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First Day Nerves: Returning to Work During a Pandemic

Anyone else remember how novel it was to work from home (WFH) for those first few days of lockdown? Many of us were casually checking in on friends and family making sure everyone was safe and feeling well, while trying our best to continue to deliver the same level of dedication as in the office, from our dining room tables, the sofa or the ironing board.

On the other side of the coin, 6.2 million staff in England were supported through the coronavirus job retention scheme and a further 2 million self-employed people signing up to the self-employed income support scheme (statistics up to 31st May 2020).

One thing is certain and that’s that we’ve all had to deal with a whole host of challenges and uncertainty over the last three months, whether furloughed or WFH.

Now those early days seem like a distant memory and as the lockdown slowly starts to unfurl we’re now facing more changes, as we are able to return to the office, shops are reopening and we’re able to go out and meet friends and family more regularly (while adhering to social distancing).

But for those of us starting to take our first tentative steps back to the office, what can we expect back at the office? The Government has provided guidelines and made it clear that employers are legally responsible for making workplaces safe for their staff to return to.

Over at Ford, bosses have introduced new ways of checking up on their staff, from a text to check on their health to thermal scanners and wristbands.

We asked our contacts to share how they were making things safe for their teams, as offices and services re-open. Here is what they had to say:

Over at Newark and Sherwood District Council, staff have been sent a survey to find out how they are feeling about the prospect of returning to the office. The council has also completed a corporate risk assessment and site assessments, consulted with Unions and created a suite of resources and video guides for staff and customers, to highlight the changes they will be making and new procedures that will be put in place.

John Robinson, Chief Executive at Newark and Sherwood District Council, said: “It is so important that our staff are kept updated of what we are doing behind the scenes so I have been sharing plans in my weekly update.

“While the world after Covid-19 will be changed, we are taking everything into consideration to ensure our staff are supported in any return to the workplace so they can continue to support the district in the process of rebuilding, restoring and rehabilitating the community.”

Cameron Ford, Director at Reflect Recruitment, said: “We’re fortunate to work on a paperless system and our telephones work anywhere so when lockdown began we just took our phones home and have been able to provide our clients and candidates with a near normal service since. 

“Our business is all about people, we’ve really missed seeing them so look forward to reopening.

“We have everything in place and are installing buzzer entry to ensure social distancing, screens at reception, signage for the offices, two metre distancing within the office and some have great branded sanitiser stands, made by a local client.”

Steff Wright, Chairman at Gusto Group said: “In my view the most important thing for business leaders to do prior to returning to work is to reimagine how they can integrate digital technology into their business to enable them to operate safely and in line with the new behaver patterns we are seeing from customers and clients.

“Expecting to continue as before is a recipe for failure, it is a time to be bold and pivot towards improved business models which are more sustainable taking on board all the issues such as climate change, staff health and wellbeing and the black lives matter agenda.”

Carrie Boughtwood, Director at APT Legal (Wills & Powers of Attorney), said: “When lockdown first happened, I was concerned that my clients would not want to deal with matters over the phone or by virtual methods because it is such a personal and sensitive subject.

“I have found, thankfully, that clients have been more than happy to speak to me virtually, but I have found working in lockdown extremely stressful, trying to make sure clients affairs are looked after, but also that we are all keeping safe.

“With the easing of the rules, I am worried that some people will not see the point in keeping a safe distance. However, I will make sure all clients know that I am still keeping the same safety measures in place to ensure that my clients, staff, myself and my family are safe and not put in harm’s way.”

Carrie is not alone in worrying about what the “new normal” will lead to. In a recent story by the BBC, a charity worker from Northern Ireland explained how her panic attacks stopped when the coronavirus pandemic started, but now things are opening up again, her anxiety has returned.

It is clear that as employers and service providers we will need to listen to the needs of our teams and our customers and be open to their input to shape the “new normal”. And while it may take some time to adapt to new procedures and guidelines, we owe it one other to ensure the safe and smart running of our businesses and organisations. After all, we’re still all in this together.

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Your End is Not Defined by Your Start

For many people we look at what happened to them earlier in life as a reason for why they are shaped the way they are and for me this is no different. I wouldn’t exactly say I had the worst upbringing ever, but I certainly had a handful of things that you wouldn’t want anyone to go through.

