All posts by Frances Coleman-Williams

The online world

While many may be revelling in being more connected than ever through Facebook, Instagram, WhatApp, TikTok, email, Zoom, text, Hangouts or Slack. I’m reflecting on how it must feel if this is a hostile world for you.

No escape

Bullying used to be a thing that only happened in the playground, the streets or the work-place, as wrong as these types of bullying are, at least the victim can go home and retreat to a place of safety. As our world gradually shutdown we turned to the online world to keep our society going. What if you’re a victim of cyber-bullying, there’s no escape, you bully follows you around in your pocket.

A report in 2017 showed, of young people who experienced cyber-bullying:

  • 23% turned to self harming behaviours such as cutting
  • 24% had suicidal thoughts
  • 10% attempted to take their own lives

Just imagine being a victim of cyber-bullying, being told to stay at home. The only way to connect with your friends or colleagues is via technology but this is how the bullies reach you. There’s no escape, so how do you build a support network?

Multiple connections

The online world, for some people, is a daunting one. Being connected 24/7 isn’t comfortable for everyone. How many apps do we have connecting us? These notifications pinging multiple times a day! Is this really a positive thing? If you’re an introvert, a little energy is sapped with every app notification, this can be exhausting!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful that I’m more in contact with the people that matter to me but do I really need to be a member of 9 WhatApp groups? The fact there are multiple people asking questions online such as “how do I see a message without marking it as “read”?” should make us realise many people are anxious or at least ambivalent about being connected!

A barrier can make you confident

Having a screen as a barrier can make some people feel more confident and they may say things they wouldn’t ordinarily say face-to-face; this could be used for good, perhaps online counselling has worked positively for some people – I’ve certainly found it easier than I thought I would!

However, recently my mental health has been knocked by how I was treated on a Zoom call. Perhaps the screen helped the other person feel more confident, whereas the screen exaggerated my discomfort and I felt I could’t stand up for myself. I wondered if I’d over reacted but the facts speak for themselves, I suffered online harassment. Now I question the safety of this space.

THINK before you post

When you post something on social media do you always stop and THINK about why you’re doing it? Is it to share something that’s:

  • True
  • Helpful
  • Inspiring
  • Necessary
  • Kind

Although I make sure the things I post fit these categories, I’m not going to deny, “likes” give me a bit of a buzz! But it’s important, we don’t translate that “like” into “that means someone likes me“, because it therefore means, if no one likes your post, no one likes you and this simply isn’t true, it’s all about the social media algorithm! We cannot use the online world to boost our self esteem or self confidence!

Remember if you post anything, it will be there forever, no matter if you make it private or delete it later, it’s still there, if someone wants to find it, they will.

Accessibility

People have been asking for the work place to be made accessible for years. In March, when the governments asked for everyone to work from home, IT departments across the world worked day and night to make this happen and it did! Now, people with various disabilities can work remotely and access the work place like never before, this is fantastic! Why did is take a global pandemic for this to happen?!

Use the right technology

We do need to be careful that we’re not just using technology for the sake of it. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean we have to! There’s so much choice, it’s sometimes a case of using what’s right! For example, WhatApp is a communication tool, for chatting and sharing snaps, nothing else. Equally Facebook is not the place to go for accurate news. Share photos and catch up with your friends on social media, gather accurate up to the minute news from trusted media outlets such as the BBC or directly from the World Health Organisation.

I’ve loved being involved in a couple of virtual orchestras, putting together my own multi-track musical arrangements and seeing other people doing all sorts of combined musical extravaganzas – it’s simply remarkable the time, effort and expertise that’s gone into these wonderful creations!!

But in our race to survive and stay “connected” and we shouldn’t forget the history we’re laying down. For example, YouTube provides us with extensive public library that could be studied in generations to come. Just imagine the assignment for teenagers in 2030 “Compare and contrast Jewish and Christian Services posted on YouTube May-June 2020”. They’re all there for everyone to see! (I’m not saying don’t do it, just saying, take time to do it well.)

It’s ok to say “no”

Fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) can be a real anxiety, I’ve been caught out. I go along with the crowd, even though I know it’s not good for me or things aren’t being done as well as they could be but I struggle to speak up. Sometimes, however, it’s best just to have a break. Turning off our devises, turning off notifications or muting the apps can bring a sense of relief. By managing the time spent with our devises we’re managing our well-being.

I’m only scratching the surface of this massive topic as everyone’s experience is different. I’ve just been aware we’re using technology because it’s been invented rather than technology being invented because we need it. Just because the latest apps are available, doesn’t mean you need to use them! I love technology, don’t get me wrong but we need to think about how we use it in order to manage our mental health.

Kindness

Mental Health Awareness Week (18th-24th May) this year (2020) is themed “kindness”, simple but effective – the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.

During this global pandemic, communities have pulled together and shown kindness to one-another, through the most difficult of times it has given people hope. For the first time, mental health has been on the daily agenda – let’s keep this going!

