Finding Balance

Surely the word of 2020 will be ‘unprecedented’. So, what now?

In a flight safety briefing you are instructed in the event of an emergency, please ensure your own oxygen mask is fitted safely. I have been busy with my oxygen mask.

Actually, I think the analogy that is best suited to this pandemic is the story of Noah. Noah was warned that there would be a great flood, and to build an ark. Right now, although it has been a beautiful spring here in Cambridge, it is metaphorically still raining. The world I knew has changed and I am afloat, somewhat buffeted by the storm.

I have slowly found my balance, and since the analogy is now of a boat, I am going about my business, finding a new balance while wearing my lifeline!

I hear from anxious colleagues at schools across the world, from those working remotely in universities suffering Zoom fatigue, and students struggling to keep up with work set, or not able to work at all as internet provision is poor.

We are all in the same boat. And we all need to find our own balance.

At this time, in an emergency, the most important things are at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: food and shelter. One’s physiological needs.

With previous frameworks and routines now under the water, it is necessary, gently, to find one’s own sense of balance in this ‘new normal’.

At the best of times, I find students, parents, colleagues often ignore their basic needs. ‘I know I should sleep more, exercise, eat healthily’ while carrying on with poor sleep hygiene, not exercising, and bingeing on junk food. I’m not saying that suddenly we should all become paragons of virtue, but to find balance, you need to start with the basics.

I’ve colleagues who have not been allowed of their apartments for weeks. Walk around, stand up, stretch. Who hasn’t been inspired by Captain Tom doing 100 lengths of his garden before his 100th birthday? Here in Cambridge, I take a daily walk through fields. I know I am lucky to be able to do so. For better sleep, like many others, I’ve started meditating more. In my old world, I would frequently use a simple free app with stressed students with the experience that spending five minutes with them focusing on their breathing would then ensure a calmer conversation. Again, when it comes to food, I am very conscious that what one can afford and has access too are different. But a lecture on food and mood by @felicejacka, President of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry, at University of Cambridge early this academic year affected me deeply.

I had never heard of this field of medicine, yet the evidence was compelling.

In the storm, in times of crisis, when we lose our bearings, it is hard to keep a sense of balance. I know I struggled at the beginning - before UK lockdown as I saw the wave coming…

Now, I’m afloat, and like Noah, I need to keep my ark ship-shape. With the lifeline on, I am finding a new balance as the storm rages and the rain falls. Right now, that means finding a new routine, keeping everything clean and ship shape. The storm will pass. The rain will cease. But for now, focus on finding whatever it is you need to keep yourself safe and well. Sleep, food, exercise. Find your balance.