I suppose the first thing was my dad leaving when I was six, that in itself probably wouldn’t have been too bad but it was the whole “taking sides” thing that followed; with me being Team Mum and my brother being Team Dad. The main issue here is that my brother chose to be on Team Dad, but even if I had wanted to team dad only had space for one son.

And that’s the way it went for about four years. I believed the Lee had dad and I had mum and that’s all fine, dad didn’t have space for another kid on his team so it was nothing personal. Then my first sister was born and two years later my second. Team Dad was now four strong and team mum was left to the two of us. I remember the exact moment I realised that it wasn’t that there was no more space on the team, there was just no space for me.

Around this time, Team Mum became “Team Nan” instead, as mum started her own business from our living room in order to keep a roof over our heads (dad wasn’t supporting us financially), and my nan stepped in as my primary caregiver. This was good for a couple of years and I can’t honestly say there was any real struggle, except the crazy amounts of poverty that come with your mum mortgaging the house to launch the business, but I was shielded from most of that at this point too and despite how much she struggled my mum always put food on the table (well actually it was the ironing board, her business was on the table!)

High school however would be the place where everything would change. I went to an ok high school to begin with, I chose to move away from my friends to be in the same high school as my brother… can’t think why I would have done that! The school was all boys though and when there weren’t any girls to distract the early bloomers with they took their frustration out on me, I didn’t stick around long enough to find out if there was a culture of bullying at this school or not, I had a knife pulled on me in the October of Year 8 and I ran away never to return.

Instead I headed to a school which I later found out was the 14th worst in the country. Things went well for a little while, but when another kid followed from my previous school and told everyone why I had left they labelled me a victim and it was like the bullies could smell the fear on me from a distance. I was first beaten up for being poor or knowing the answers to questions (which in the 14th worst school in the country isn’t difficult!) Then I developed an eating disorder and piled on a lot of weight and was bullied for being fat.

I developed a sense of humour as a way to keep myself out of trouble – with the bullies at least, got me in a load of trouble with the teachers but they gave out detentions rather than kicks to the head – and as a result my school grades began to sink. In Year 10 my attendance to school was 32% because I was just too terrified to go in, outside of school was safer, or so I thought.

Then one day I was out playing football (wearing my school PE kit because we couldn’t afford any sports clothes) I was accosted by this one older kid with around 20 of his mates. I was forced to the floor, beaten and forced to eat grass whilst half my school looked on and did nothing. After that day I lost the ability to eat anything green until way into my twenties.

Thankfully after that summer we moved 45 minutes away from Liverpool to a little town called Southport. I turned up with a scouse accent and a shaved head and I’m glad to say bullying didn’t follow me there. However, all of this experience so far had led me to have non-existent self-esteem so in the new school I was wary of everyone and anyone, I made friends, but I was always waiting for them to turn on me or leave me.

The same was true when I finally got my first girlfriend at 17. I was convinced she was only with me because she pitied me and always thought she was going to leave me. So, to stop this from happening, and 100% in the belief that no one would ever love me again, I proposed to her 10 months into our relationship, two months before I was even 18; we were married two years later.

I’d love to call this the happy ending, but I was still 100% convinced it was all a big ruse and the You’ve Been Framed crew were going to pop up at any minute. My entire relationship was based on the idea that I wasn’t worthy of love, that she didn’t really love me and that I was the worst human in the world.

None of this was true, yet. In fact, the first two parts never became true so I had to prove the last one so she could see it and I cheated on her. I told myself all sorts of reasons why I did this at the time, tried to justify it, tried to push the blame away from myself, but the truth is no matter how much she showed love, I was blind to it and when someone else showed me nothing but lust I mistook this for true love.

The affair didn’t last, I’ve too much of a guilty conscience and told her about it literally two weeks in. We broke up for a while, got back together, I cheated again, we broke up, we got back together and finally, knowing that I was probably going to cheat again, I broke it off; she deserved so much more than me but I wasn’t ready to step up.

By the end of the relationship we had two kids together who were 2 and 4. Out of this relationship I swapped a wife who was dependable but reserved when it came to expressing her feelings, for falling hard for another person who would declare their love for me in overt and poetic ways but was chaotic and unpredictable. I loved one side of this, but I couldn’t handle the other.