Being kind to others lets them know that they’re not alone. Even the smallest act of kindness can have a big effect, perhaps and text, a phone call or a plate a cookies left on the doors step, these things say “I’m thinking of you and I care”.

My first blog this week asked you to say to someone “how are you, really?” – have you tried it? Did you listen to the answer? How did it go? The conversation doesn’t have to be incredibly deep and heavy, just meaningful and meant with kindness. It’s a way of connecting and could have a profound impact on that person.

This pandemic crisis is putting a lot of strain on relationships because spending enforced time together can be incredibly difficult! If relationships are frayed, I’ve heard some people say it helps to stand back and think “what’s best for the relationship?”. It might be hard, in the moment, but showing the relationship some kindness could save it in the long run. If, however, you’re living with an abuser, this is entirely different, I sincerely hope you can find support to leave.

If you receive kindness you feel good but an act of kindness, boosts the mental health of the person who gives it as well! Thinking of someone else can lower stress and improve mood!

Being kind to ourselves is important too. Most of us can think of ways of being kind to other people but when it comes to being kind to ourselves, we’re stumped! At this time, you may have had things taken away from you that you usually enjoy, it might be hard to find new things to treat yourself. Try these things to show kindness to yourself:

  • Female reading in bath full of bubblesPlan a period of time that’s just about self care for you – reading books, watching TV, having a bath, playing music, doing things that you really like
  • Try a new creative hobby – perhaps drawing or painting
  • Get an early night – take time to prepare yourself and the bedroom, perhaps listen to a audiobook or podcast. Make sure the bedroom is dark and not too hot or too cold.
  • Write down your feelings in a journal – if you don’t know what to write, just start writing anything and see what happens.
  • Join a support group (online) to get ideas from other people about how they’re kind to themselves
  • Act opposite – have a pyjama day if you’ve never it! Or, if you’ve not got dressed for a few days, find some lovely fresh clothes and get dressed.
  • Note down 3 things each day that have gone well and reflect back at the end of the week/month
  • Call a mental health helpline to speak to someone about how you’re feeling

Sometimes we need to turn away from unhelpful habits that may be harming us in order to show kindness to ourselves. Drinking too much, talking harshly to ourselves, eating too much or too little, going to bed late, stifling emotions or many other forms of self harm. As we grow up we set ourselves some core values that come to define our character; step back for a second and consider if these are benefiting you or harming you? It won’t be easy but could you let go of some of these a little to give yourself a break?

I challenge you this Mental Health Awareness Week, you can choose, being kind to others or being kind to yourself (or both if you like!). Whichever you choose, do 1 act of kindness each day, if you think you need accountability, keep a journal and write down the 1 thing you did each day when you’ve done it. After a month, look back and reflect on the difference it’s made in your life.

How my faith has helped me during lockdown

When church buildings closed their doors, headlines made it sound as though religious and faith communities were going to halt proceedings. But during Mental Health Awareness Week I’m writing this blog to let you know how Christianity and my extensive Faith community has helped my through one of the strangest times any of us have seen.

I have been struggling with my mental health for all sorts of reasons and I’ve had to dial up the coping strategies to ensure I don’t slide down into the darkness.

For me, mindfulness and distraction are helpful. Mindfulness is a form of meditation where you focus on the here and now, ensuring your attention isn’t distracted by dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. I use crafting to distract myself from distressing thoughts, knitting is my favourite hobby at the moment!

Routine is vital for my mental health and I think the vast majority of us have had our routines jolted out from under us without our consent. I’ve heard lots of people struggling with weekdays and weekends feeling the same. I’ve been involved in producing church services that we can watch online as though we’re going to church at the same time each Sunday. Doing this has given me some purpose. We’ve also have Zoom-coffee after the service to catch up with friends afterwards. Staying connected has been really important for my mental health.

With church services online, people who didn’t attend church before lockdown can now easily access everything that‘s going on. This is a way anyone can separate weekdays from weekends if they choose. However, it’s also fantastic for those who’re working at the weekend, they can now access their church service any time during the week, when it suits them!

A recent Tearfund study revealed that more people than ever are turning to prayer. My husband and I pray together every night before bed; we find out from each other whether we have felt love from each other that day, ask for prayer requests and then pray, include prayers of thanks and pray for each other. This continued routine has helped me. Prayer helps me because it keeps me connected to what’s important. Sitting with my husband, even if it’s just for 5 minutes in the evening and focusing on a few simple things helps me to see what my priorities are.

Alpha is a course that introduces people to the basics of the Christian faith. Just like every other area of life, Alpha has moved online and more people than ever are engaging with Alpha online! Alpha addresses the big questions and gives an opportunity to address the meaning of life. People are being give more time to think and they’re wanting answers.

Some people struggling with the idea of God “allowing” this pandemic to happen but the God I believe in gave human being free-will and unfortunately this means we make mistakes. This pandemic is a man-made disaster and while God is omnipotent, he could stop it, this would completely negate the point of free-will. Instead, God has provided himself as a source, for us to rely on in times of need. I know, no matter how desperate I feel, if I rely on my relationship with God, I will get through.