do some weeding, or mow the lawn. All of these will help burn off a few calories, and help get some exercise into your day.

3. Keep learning

Obviously, if you are current student at the University of Cumbria, you’ll need to keep on track of your programme of study. Keep an eye on Student Global emails, and any other correspondence from your tutors which may come directly to your student email account, or via Blackboard, or via official University social media accounts. Don’t forget that My.Cumbria has lots of really useful resources on there including reading and note-taking, managing your studies, dissertations, being critical etc. My.Cumbria does get regularly updated, so do keep checking on the pages from time to time. There is a page specifically on studying at home during COVID-19.

All staff and students at the University of Cumbria also have free access to LinkedIn Learning, which is a great resource with short (as little as a few minutes) and long (several hours) online courses on a vast range of subjects, such as improving your Microsoft Office skills, presentation skills, procrastination, interview tips and advice, etc. There are also some fun courses available on LinkedIn Learning such as how to play the guitar, piano/keyboard, improving your photographic skills, learning to use music production software, etc.

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You will still need to get your studies and home-life balance right. Take a break from your studies now and then. So why not consider taking up a new hobby or one that you have put on the back-burner? For a start you could try yoga etc (see above). Now could be a good time to try a new recipe, if you are stuck for ideas you could try the BBC who have a great website just for recipes, that include the option to search for recipes based on what ingredients you have (and given how some foodstuffs are hard to get hold of at the moment, this is a great opportunity for you to rummage to the back of your cupboard for things that get seldomly used).

4. Give to others

With your new hobby or extra skill, now is the chance to give to others (where it is safe for you to do so – e.g. potentially those in the same household as you, or wait after the isolation phase has passed). Could you write a poem for a loved one? Or make a cake for your housemates? Can you revise or work on a topic with your peers on your course via Zoom or Skype or similar digital platforms? Are you able to give your time to someone you know is struggling with self-isolation by talking to them on the phone? May be you could consider being a volunteer for an organisation once this epidemic has passsed. There are lots of charities and those in need, that are always looking for volunteers, this could be walking the dogs at a local animal shelter, working at the local foodbank, mowing the lawn for a local elderly neighbour, etc.

5. Pay attention

Although it is good to keep up-to-date with the news about COVID-19, it is worth investing in the time to switch off from the news, and switch off from social media. Mindfulness can be very helpful for you right now. Paying attention to how you are feeling and learning to relax during self-isolation and social distancing can be a good skill to have. There are a number of mindfullness apps available, Headspace if probably the most well known, but there are others (search you normal app based store). The NHS has some useful information on mindfulness that can be found here.

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Final thoughts

Remember that the COVID-19 is a pandemic, but it will come to an end. Life will eventually come back to some sort of normality. Use the tags on this blog to explore other parts of Live Well @ Cumbria. Keep following the updates from reliable sources. Stay safe, stay well. Remember to keep a look out for each other. Take care.

If you have any further suggestions do let us know.

Take Notice – 1 of your “5 Ways to Wellbeing”

Life can easily rush by, and we can miss moments that can make us happy or happier. Taking time to focus on the here and now, can aid with your 5 Ways to Wellbeing.

When we feel low, we often get into a spiral thinking pattern known as rumination, where we often focus on the past. Thoughts that often start with, “If only…“, and focus on lots of regret and disappointment, they include “I should have…“, “I could have…“. Conversely, when we ruminate when we are feeling stressed or anxious, we often fear about future events that haven’t even taken place, thoughts often start with “What if…“. The more we ruminate, the more it impacts on our ability to think straight.

  1. Think of a real problem
  2. Think of a solution
  3. Act upon the solution
  4. Problem fixed

When we ruminate, we repeat and don’t get to an end point

  • Think of a problem
  • Worry about the problem
  • Think about the problem some more
  • Worry about the problem some more
  • Repeat on and on and on and on and on and…. you get the idea.

The more we ruminate, the more habitual it becomes. When negative rumination gets a grip, it can lead to unhelpful behaviours such as self-isolation, heavy drinking, self-harm, comfort eating, etc.

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What can be done about rumination?

  • Try to be more aware of your thoughts processes
    • “I don’t need to go over these thoughts right over and over again right now, I can think about my options when I am in a more positive mood”
    • “I can’t stop my thoughts but I can choose not have ruminations right now”
  • Do something that will take your attention away from your thoughts
    • “What can I do now that will make me feel better?”
    • “Is there someone I can talk to to help me problem solve?”
    • “Instead of focusing on the negatives, is there something else that I can take notice of?”

Taking notice can be in many forms. It can include meditation, mindfulness, and there are plenty of apps that can help you with that. ORCHA is an organisation that reviews health based apps including ones for mindfulness, on the basis of how effective they are. To see some of the apps they recommend, click here. If you are a campus based student at the University of Cumbria, there are mindfulness sessions available at various times of the year, some of which are free to attend.

Of course, at this time of year, there are so many little, but beautiful moments to cherish and take note of. The UK being a temperate climate, makes Autumn a particular good time to take notice. Take a look around outside, and focus on the changes.