But hey, I threw myself into it despite knowing that I could not exist with such instability and ended up in quite possibly the most destructive year of my life. I am reluctant to call it an abusive relationship, the truth is we were really bad for each other when we weren’t busy being good for each other. But I was manipulated into a position where I ended up cutting ties to all of my friends and family, and when all I had left was the girl, the girl left.

I know in hindsight that a lot of my isolation has been down to my own actions but I found myself in a position where I literally had no one, with the exception of my two kids who I couldn’t even be a good dad to. They deserved so much better. I hit rock bottom and I allowed myself to believe the worst, that the world and my kids would be better off without me. So deeply entrenched in this belief I concluded that the way for my kids to have a better dad was for me to step aside and make space for one to appear; so in August 2009 I made an attempt on my own life.

I didn’t leave a note, instead I called my mum to say goodbye, we weren’t really on speaking terms due to the whole ex-girlfriend situation, but determined for this not to be her last phone call with her son she, the police and an ambulance soon turned up at my house. Reluctantly I let them take me to the hospital.

Once there my mum was busy asking all the questions no suicidal person wants to hear “how could you do this?” “How could you be so selfish?” “Did you not think about your boys?” I didn’t want to hear those questions at the time, but let’s look back at them now…

How could you do this? Well, I really saw no other option, I was in so much pain and I didn’t want to feel like that anymore. Plus, I believed I had lost ALL my friends and family so I didn’t want to start all over again with no one to turn to and no support.

How could you be so selfish? I didn’t see it as selfish, in fact isn’t it more selfish to want me to live with this pain? When someone is suffering from a terminal illness how many times do we take relief in their death because they’re no longer suffering? Did I not deserve that relief? I’d already alienated everyone so who would have even missed me anyway?

Did you not think about your boys? Yes. All the time. And I believed they deserved so much more than the waste of space that I was. I know you’ll never understand it but in that moment the truth is distorted so far that you can 100% believe that you are doing this FOR them and that it is a good thing. I hate that you can’t understand that, but I also hope you’re never able to because the only way to see this viewpoint is to stand at the precipice yourself.

But as I said, on that day I didn’t want to answer these questions, so I ran away from the hospital. On the way I bumped into one of the friends I had alienated, a friend who himself had been in an almost identical position 18 months earlier when I had walked with him to stop himself from killing himself, held him, listened to him and stayed until he was safe. He saw me, turned to his girlfriend and said “leave him, he’s just doing it for attention!”

Thankfully I carried on walking and ended up at the door of my best mate (who at this point was not speaking to me) and I said to him the words I wished I had said BEFORE the attempt. “Mate, I know we’re not speaking, but I’m really struggling and I need my best friend right now.” Without hesitation he took me back to the hospital and stayed with me until I was discharged, then looked after me for a few days afterwards and continued to check-in with me regularly.

I’d love to say that after being pulled back from the precipice I immediately woke up and was a renewed man, but life rarely works like that. Instead I went on contemplating new ways to kill myself and believed it was only a matter of time. Between this and sleep the only other things I did was play computer games and watch movies, the former passed the time, the latter saved my life.

One night I was watching a French film called The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, a true story about a man with locked-in syndrome who could only communicate through blinking. Using his blinks he wrote a book with the help of a rather ingenious nurse who worked out a system for him to produce words. In the book (and now the film) there is a part where he goes to the beach with his kids, they are running around and playing he, he – strapped into a wheelchair and hooked up to all manner of life support – can only watch as their life goes on and his seemingly doesn’t, that hit me hard.

However, what came next hit me even harder, in that scene he says the following line “Even a sketch, even a shadow, even a fragment of a dad is still a dad”. In that one moment everything I thought was thrown into a new and different light. My kids DID deserve a better dad than me, but instead of moving to one side and allowing this man to emerge I decided to dig in and create the man right where I stood. To turn the sketch into a life model, to be the man who casts the shadow, to take all the fragments and make them whole.

And for 11 years that is what I have done. Baby step by baby step. And as I sit here typing this, I can hear my two boys – now 13 and 15, practically men themselves – play games together (in their respective rooms playing Fortnight over WIFI!). I have got to see them grow. They have got to see me grow too, into the dad that they deserve. That old relationship ended and less than a year later I met the love of my life, a woman who I will be celebrating 10 years with in just over a month. That best friend who took me back to hospital got to be my best man at the wedding and has just had a kid of his own who is my honorary niece. My mum? Well she got to have many more phone calls, many more hugs, a rejuvenated relationship. And that kid who all those years ago was bullied into poor mental health for having the answers in class? Well I know stand up in front of classes of kids and teach them how to find the answers for their mental health.

