Thriving the New Normal

Maryon StewartBlog

New Normal - Covid-19

Two years ago, I was thrilled to be awarded a British Empire Medal by the Queen in the New Year’s Honours List.  I didn’t go to collect it as my husband Ben was being treated for stage 4 Leukaemia at the time in New York.  He was waiting to have a stem cell transplant, hoping it would save his life.  I insisted on waiting for him to accompany me – putting it out there a bit like a carrot for a donkey.

During his recovery, which spanned two years, we often spoke of our forthcoming trip to the Palace. It’s a big deal for an American. In some ways, it served as an additional incentive for him to claw his way back to good health. Three weeks ago, he got the all-clear. With great joy on many levels, we finally booked a date for our trip to Buckingham Palace for 12th May. We didn’t dream that by then the world would go into freefall and, not only would the Palace be a no-go area for the Queen, but surrounding areas would be closed off, and the public would be shut away in their own homes. We would have sworn that was science fiction.

Coping with shock isn’t foreign to me.  Having dealt with the two policewomen on my doorstep in 2009 informing me that my 21-year-old daughter Hester, a talented medical student, had passed away after being given a legal high, was the most devastating and shocking experience of my life. Being informed by a doctor I met for the first time, out of the clear blue 8 years later, that my husband, whom I married 15 months earlier, has stage 4 Leukaemia, and may only have weeks to live, was a close second. His family helped whisk us on a private charity jet, from Florida to New York, for the best possible chance of saving Ben’s life.  Within two days I found myself homeless, with a husband who was believed to be dying, not knowing a soul in New York apart from my new husband’s immediate family. My world was beyond rocked.

Living through that personal nightmare for the following year involved 90 days of hospital treatment for Ben, followed by us going into self-isolation for a year in what I called our pop-up home, only going out for walks, when he was strong enough, wearing masks and gloves. When Covid 19 took its grip on the world, I saw the palpable fear in the eyes of people in shock, trying to get their heads around the nightmare of having to self-isolate. It occurred to me that sharing my story might give a glimmer of hope to others, for as hard as it may seem to believe now, there will be some positive outcomes.

I know how tricky the shock can be and the sick feeling of panic and despair that follows.  But, I also know those good things can come from what may seem like a bleak new journey. There is no doubt that the chaos and fear in the world as a result of Covid 19 has shifted the world on its axis and, as a result, undoubtedly turned our lives upside down. It’s going to take a while for us all to adjust to ‘new normal’, but in time we will see that there are some long-term benefits and even lessons.

We have been forced to stop constantly running in the fast lane, being previously so focused on work and deadlines, many even too busy to pay much attention to the family or even themselves.  Instead, some greater force has put our lives on pause, with many of us now living in enclosed spaces with family, together full time, maybe for the first time in many years.

In the last few days, I have spoken to a number of bewildered individuals, who are scared witless by the constant news reports and dreading what life may now hold. Apart from deep concerns about financial survival, fears have been shared by women experiencing hormonal problems like PMS, perimenopause and menopause, who are simply dreading spending more time with their partner and teenagers – feeling truly fearful about what impact this new physical closeness will have on their relationships.

Whilst dealing with isolation, loss of life as we knew it, financial difficulties, and being so close to family members all hours of the day may seem beyond challenging at first, there will be blessings along the way.  I’ve come to the conclusion, from my own life experiences, that it’s not what’s thrown at us in life, but how we deal with it that counts.  Focusing on fear and negativity is actually a fruitless pursuit, only serving to make us feel worse.

When Ben and I were thrust into ‘new normal’ in New York, whilst he was in hospital, I created a pop-up home one block away from the hospital. I prepared home cooked food each day from scratch, as that was all he was allowed, and we settled into a routine, both working from home.  We set up work stations in two rooms so that we could each have our own space.  One worked in the bedroom and the other at our dinner table or kitchen counter.  We came together to have our meals.  I did my crazy workout to rock music in the mornings to keep me sane and toned and we went for long walks when Ben could.  In the evenings we watched Mad Men, Suits, Mrs Mazel and other compelling series and, sitting together on our newly acquired recycled cosy sofa, we read numerous books and journals.  Ben kept his legal practice running even from hospital, and I created a virtual business, helping women around the world manage their menopause naturally.

We were already happy to be together as we were newly married when Ben got sick, but during our year in our little cocoon that we called MarBen, we were as close as any two beings could be. Although we lived under the constant stress of not knowing whether Ben would survive after his stem cell transplant, we visioned he would and thankfully managed to manifest that into reality. Having to isolate again is not new territory for us and we worked out how to spend the time we no longer spent travelling to work.

