The importance of relationships

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Today’s blog features an article on the topic of relationships, and the importance of making each contact count. This is especially important during the age of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, this post was written before the UK government advice about social distancing and social isolation. For up to date guidance on social distancing please click here

Today’s blog is from a guest blogger: Arwen, the new Apprentice in the University of Cumbria HR Department. Who is “big into cooking and baking, relaxing AND delicious”.

“When you see that word, you might only think about relationships with a partner but any friendship or familial bond is a relationship. The coffee guy who makes your morning de-zombification beverage every day is a relationship. We don’t always get the most out of these micro-encounters but taking the time to say hello or smile or realise that you already do, that you’re out in the world interacting and having an impact on other people’s lives can make us feel connected, feel not so small, feel significant. Do you take the time to notice the small things that add value to your day?

Relationships are always complicated and we usually carry these complications forward in some way. The lack of early trust in a new relationship when you’ve been lied to in the past, automatically searching for ‘supporting evidence’ to what someone has told you rather than immediate belief. Worry about how you measure up when you know your new partner’s sexual history. Am I good enough? Am I not as much fun? Am I as experienced?

Good communication is always talked about as being key. Not everyone is a good communicator and not everyone who we are trying to communicate with is in the right place to listen to -or receive- what we are trying to talk about.  You can keep in mind the bigger picture: that you love and value this person and they have your respect and esteem. Great. But sometimes you may just want to be on a planet, where they are not.

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How do I talk to someone when I can see they have a problem and want to support them? Opening a whole case of worm cans. How do I talk to someone about their alcohol dependency? Seeking advice from Al-anon friends and family is a wonderful start and can be done without involving the person you are concerned about. Local groups are available and are there to support you at this time and not this person. You can get advice and not feel so alone.  You might not want to use the exact term in conversation ‘Al-anon Friends & Family’ it can easily be misconstrued as ‘I’ve been talking to my friends and family about you’ (cue detonation)

Giving time to process is an important part of difficult conversations and for both parties- physical and emotional space to deal with the bombshell (I think you need help)

How do we move forward? Open questions are great at enhancing a dialogue. Most of us are not trained communicators and don’t realise that we ask closed questions and effectively shut down the conversation. Being empathetic rather than sympathetic is another big difference. Put yourself in their shoes but don’t pity how much they hurt your feet. Listen without judgement, actively listen and show them you are paying attention through small nods or comments: Yes. Oh. I can see how that would be difficult for you. Could you tell me more about…….?

Importantly: please don’t talk about a time when you or someone else you know were in a similar situation. You make it about you and not about them, they feel unlistened to and disengage.

Talking to someone about a problem you think they have is deeply personal and can affect you both. Helping someone through their crisis is not a quick or easy process. When people are afraid or hurt they can lash out, a support group or counselling for the both of you is a good consideration.”

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.

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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.