Dave Cottrell is a mindset coach and public speaker. He is the host of mental health podcast Master the Mind, Master Anything. Search @MindsetByDave on all social media platforms.

 

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10 Good Reasons Why Every Man Should Read This Blog!

‘Being a British man means that the idea of talking therapy or counselling with a stranger is like being asked to run naked through a funeral!’ This quote from one of the contributors in my new men’s mental health book, Big Boys Don’t Cry?, sums up one of the biggest challenges men face: the difficulty of opening up about what’s going on inside our heads. And yet, we know how crucial this is for our mental health. ‘Talking’ was number one of the top 10 tips given by the 60 men – and partners of men – who shared their stories of mental health struggles for our book.

Download the Big Boys Don’t Cry? e-book

The backgrounds of our contributors are very diverse – lawyers, postmen, soldiers, construction workers, Big Issue sellers, businessmen, former professional sportsman – which highlights that anyone can be affected by mental illness at any stage in their lives. Mental illness simply does not discriminate – it’s very inclusive. 

The causes of the mental illness described by men in our book also vary greatly: loss and bereavement, childhood bullying, a chemical imbalance, the violence of war, the breakdown of a marriage, sexual abuse – but they do share common ways of combatting mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.

The men in Big Boys Don’t Cry? provide over 200 tips and advice for staying mentally healthy, aimed at other men (and women) who may be struggling. We have boiled these down into the following 10 Top Lessons:  

1. Talking – without doubt the most important step you can take. Nearly every man in the book stresses how crucial it is to reach out to family and friends when you’re struggling, however impossible it may seem at the time. Not one of the men said they’d regretted opening up about their problems and many of them said it had literally saved their life.

2. Therapy – following naturally on from ‘talking’ is the advice from men to seek counselling. Whether it is group therapy arranged by your local National Health Service, a peer-group or one-to-one therapy with a private therapist, the benefits of sharing your negative thoughts, previously locked inside your head, with an impartial and non-judgmental listener/s are immeasurable. Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, which helps manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave, was a very popular approach taken by the men in this book.

3. Medication – many of the men writing in the book admit to feeling sceptical and afraid at first of taking antidepressants – often SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Citaloptam and Fluoxetine or Prozac – but found that medication really helped lift them out of a dark place. Combining prescribed medicine with another of the activities found on this list, especially talking therapy, is recommended as the best approach.

4. Visit GP – often one of the first steps that the men in the book took. Speaking to their doctor was the start of their recovery and just having a trusted, neutral person listen to their problems and offer guidance and support made the effort to pick up the phone and call the local surgery extremely worthwhile.

5. Mindfulness – the simple act of focusing on your breathing and learning to be present – not ruminating on the past or worrying about the future – is a surprising and enlightening gamechanger described by many of the men in the book who had previously thought meditation was, as one writer put it, ‘airy-fairy’. It’s definitely worth giving it a go, if you haven’t tried it before.

6. Exercise – whether it’s an individual activity like running, going to the gym or taking a yoga class – or a team sport like football, rugby and cricket – a large number of men pointed to the proven benefits of physical exercise. Despite often struggling with fatigue, listlessness and a lack of motivation, they found that even five minutes of exercise released those helpful endorphin chemicals that made them feel a whole lot better.

7. Self-Acceptance/Self-Compassion – learning to tame your inner-critic and accept yourself for who you are, ‘warts and all’, was seen as a key step in recovery for many of the book’s contributors. Being kind and compassionate to yourself, lowering your high standards and trying to avoid the pitfall of perfectionism were common themes within the men’s stories.

8. Avoid Alcohol or Drug Abuse – the message from men in the book is clear: turning to drink and drugs (or any other self-medication) to avoid your problems, although very tempting and understandable, is simply not the answer. Those men who have recovered, or are recovering from addiction, say that they only began to get better mentally when they became sober. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and their 12 Steps programme is cited as a great support for many men struggling with alcohol addiction.