So, apart from helping women to manage their menopause, I’m now focussing on teaching others how to boost immunity, making themselves more resilient and how to counteract the effects of stress.  Plus, I’m going to be highlighting the many fun and interesting things we can do to make ourselves feel good within the confines of own home.  Let’s begin with our mindset…

Reframing You Attitude

In these unprecedented times it’s not unreasonable to not want to get out bed in the morning.  Feeling like pulling the covers over your head and hoping recent events was only a bad dream.  It’s a fairly common way so many of us are waking up in the morning.  There is much doom and gloom in the constant news updates, it’s easy for us to fall into a pit of hopelessness.

We all have choices when we awake.  We can drift through the day feeling negative and scared, listening to every news report, or we can learn to live in the moment, focusing on making it a special day, peppered with memorable acts that will help others and, at the same time, make us personally feel happy. What so many of us forget is that the happiness factor is largely in our own hands.  We can choose the colour of the lenses through which we see the world for we are each the architect of our own journey through life.

Breathe and be Mindful: staying in the moment, refusing to listen to those negative voices that echo around you is key to staying sane and happy.  There are great Ted talks on the benefits of breathing and Mindfulness, and books like ‘All is Well’, by Louse Hay and Dr Mona Lisa Shultz that provide affirmations you can use whilst doing some Mindful breathing to help calm you down.

Make a daily schedule: Rising late and watching endless TV isn’t going to do much for your mental wellbeing or your waistline.  Make yourself a timetable to follow peppered with activities and stick to it.

Embrace family time: Instead of feeling overwhelmed by your new circumstances, struggling and juggling to make it all work, stop and consider how you turn these new circumstances into a positive.  So many of us have been missing out on spending quality time with our family because there were so many demands due to our hectic lives.  Now the world is on pause, we can embrace family living and derive joy from the small things that happen when we have the time to be loving and giving.

Find inner joy: From conversations that the Dalai Lama spent with Bishop Desmond Tutu, outlined in the Book of Joy, they concluded that doing acts of kindness for others was the best way to guarantee your own happiness and maximise the potential of experiencing joy in life. I highly recommend this book – reading it was a life changing experience for me.

Appreciate each day: As well as doing random acts of kindness, take time to nurture yourself.  Make a point of appreciating the beauty of nature each day – preferably outdoors, or capture some gorgeous images on a Pinterest board if you can’t get out.

Make a gratitude list: Give some serious thought to all that you have to be grateful for to keep things in perspective.  We often forget that just being able to see beauty, hear wonderful sounds and smell delicious food are all blessings.  Plus, there are people and places to be grateful for.  Keep adding to your list and look at it regularly, especially when you are feeling down.

Looking beautiful indoors: Looking good helps keep our self-esteem buoyant. When we no longer have our support network we need to figure out how to do it ourselves.

Glamourous not broken: If you usually get your finger and toe nails taken care of at a salon you will need to order a do it yourself kit. You might need to do this quickly as they could sell out!  Maybe you can team up with a friend or your daughter and do each other’s nails.

The world doesn’t need to know the colour of your hair: If you normally have your hair coloured, order some root touch up so you enjoy looking in the mirror. If you don’t have a clue how to touch up your roots you can ask your partner to help, or tune into YouTube to find out.

Glow: Take time out to put a mask on each week to clean your skin and use natural hydrating creams each day to combat the effects of the atmosphere indoors.

Soothe aches and pains: If you normally have a massage ask your partner to deputise for the masseur.  You might get a happy ending!  Order some magnesium salts and soak in the bath to help ease muscle tension.

Take time out: Rest your body with power naps from apps like Pzizz to recharge each day, helping reduce cortisol, our stress hormone, and let the neural connections in the brain rewire.

Nourish yourself: Savour the flavour of healthy wholesome food that is home cooked without the junky additives we often find in fast food that we used to reach for. I tend to bulk cook so that we eat some and freeze some, which means there are days when less preparation is necessary.

Keep hydrated: Drink plenty of fluid to keep your throat well hydrated, but lay off large amounts of caffeine as it can make you feel more anxious.  Better to drink herb teas, maybe adding some lemon and fresh ginger.

Look for good: Smile in your mind, make eye contact with others and go out of your way to comment on something you like about them. It will make you both feel good.

