Peggy Jackson, my Training Incumbent when I was a curate in Mortlake, never wears black clerical shirts because black clergy shirts have long been the province of the Forward in Faith brigade opposed to women’s ordination. She wore all different pastel shades of clergy shirts and cut a colourful dash at clergy gatherings. Try as she might, she couldn’t convince me to experiment sartorially. I’m a Mirfield man through and through and black it was, partially because I refused to give up black just because the bigoted had made it a “badge” for themselves, and also because as a young curate black was a uniform and carried more gravitas than my, then, meagre frame could, especially when trying to visit hospital outside visiting hours. Today it’s a case of a one load wash more than anything. But I will let you into a secret. 

My shirts have to be specially made as I hate any collar too tight around my neck, but Marks and Sparks has always made black trousers that fit the bill. In my wardrobe hang a dozen pairs, all slightly different around the waist. They are hung in waist size order, the more recent innovation of “Active Waist” with its elastic waistband a welcome and more forgiving addition. I can tell pretty much whether I’ve gained or lost weight by what I put on in the morning, far more accurate than the “faulty” bathroom scale any day. 

With our physical health we are often given signs when things aren’t quite as they should be. Little aches and pains that send us consulting our GP. But when it comes to our mental health, our day to day sense of wellbeing, how good are we at gauging how we are feeling? The lockdown is challenging for all of us. Some of you may be managing just fine while others struggle with every new day. Whether you live alone or with the demands and distractions of family life, our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and there are many useful things we can do to take care of ourselves. I have personally found it harder these past couple of weeks as the novelty of isolation has well and truly worn off, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel just yet. I want to share some resources from the NHS that I have found helpful. 

1. Plan practical things like food shopping, household supplies, and prescriptions. Ask for help if you need it and keep on top of any medical treatment or support you are undergoing. 

2. Stay connected with friends and family. Nothing is as good as meeting face to face, but we can still keep in touch with those we care about through phone calls, social media, and email. All contact has the ability to lift not only our spirits, but also those we care about. Talking helps minimise the sense of isolation. 

3. Talk about your worries and concerns. As they say, a trouble shared is a trouble halved, so don’t be reticent about sharing your feelings. We’re all in this together! 

4. Look after your body. We all need to keep on top of our physical health, and eating healthy food and getting enough exercise helps improve our sense of wellbeing. 

5. Stay on top of any difficult feelings. It is an anxious time for all of us, but don’t let anxiety get the better of you. Try to focus on what you can control, such as how you act, who you talk to, and where you get your information from. Don’t stay glued to the television or internet news. Stick to trusted sources of information, not the negativity and “fake” news being spread to create panic and mistrust. 

6. Keep doing the things that you enjoy as much as possible. Reading, creative writing, gardening and art are all good to let our minds engage with positive activities and feelings. Bored? Well try learning something new. If you are online, there is a wealth of concerts and videos to keep you interested. Pick up the crossword or Suduko puzzles. The important thing is to keep our minds active. 

7. Plan your new daily routine and stick to it. Getting up in the morning and having things mapped out gives structure to the day and enables us to look back on all that we’ve managed to do with the day. We have a sense of accomplishment and feel better about ourselves. 

8. Make time to relax and unwind, and make sure you maintain a regular sleep pattern to feel your best. Relaxation and a decent night’s sleep help our bodies and minds cope with the stress we are under. 

9. Make plans for something you look forward to. No need to make a specific date as that can be counterproductive, but use this time to plan something you really want to do. I’ve been planning a seaside holiday back home when I can see my family again, as well as mull over what I want to plant in the garden of our retirement home. 

10. Pray. Talk to God, ask for quiet confidence and strength. Share your feelings, and not just the good ones. Feel free to express any fear or anger. God’s got very broad shoulders and he understands how we feel. 

Do try to look after your health at this uncertain time. This will pass in time and life will resume, hopefully a more positive way of living with a kinder society. Let us take care of ourselves and each other as we wait for that day because we will make it. In the meantime, we may discover that life is still full of love and joy even in lockdown that will remind us that each and every day is a gift and precious in and of itself. 

Wishing you God’s good blessing, Michael