9. Faith – having a belief in something greater than yourself – be it God, Buddha, Allah or another higher power – is a great comfort to many of those who shared their story. In a world which places such a high value on commercial and material success, having something spiritual in their lives gave these men a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

10. Hobbies – finding something to be passionate about – just to distract yourself from the ‘grind in your mind’ – was recommended by many of the men in the book. Photography, gardening, Sudoku, a pet dog – whatever you’re interested in – try and make time for old hobbies and be open to new ones too.

If we’re ever going to reduce the number of men tragically taking their own lives, we need to encourage men to open up, not to ‘man up’. Easier said than done, of course with our traditional ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to expressing emotions.

One of the book’s contributors, 57-year-old Gregory, explains how he used to think that, ‘Emotional expression was not for men like me: an ex-rugby player, mixed martial arts and professional businessman. Talk to a stranger? Talk to a therapist? Talk about my feelings? Feelings, as far as I was concerned at the time, were for others.’ But after seeking treatment for depression and suicidal ideation, Gregory describes how he cried every day for 18 months. ‘Looking back, I know I should have talked and cried a long time ago. Big boys don’t cry? This one does and is proud of it. Vulnerability is strength.’

Big Boys Don’t Cry? by Fabian Devlin and Patrick Addis is available to buy now as an e-book from bit.ly/BBDCbuy (£10). 10% of proceeds from the book will be donated to mental health charities, CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) and Sport in Mind

Follow us on Twitter (@BBDCbook), Facebook and Instagram (bigboysdontcrybook) #DontManUpOpenUp

Fabian has worked in communications for nearly 20 years, publicising major organisations like Sky, ITN and The National Lottery, heading up the comms team for national children’s charity Chance to Shine and, most recently, setting up his own freelance consultancy, Devlin Communications.

Fabian is passionate about mental health and, following his own experience of anxiety and depression, he has co-curated a men’s mental health book, ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry?’. The collection of 60 stories from men from different backgrounds with lived experience of a range of mental illnesses, was launched in May 2020 (bigboysdontcry.co.uk). Fabian lives with his wife and daughter in South West London and enjoys mindful meditation, playing cricket and walking his King Charles Cavalier spaniel Star.

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Work/Life (Off) Balance

I wanted to share some of my more recent/ongoing experiences of mental health so throughout the week I’ve been jotting down a few thoughts on my Google Keep notes app (other note-type apps are available), and what it has inadvertently highlighted to me is that there are many different issues and personal perspectives that I could cover and discuss, and perhaps I may get the opportunity to write another in the future, but this time around I’m going to focus on my work/life balance.

For most, struggling with their work/life balance means that it’s usually weighted more towards one than the other and therefore, needs to be rebalanced. For me it’s a little different. My work life and personal life are actually pretty equal and well balanced, it’s just that right now it seems like I’m not able to give either of them the time and attention they need, and it feels like I’m failing both every single day.

I’m generally quite a positive-minded person, but that constant feeling of failure can be extremely draining and no matter how much sleep I get I never feel re-energised. Not that we get a great deal of sleep at the moment anyway, but I can’t blame that on our sleepless 6-month-old daughter as my wife gets even less sleep than me and still manages to do an amazing job of comforting and feeding our daughter throughout the night and into the following day.

Instead, most nights after the bedtime routine has finished, I’m in my home studio working away on various projects until the early hours of the morning, fuelled by sugary espresso’s and consumed by the need to just DO MORE! For work, for other local projects I’m involved with, for the many passion projects I have in various stages of development, but ultimately to try and provide for my family and earn a living to build a more comfortable life for us all.

It’s highly unlikely that I’ll need to choose one over the other, but if I did, I’m pretty sure my head and my heart would say the same. My family is so very precious to me, especially after we defied the odds (and the doctors) by having two beautiful daughters after being told (more than once) that we wouldn’t be able to have children. So, I want to be present and a part of as much as possible for my daughters and be there to support my wife whenever I’m needed.

Working from home during lockdown got me used to being around them more. Even though I was out in the garage we’ve recently converted to a home studio, I knew they were right there, and I could see and be with them at any time. I would come in every lunchtime and take over so my wife could have a break, or just make lunch so she had one less thing to worry about. I look back at this as one of the few positive experiences from the whole pandemic situation. Going back to work recently meant I had less distractions, but it left me feeling emotionally (not socially) distanced from them.