Keep active: Exercise to your favourite music each day whilst singing out loud to keep endorphins, those feel good hormones, flowing and oxygenate your brain.  If you are sitting working from home, ensure you move around and do short bursts of dancing, maybe with a member of your family or even your dog. If you have a garden, get out there and plant some seeds, maybe even grow your own produce.

Avoid the Netflix bulge: Get yourself a hoola hoop and skipping rope to help you keep active whilst you watch TV.

Expand your mind: If you are not working from home, maybe because you lost your job and have newfound time on your hands, make sure you keep your brain active.  Enroll on an online course, take virtual tours of museums around the world, do Sudoko or Crosswords and play word games like Scrabble.

Stay in touch: Take this opportunity to stay connected.  Most of us have access to FaceTime or Whatsapp making it easy to be in contact with our friends and family visually.  I’m already hearing that people are connecting with friends and family in a way they haven’t for years.  This will help to prevent us all feel like we are isolated like pods in the London Eye.

Declutter: It’s the perfect time to have a clear out.  You may not be able to redistribute your clutter, but you can create clutter boxes which can get stored and then donated when Charity shops reopen.  Take one drawer or cupboard at a time.  This process is so personally cleansing and therapeutic.  If you can’t face doing it alone, connect with a friend on Whatsapp at do it together.  You might end up finding things to swap.  I recently gave a Mulberry handbag that was gorgeous, but too small for me, to a friend who loved that brand.  Within a month a different friend gave me two of her gorgeous bags from her charity pile.

Get crafty: Have ever wished you had time to get creative?  Well now is that time.  I’m been knitting Teddy Bears and clothes for the bears for my two small grandchildren.  Others I know are painting, or even mindfully colouring which is equally therapeutic. Find something you enjoy and get to work.

Creative cooking: If you love cooking, but haven’t had much time to focus on it, you can make the most of this opportunity to create delicious meals with fresh ingredients.  If you haven’t acquired cooking skills, you can find endless recipes and YouTube videos that will show you how to get creative in the kitchen.  I love to cook whilst listening to music and singing along.

Read and recommend: When Ben was sick good books were a great distraction for me.  I read every Lucina Riley, JoJo Moyes and Santa Montifiore novel available.  I got totally absorbed in each great book and have recommended them to so many others who have enjoyed them equally.  Set up a Whatsapp group with your friends so that you can recommend and discuss the books you are reading.  It’s another good way to stay in touch.

Dress for dinner: Hanging around the house in casual clothes is comforting on some levels but will get very boring. You need to get dressed for dinner some evenings and make them special.  If you have a partner or husband you can organise a date night once or twice a week to keep the magic going, or if you lost it because you were all previously too busy to focus on it, this might just help to recreate it.

Let the party continue: If you haven’t already discovered Zoom you will be delighted to hear that you can keep on partying virtually.  We use Zoom to run my courses, have meetings with others all over the world and, more recently, meet for drinks and even dinner.  Next week, I’m helping a networking organisation celebrate their 15th Birthday in my Zoom Room.  Dress is glamourous and we are all bringing drinks and nibbles to our computer screens, instead of having our gathering in London.  You can invite your family and friends to a virtual Easter lunch, instead of missing out this year.  It’s such a great way to bring people together.

Get closer: There are many benefits to getting close physically. If you never seem to have time, now is a great opportunity.  Massage releases our feel-good hormones, and so too do orgasms.  Having sex also uses up calories and we will certainly be looking for opportunities to do that whilst we are grounded.  Make the most of the extra time to be close and snuggle up, if nothing else. If you are going through menopause, and prefer chocolate to sex, you can get some help to get comfortable in important little places and rekindle your mojo.

Goals and Dreams

In the months to come the Covid 19 nightmare will be over and normal life will resume.  It might be new normal as I predict that we will be living in an enriched way, being much more familiar with what really matters.

Having a clear idea of your ideal destination in life also influences how fulfilled and happy you feel. If you don’t know where you are heading how will you know when you have arrived?  Make time to make a vision board of your goals and dreams so that you can actively work to achieve them this year, reminding yourself that a rosy future will follow this period of withdrawal from normal life. Read about the 10 Steps to Visioning the Life of Your Dreams by Dr Lucia Capacchione.  Now you have time to put it into practice, spending time daily on visioning the manifestation of your dreams.

Imagine if we each did something to make at least one other person happy today. What a difference we would collectively be making to the world. Don’t you just love your potential from the comfort of your own home?


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