Continuing with part 3 of the five-part series on what my Cov 19 playlist has to say about thriving in tough times, I’m going to focus on protecting your health: (1) being honest and open; (2) have boundaries and goals; (3) seek positivity.

Just before my A levels, The Stone Roses played Spike Island. I faced the same Should I Stay Or Should I Go? dilemma now reserved for going to the shops. My mate Mac went, but I didn’t as getting to Widnes from rural coastal Essex seemed only marginally less difficult than pogoing to the moon. A Stone Roses classic is What The World Is Waiting For, which ends with the great refrain ‘stop the world, I’m getting off!’ Taking a long break from normal life seemed like a nice idea at the time – all the things I could do! But now the world has stopped it’s no joke. Two things are certain. One, we’re all going to have to deal with the fallout of this for a long time. Two, losing our mental health isn’t going to help us cope now or to bounce back. Yet anxiety is so easily spread.

In normal times I sit two metres away from Richard Martin, who knows a thing or two about mental health at work. He runs the Mindful Business Charter, works with the Lord Mayor of London on mental health, has written a book on the subject and trained me as a mental health first aider. I heartily recommend his posts and the other the members of the byrne∙dean wellbeing team too – Uxshely Carcamo and Mark O’Grady.

Takeaways What I can share are a few personal thoughts and experiences. Just as culture is the product of individual behaviour, I’ve seen group anxiety be built mostly from the ground up, person by person. Poor leadership helps built it much faster. We need to do what we can not to build up our problems to the Size Of A Cow (The Wonder Stuff). Much as I love the song and the film, trying to Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life isn’t going to happen either – though I wish a healthy dose of optimism to whoever is responsible for negotiating our new relationship with the EU by the end of this year. But even in that area, is our collective Cov 19 response not surfacing the deep values and ties that unite us after years of fracturing?

We need to make sure we’re helping ourselves and that means checking whether our habits are working for or against us. Some of the routines I rely on in normal times are now about as useful as the family day pass to David Lloyd I won at in the school Christmas raffle. So here are three things I find really help in times of stress:

  • Be honest and open What is to be gained by not opening up to yourself and people who can help you? Do you relate to I Am Afraid (Kirsty Maccoll)? It would be odd if our feelings weren’t up and down. People who bottle all the negativity up pay a high price. I come from a family where we could have had ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ tattooed on our backsides at birth, so I totally get how useful this idea is. But if you’re in danger of going under with all this then you could do far worse than connect with those amazing people in your life who would want to help. Just remember they aren’t mind readers and need you to make the first move.
  • Have boundaries and happiness habits What’s to be gained by being harsh, generating unnecessary pressure or neglecting your own needs? Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer has helped me and countless others many times. A part of being kind to myself what I find difficult is putting in place personal boundaries – my default is to rank other people and the to do list above my own needs. I learnt from a period of illness then unemployment that I need to put some structure and sense of progress into each day. It’s hard to have a sense of rest if you don’t feel you’ve done anything to rest from. So if you’re anything like me, setting up some habits that move you towards a goal or two that will bring you joy is a good idea – and to recognise your progress along the way.
  • Seek positivity Positivity can come from loads of sources: listening to music, reading, studying, chatting with friends all work for me. Anything funny. Are new opportunities and possibilities to be found in the new normal for you – from spending quality time with your fellow inmates, to that long-delayed project to just having more distance. If nothing is going on, then you have time to think. And to read Time To Think, the Wolf Hall triology and Jane Austen. If that doesn’t appeal, try the ‘it could be worse’ game – watch out for our upcoming blog on being a submariner.

    I’ve been enjoying the quiet of a morning run, the glow of sun on my face and the sound of birds. I’m having piano lessons from my son Matthew, at mate’s rates thankfully. If I don’t exercise every day, it is like taking a depressant. Setting up my surroundings to work for me really helps. You may think I’m suggesting having a tidy up, but I’m not. Great if that works for you. People who know me won’t be surprised to hear that being overly tidy freaks me out more than chills me out. So whatever works for you. If you are going to go and tidy up the closet, here are some songs to play...

    As the go to person for solving behavioural problems in a law firm for 20 years, I know some people can be hard work. At the shallow end it may be the behaviour of a Charmless Man (Blur), or more serious Mean (Taylor Swift) behaviours to the deep end of the Sweet But Psycho (Ava Max). Maybe put some sensible limits on people who leave you drained, who focus on problems that you can’t solve and questions that can’t be answered. If you feed off other people’s worrying, and that’s going to drag you both down.

    So if you are struggling with other people for any reason, my advice is to belt out I Will Survive and try not to waste time and energy dwelling on it. More helpful to be thankful for the social distance and take the R.E.M. song below to heart.

Other songs

Every Night, Paul McCartney 

Living Well Is The Best Revenge, R.E.M.

Right By Your Side, Eurythmics

Reach For Tomorrow, Ella Fitzgerald

Something Kind Of Ooooh, (or anything by) Girls Aloud – instant joy

Waitin' On A Sunny Day, Bruce Springsteen

You Can’t Always Get What You Want, The Rolling Stones

13 (There Is A Light), U2


Good books

Sleep and Social Distancing - My Isolated Life In A Hampshire Hamlet, Jane Austen aka Persuasion 

This Too Will Pass: Anxiety in a Professional World, Richard Martin

Time To Think, Nancy Kline

 Wolf Hall trilogy, Hilary Mantel