Ed Jackson…5 ways to keep your cool in a crisis

Well it’s fair to say that everything’s just a little bit weird at the moment. One minute we’re bouncing along as normal and the next minute everyone’s decided that the apocalypse is upon us and only unnecessary volumes of toilet roll can save us now.

We’re in uncertain times that’s for sure and despite actively practicing social distancing for a long time prior to the government regulations, I am thoroughly unexcited by the thought of being confined to my home.

Unexcited but not unnerved…I’ve been here before. No, I wasn’t around for Spanish flu or the war, but this isn’t the first time I have entered a long period of uncertainty and a form of isolation. Three months on a hospital ward is an endurance test for anyone but add in a spinal cord injury and the possibility that you’ll never walk again, and you’ve got a recipe for…well lots of things, but mainly stress.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I was in a mental battle rather than a physical one. Control my emotions, stay positive and my body would react positively but get down, spend time worrying and progress was non-existent. The main problem was that uncertainty is the primary cause of anxiety and no one knew what the future held; if I would ever walk again, or if I would make any recovery at all.

The future for most of us is uncertain; Is my job safe, how long will this last for, what’s going to happen to all of this loo roll when people realise they don’t need it? All of these questions are weighing heavy on our minds and creating a lot of anxiety. But, and there is a but, what if I told you that we don’t just have to survive this next few months we can actually prosper from them.

Through necessity I learnt a way to stay positive against the odds, deal with the boredom of isolation and come out on top. Now I want to share a few little tricks I picked up along the way.

1. It’s only a crisis if you say it is

Catastrophising is the minds tendency to think of worst-case scenarios. We naturally focus on negatives over positives. Was I unlucky that the water was shallow when I broke my neck or was I lucky that I didn’t drown because someone was there to pull me to the surface? Are you unlucky that you can’t go to the pub anymore or are you lucky that you aren’t on the street or have severe respiratory problems? Marcus Aurelius said, ‘It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see’. Most of us have just been given the most precious commodity there is, time. Let’s focus on that as a positive and find ways to make it work for us. It’s not a crisis it’s an opportunity.

2. Plan / structure

The thought of having no plans is quite appealing right? You go on holiday, get up when you want, do what you want, laaavely. Difference is the holiday or weekend version of having no plans is ironically…planned. When having no plans is forced upon you and your previously structured week is no more it can throw you off track quite badly. The mind responds well to structure and it won’t take long until idleness and inactivity will start to take their toll. Re-introduce some structure and start to take some control back. If you’re working from home get dressed in the morning, take a lunch break and even have a little whinge about your boss to the wall, it all helps retain some normality.

3. Exercise outdoors

Ahh natures medicine. When anxiety and house arrest are the name of the game, it’s never been more important. By the time I reached Salisbury spinal unit I had spent almost every minute inside for 8 weeks, and it wasn’t until I rolled out into the hospital garden for the first time, felt the sun on my face and took a gulp of fresh air that I truly realised what I had been missing. There was a path around the hospital garden that I used to do laps of in my wheelchair for exercise, challenging anyone that was up for it to a race. If it wasn’t for the ability to get outside and get my heart rate up during that time, I think I would have gone mad. Be sensible but try to get outside and get your heart rate up at least once a day in line with official advice. if not for your body, for your mind.

4. Creative practice

Let me just start by saying I have never considered myself ‘creative’. Growing up I had never kept a journal and would probably mess up trying to draw a stick man. I did play the saxophone for a bit, but I was so offensively bad that my teacher actively encouraged me to stop. In hospital I started recording voice notes at night as a way to clear my head and help me sleep. It worked. I would just write about what I had done that day and what I was thinking, it was private but getting it out was helping. One day I woke up and a mate was reading through my transcribed voice notes. I wasn’t impressed but he looked up at me and said two things; firstly; ‘you’re weird’, and then ‘you need to make these public, they might help people’. I wasn’t keen on sharing my thoughts with the world but after some persuading and the realisation that if it helped just one person then it would be worth it, I caved. So began a daily practice of blogging about my time in hospital and it had a way bigger effect than I could have imagined. It allowed me to communicate and get advice from people who had been in my situation before and update friends and family on how I was doing but most of all it felt good just writing, it was a great distraction. There is a lot research now behind the psychological benefits of creative practice so why not give it a go if you don’t already. Drawing, playing music or writing it will all be beneficial, you may already be good at it but if not, you now have time to learn. I would recommend starting with a simple daily diary, it’s amazing what you find out about yourself if you just start writing.

5. Being useful

There’s nothing more damaging than feeling useless and with everyone stuck at home there’s a danger that people will lose a sense of purpose. After my accident I felt like a burden on everyone, I couldn’t even wash or feed myself and it was tough to deal with. When I started blogging and people were contacting me saying it was helping them it made a huge difference to my mental state, finally I was some use again. Obviously this is a completely different situation but we all need to start thinking outwardly because believe me the quickest way to feel better about yourself is to do something for someone else. That sense of value and worth is a powerful thing and there’s lots we can be doing to help it. Obviously we need to follow the government guidelines but you could offer your services to help with food deliveries or delivering medication to the elderly but less than that, simply taking time to call people who may be isolated can make a massive difference. If we all think of each other first, this isn’t just going to be an easier ride, but we can come through this a lot tighter society as a whole.

For more from Ed, pop him a follow on Instagram or take a look at the amazing work he’s doing through his charity  M2M Presents.

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