This heightened awareness of what is going on around us, can enhance your self-understanding. Taking more notice in our lives doesn’t make our problems go away, but helps us to tune into what is important in our lives, or to give a break from rumination.

Read more about how you can “Take Notice” here

Be Active – 1 of your “5 Ways to Wellbeing”

As mentioned in a previous post, there are 5 ways to wellbeing that you can adopt into your daily or weekly life, that will help you maintain, or improve your physical and mental wellbeing. One of the 5 ways, is to Be Active. Now this doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon, or be pumping 50kg of iron. It can be gentle exercise such as going for a brisk walk, or trying out yoga. Not only is exercise good for your physical health, but it can also help to maintain positive mental health.

The University of Cumbria has a number of initiatives to help you get more active or to stay active. One such initiative is UoC Active, which has been developed in response to a government strategy called an “Active Nation”. At the University there are two main sports centres, one at the Fusehill St campus, and one at the Lancaster campus. There is a small centre at the Ambleside campus. They offer a range of sports, exercise classes, and other leisure activities. Lancaster and Fusehill St campuses have a selection of classes, that at the time of this blog posting, includes, Yoga, Boot Camp, Step n Tone, Zumba, Box Fit, and Latino Dance (not all classes are available on both campuses, check the website for details). If you join the Lancaster campus sports centre, you automatically get to use the facilities at the Salt Ayre Leisure Centre owned by Lancaster City Council, and it has a swimming pool.

On campus, there are several security coded bike shelters to keep your bicycle safer, and are available to staff and students, who use their own bicycle or one of the hired bicycles. Reception also keep spare locks and a pump in case you need to borrow one. If you are bringing your own bicycle from home to University, we strongly recommend that you take out bicycle insurance, and get your bicycle security tagged (most local police stations can help out with this), just in case someone tries to nick your beloved bicycle.

Ashton Memorial in Williamson’s Park, Lancaster

If cycling or gym membership isn’t your thing, there are other ways to increase your activity, these include walking with friends in the many local parks that are close to campus, if you are in London there are some very big parks to visit such as Hyde or Greenwich Park, Lancaster Campus has the Williamson’s Park, Ambleside has Rothay Park, and both the Carlisle campuses are close to Rickerby Park. Visit your local tourist information centre for more information on local walks and leisure activities. If you are at one of the the North-West campuses, then you won’t be too far from the seaside, and a walk along the beach can be a very enjoyable day out. Even if you are in London, then a day trip to Brighton Beach can be achievable.

Roanhead in the Furness Peninisula. Long sandy beaches, sand dunes, and amazing views.

If you enjoy walking, and like dogs, you could volunteer at your local animal shelter. Animal shelters are often in need of volunteer dog walkers to help exercise dogs whilst they are waiting for their forever home. Use a search engine on the internet to find animal shelters near you, and give them a call.

5 Ways to Wellbeing

Keeping well, or improving your wellbeing can sometimes be a challenge, but there is a simple, yet effective framework that you can follow. It is known as the 5 Ways to Wellbeing.

Back in 2008 the UK government commissioned research into Mental Capital and Wellbeing. The findings from the research can be found here, where you can also find the executive summary. From the research, guidance was created, that has become known as the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. The 5 Ways are below:

  • Connect – connect with the people around you. It could be family, friends, colleagues, peers, neighbours. It can take place at your place of study, workplace, or local neighbourhood. Increasing your connectivity (in real, not necessarily through social media) has been shown to improve your mental health. Isolation is a significant risk factor for developing poor mental wellbeing. Get in touch with the Student Union here, as they have lots of societies, sports teams, clubs, and volunteering opportunities that can help you connect with others like you.
  • Be active – Even simple forms of exercise has been shown to improve mental health. A walk in the local park, going for a bicycle ride, doing some gardening can make you feel better about yourself. The University of Cumbria’s campuses are all close to local parks, go out and get to know them if you are studying there. Or if you have access to transport, then the campuses are all close to National Parks, or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that you could go and explore. The University also has Green Minds, a project to encourage staff and students to do some basic gardening, which is great for being active, but also for connecting with others. If you are reading this blog, and not a staff or student member of the University of Cumbria, may be see what is going on at your work or place of study.
  • Take notice – gardening is another great way to do this (see the Green Minds comment above). But why not go to a museum, art gallery, theatre, or cinema.
  • Keep learning – of course, if you are a student, then hopefully you will be learning all the time, but also try something new or rediscover an old interest. We often don’t make time to learn something new, but it can really something that you can do in your own time. As a student at the University of Cumbria, you will have access to LinkedIn Learning, and there are lots of online courses to choose from.
  • Give – do something nice for someone else, a friend, partner, or a stranger. I often encourage students to consider volunteering at the local animal shelter, helps with all 5 ways to wellbeing, taking a dog for a walk can be a new skill, it can increase activity, and help take notice.

Introducing the 5 Ways to Wellbeing in your life, and be beneficial to you. We’ll be posting more on this in the future. Give it a try and see what a difference it can make.