On the other side of the equation, we all know it’s a very difficult time for many businesses. Not only do I have the pressure of doing everything I can to ensure that Brand Newark can survive and adapt, which we seem to have managed so far, I also feel an over-whelming need to support other local businesses because I know I have the ability to help. Thankfully, a lot of our clients have risen to the challenge and found their own way through to their new normal. Still, this doesn’t stop me wanting to do more, and this is where my internal struggles begin, as I know I could do more but it always seems to be at the expense of losing out on family time, and I can already feel that I’m in danger of letting the balance tip too far in the wrong direction.

This is where my positive, pragmatic, problem-solving brain usually kicks in and comes up with the perfect solution but finding a fix for my daily feelings of failure remains an ongoing process. I realise that I still have so much to be thankful for and will continue to focus on the positives until the perfect balance can be found.

Paul Andrew is the coffee-loving Creative Director of local design and marketing studio Brand Newark, member of the NYP Social Committee and generally a friend to the Newark business community.

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Chess at 100MPH

Motor racing is more than just being able to drive fast, it’s about consistency, preparation, strategy, mental stamina and more. Excelling at anything, at work or home, calls for these keystones.

When I started racing at 11 years old, I very quickly realised that I would need to deal with disappointment: being pushed off the circuit; not achieving my goals; and not being on the top step. These setbacks all called for mental resilience, not that I knew what that was at the time.

The resilience I developed from this young age helped me understand that life is bigger than that one moment, even though it may not seem like it at that time.

Despite the title, racing is more than just being fast, you need to have the ability to react to ever changing circumstances, with more than one opponent to consider in your strategy for passing them with the aim of winning. 

Almost all of the mind work is undertaken off the circuit. You know that there are drivers who will use different techniques to try and unsettle you. You blank that out.

Simulation runs help with getting the circuit imprinted into your sub-conscious. This is reinforced with quiet “visualisation” and “mindfulness”. The visualisation is not just of the circuit and racing around it, it is also thinking of opportunities and options, identifying how to make a move and what to do when this may not work, maximising the input of limited time on the track.

These techniques can drive areas where you need a focus into your subconsciousness. Combined with the mindfulness it creates “normality” in your sub-conscious freeing up space in the conscious brain for the out of the ordinary, sudden things. Lots of people have this sub-conscious operating state without realising, how many of you have driven home and not remembered what happened en route? It was your sub-conscious that got you there.

Meditation and yoga help to clear the mind, centre you and control your breathing. They can help to remove and block out the negative thoughts, keeping emotions in check, stop the mind wandering and train the sub-conscious to focus on the task in hand. 

I work on pressure training, created through artificial pressurised states. I develop an internal rhythm with that pressure state so that my mind learns to adapt to it, working and controlling it is all part of coping with pressure.

Fitness levels enhance the ability to control and stay focussed in the car as well as mental ability, so weights and cardiovascular workouts are part of my day to day life off the track.

You need to have continuous self-belief without being arrogant. Internalised self-proclamation and belief adds to your positive mental strength and wellbeing.

All of this preparation helps to free up space in your conscious mind to deal with the unknown variables in the multi-player chess game of the race.

At the race meeting elements of the above are recounted in my head, just to provide final preparation. I use music to help me focus and get my mind into the “zone” for the race before I head to the grid and get into the car.

With an installation over and before the lights come on, I sit there with the mind free and the car set up ready to go. Once the lights go red there is nothing else in my mind or vision, my sole focus is on them and my reaction time to get off the line.  

Lights out – “go go go” the brain kicks into the zone. I know what is coming up circuit-wise but not what may happen with the competition. There’s no adrenaline rush, whether on pole or at the back, as the mental training and control puts me into the right space and focus on the task in hand with no nerves. So begins the first move of the chess game, look at what is happening in front and behind, assess what others are doing and maybe thinking of doing, have no fear as to what may happen and make your move. You only know if you have it right when you get out of the corner. That’s why you need a clear mind as to the “normal” and a consciousness that is at its optimum for “out of the ordinary”.

Incidents happen, it’s racing. This is where the mental strength comes in. It’s happened, blank it out and keep a positive statement of mind focussed on what needs to happen next. What has happened is gone and consigned to history on that lap or maybe the whole race.

It may be worth a brief mental review as you approach the location again or more than likely only worth the analysis of what has happened to learn for the next race.

Matthew Cowley is a professional Racing Driver/Driver Coach – Mustang British GT4 Driver – and mental health champion at Shawmind

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Weep And The World Weeps With You!

As we approach the halfway point of the year you could be forgiven in thinking ‘I’ve had enough’. We should be looking forward to a summer of sport on the TV, holidays abroad and lazy weekend afternoons in the beer garden, relaxing with friends. Sadly, it’s looking unlikely that we’ll be able to enjoy any of these things for a while as the ‘new normal’ doesn’t allow it.

A cold pint, sharing conversation with others and indulging in your favourite summer sport are vitally important to your mental health, although I imagine the significance of these – and other down-time activities – were not truly appreciated until they were no longer allowed. These simple things in life provided comfort and distraction from life’s stresses – and when they are taken away they leave a gap; and that’s when emotions and mental health are tested. An idle mind can play cruel games; without the positive and usual distractions, it is easy to be overcome with negative emotion and a sense of loss.

Thankfully, it feels more acceptable to discuss mental and emotional health than it did a decade ago. I believe, this is partly due to the effort of Prince’s William and Harry who have not only been honest and frank about their own thoughts and feelings, but have also invested a great deal of time and effort into promoting mental health services and the importance of talking therapy.

Despite the Princes’ work, for a lot of men, sharing emotion is still something they are embarrassed to talk about. During a counselling session, I often encourage men to explore what is holding them back and the response is often a fear of being judged or shamed; something which a counsellor will never do. In the safety of a therapy room – and once a trusting relationship has been established – I am able to empower men to appreciate and understand their inner self. And guess what? Men cry! There is nothing embarrassing, weak or negative about a man crying – it is a gateway to personal relief and self-exploration – and leads to many light-bulb moments.

In times of crisis, it is important that we all appreciate life from a different perspective. We can choose to go with flow – and accept the things we can’t change, or we can fight against it and waste personal time and effort. Life now is about making the best of a bad situation and making positive choices which benefit everyone. Going to the pub is no longer an option, but they will be open soon. Foreign holidays are cancelled, but you can enjoy local green spaces with the family and no doubt – when it is safe to do so – the terraces of every football club will come alive with the sound of enthusiastic fans once more.

It is with football that I first remember seeing a man cry – not just a little tear, but a full-on lip-wobbling gush. A 98th minute yellow card, during England’s epic 1990 World Cup semi-final defeat to West Germany, had the world gripped with ‘Gazzamania’. The broadcast media took delight in not only showing the iconic footballer crying, but thousands of fans expressing their disappointment. The following morning, a British newspaper printed the headline ‘Weep and the world weeps with you’.

Emotion is something deeply personal, but when it needs to come out there should be nothing to be afraid of; the last few months have been tough on everyone… Support others and you will be supported yourself; you don’t need permission, or even a yellow card to open up.

Duncan Ellison retrained to become a counsellor following over 25 years in the media, broadcast and live event industries. He lives in Newark and has recently qualified to teach counselling skills and theory to aspiring therapists.

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Children’s Mental Health During Coronavirus

I work as a mental health researcher. That means one of my favourite things to do is look stuff up on the internet. And the pandemic has given me plenty of things to look up: signs, symptoms, restrictions, rules, not to mention an array of unfamiliar terms like ‘social distancing’, ‘contact tracing’ and ‘PPE’. 

It is all rather…. worrying.  And not just for me. Save the Children found almost one in four children are dealing with feelings of anxiety and many are at risk of lasting psychological distress. They also reported that up to 65% of children are struggling with boredom and feelings of isolation.

For children who already have conditions like anxiety or depression, the impact is greater. Childline reported an increased demand for counselling sessions and Young Minds found 83% of children who had a history of mental health needs had mental health that became ‘a bit’ or ‘much’ worse because of the pandemic.

It is no wonder, really. Overnight, schools closed, normal routines changed, and children suddenly spent most of their time indoors, away from friends and extended family. On top of this, there was also the virus to worry about. For those unfortunate enough to experience someone close to them becoming ill or dying, it was more than a worry.

Even before the pandemic, at least 10% of children and young people had a mental health problem. That’s equivalent to three pupils in every classroom. Over the last five years referrals to specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health services have increased 26%. This means it is harder to access services, even for young people who have self-harmed or attempted suicide.

There is no way of knowing the long-term effects of the epidemic on children. Some may stay resilient, but it could impair the development of others. This is especially true of children who are already more vulnerable because of living in poverty or having stressful family circumstances.

If services were struggling before this happened, who knows how they might deal with a further increase in demand?  It is crucial there are appropriate mental health services in place for children both during and after the pandemic, and despite the economic repercussions expected from the coronavirus, governments should invest in mental health resources.

We can help our children through this time though, talking to them about how they are feeling is one way. You don’t need to know everything, just being there and being reassuring can help. Trying to keep to some kind of schedule can also be helpful, keeping a consistent routine can give the structure that helps children feel safe. Getting outside and going to the park has become a major part of our day, or if we cannot, keeping ourselves active indoors – spontaneous dance parties are a personal favourite!

I also love books, they are a brilliant way to help; research shows that children who read with someone feel calmer and happier. During the pandemic and beyond they can be a superb way to start conversations about tough subjects or emotions that children might be feeling.

Stories also have the power to transport you into unknown worlds or other people’s lives. This can be helpful in letting children switch off from any stress and worry they might be experiencing. Even without the mental health benefits, it teaches children about the world around them and helps them develop imagination and empathy – and who wouldn’t want that?

Ruth Spence is a mental health researcher in psychology based in south east London. She is currently trying to write fiction and get a picture book for children who are depressed: Charlie & The Black Dog published. You can follow her on twitter @Roothes.

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Local Man Goes All Out in Support of Cricket and Mental Health

Cricket enthusiasts from across the county are being invited to bowl around the clock on Summer Solstice to raise funds for Farndon Cricket Club and leading mental health and wellbeing charity, Shawmind.

The Sunrise to Sunset Bat-a-thon has been organised by Martyn Hill (30) and is due to take place on Saturday 20th June 2020 from sun up at 4:43am until the sun sets at 9:21pm.

The challenge will call on support from local amateur cricketers of all abilities who are missing the sport, to step up and bowl against Martyn in 20-minutes slots, while adhering to social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

Participants are asked to bring their own cricket balls and to make a donation of a minimum of £20 which will be split between Farndon Cricket Club and Shawmind.

Martyn, who is a Chance to Shine Schools Officer and Junior Outlaws coach at Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, has been a member of Farndon Cricket Club since he was 11 and has found solace in the game and its community during some difficult periods.

He said: “Cricket is a big part of my life; when I’m not promoting cricket in schools for Chance to Shine, I’m on the field coaching our junior team or playing for Farndon 1st team in the South Nottinghamshire Cricket League.

“Before the pandemic forced us all into lockdown, I was looking forward to this summer season where an afternoon playing on the field with my mates usually helps ease away any stresses and anxieties and reinvigorates me

“In the past I have struggled with my mental health and alongside support from family and friends, cricket has always been a major part of my recovery; it’s my happy place and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”

Martyn has set aside four one-hour sessions (8:53am, 11:58am, 2:38pm and 5:43pm) exclusively for Farndon’s junior members, which includes the club’s county age group representatives.

He added: “We have a really successful junior programme at Farndon, so I want to allow those youngsters with a real passion for the sport to be able to showcase their abilities during the challenge.”

Peter Wingrove, Operations Director at Shawmind, said: “We are delighted that Martyn is fundraising for us in addition to his beloved cricket club. Team activities, particularly sports, are a great way for people to support one another when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.

“We know that guys traditionally find it difficult to open up and talk about their feelings, so we’re pleased to see how comfortable Martyn is about talking things though with his teammates, he sets a great example.”

Newark-based Shawmind, a charity which supports those experiencing mental ill health, has adapted its weekly community outreach programme – which usually includes a men-only ManCave group, into an online, telephone, text and email support service during lockdown.

The charity has received more and more calls for support as the lockdown has continued and expects call numbers to increase even as the guidelines ease over the coming weeks and months.

Anyone wishing to take part in the Sunrise to Sunset Bat-a-thon needs to make a minimum £20 donation here: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/sunrise-to-sunset-batathon

To secure their 20-minute bowling slot participants are asked to email william_feehily@hotmail.co.uk. Slots are booked on a first come first served basis.

Donations are also welcome from those who want to support the causes but who don’t want to take part.

Anyone wanting to see how the challenge goes can view updates on Facebook via the event page Sunrise to Sunset Batathon or Shawmind’s Facebook page.

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