If you’re reading this, then you’re probably feeling the same as me following the election results – sad, deflated, scared, helpless. Your mind is probably in overdrive worrying about how much worse things will get over the next five years when it comes to poverty, the environment, our schools, the NHS, Brexit, wondering if this country will ever heal from the political and personal rifts that have ravished it these last few years. You’re probably wondering where all the compassion and kindness has gone. I’m not going to dwell on the politics here. I’m not going to offer any evaluations or insights as you can read them all over the internet this morning.
Instead, I’d like to offer a few practical suggestions as to things I’m doing that are helping me feel like I’m doing something to make a difference right now. I hope it’ll strike a chord with some of you. I’d love to hear your own ideas too if you have any more ideas to add.
1. Turn off the TV news, the radio and social media, at least in the short term
I spoke on Instagram yesterday about how I was struggling with election anxiety. I’ve always lived in a marginal seat – growing up in the Vale of Glamorgan and now living in Cardiff North – and particularly in my home town, my social media feeds have been incredibly divided. The arguments I’ve witnessed are horrible. The lies that are being spread as fact are even worse. As much as I’ve tried to read all political opinions and understand people’s reasons for voting as they do, it was all getting too much for me. So yesterday, after I returned from voting, I turned off my social media feeds for the rest of the day (not an easy thing to do in my job). I worked in front of the TV while watching Christmas films and eating chocolate. I allowed myself 20 minutes before bed to check the exit polls, and whereas usually I love staying up to watch the election results coming in live, I went straight to bed. I allowed myself 45 minutes this morning to read and observe and get all those feelings out. And now I’m switching off from it all., at least in the short term. My mind feels so much better for this. Reading a dozen different political correspondents all saying the same thing isn’t going to help me right now, and neither is getting riled by the angry comments below such articles. My advice is to turn it off. Put on something indulgent instead – your favourite show, music by a band you love. It’s made such a difference to me. I will continue to be politically engaged, but right now I need some space. (To those of you who work in politics or journalism, I’m sorry if this will be impossible for you.) I’m also resisting the urge to rant and scream. There’s already too much divide on social media. I don’t want to add to it.
Yep, the yoga teacher in me is coming out again. As I say to those who come to my yoga classes, “If you don’t know what else you can do, you can always breathe. Slow deep breaths. It might not change what you are dealing with but it can change the way you respond to it by giving you clarity, calmness and emotional strength. Inhale strength, exhale compassion. Strength for you, compassion for anyone else who needs it right now. We have to trust that those little waves of compassion will somehow get to where they need to be.”
And we have to trust that our little waves of kindness and small actions will make a difference, even if it’s only small.
3. Get outdoors or do some exercise
I pounded it out at the gym at 6am this morning and felt so much better for doing so. A friend who is an NHS nurse told me she was going for an ‘angry run’ to clear her mind. Another friend was going for a walk in the hills. Whenever I’m sad or low, I need to see the sea. The fresh air clears my mind and resets me a little. Exercise releases endorphins, which helps trigger positive feelings in your body and mind, as well as helping to calm the mind. Granted, it might be temporary until you start reading the news again, but it all helps.
4. Make a donation to a food bank
I was thinking of taking my children for a treat after school, maybe a coffee shop or the cinema, as a bit of escapism from the real world. But then it struck me that it would be far better to use that money instead to buy donations for our local food bank. So, after school we are going to our nearest supermarket and we’re going to spend £10 on food for those who need it. Food bank charities are already warning that they are expecting a surge this Christmas in those needing donations. School holidays are also really difficult for families in need, without free breakfast clubs or school meals. Food bank use has risen exponentially in the last 10 years. The Trussell Trust, the largest food bank network in the UK, handed out around 41,000 food packs in 2009/10 compared to 1.2 million in 2016/17. You probably saw the headlines last week that there are more foodbanks in the UK than McDonald’s. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds this as shameful as it is heartbreaking. As I said to my children this morning, I worry this figure will rise. My three definitely don’t need to go to a coffee shop as an after school treat; not when there are children their age, in the same city, not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
5, Donate a Christmas gift to a child in need
St David’s Shopping Centre in Cardiff is once again running its Toy Appeal. From November 30 to December 22, they are collecting toys for children age 0 to 16. Toys need to be new, unopened and with tags, (not second-hand) and unwrapped. St David’s will once again be working with charities and hospitals in Wales to ensure the gifts get to children who are in need. More information here.
6. Donate unwanted clothes or equipment
We’re currently in the midst of a massive declutter ahead of a big house renovation next year. I’ve been selling some stuff, but I’ve also given a lot to charity shops and organisations who work with families in need. Last week, we took a car full of old baby clothes and equipment to Grow Baby, a charity right here in Cardiff which will pass them on to families in need. A friend of mine works for the charity and says it’s heartbreaking how little these families have. Many of them are asylum seekers who have fled truly horrific conditions in their own country, and they have next to nothing when they move here. Others are local families, who have sadly found themselves living in poverty. A staggering 29% of children in Wales are living in poverty, according to Children in Wales. Incidentally, housing charity Shelter last week reported that at least 135,000 children will be homeless and living in temporary accommodation across Britain on Christmas Day – the highest number for 12 years. It estimates that a child loses their home every eight minutes – 183 children per day.
I’ve recently seen other appeals from homelessness charities, Welsh Women’s Aid and the Oasis refugee centre here in Cardiff. All that old stuff you have lying around can make a huge difference to people in need. If you know of any more charities in need of donations, post them in the comments below, or in the Facebook comments accompanying this article.
7. Make a small household change that will benefit the environment
It worries me no end that the environment and climate change barely feature in the Conservative manifesto. We might not see the big changes we want, but as individuals there is plenty we can do on a small scale. As the much-shared quote by Anne-Marie Bonneau says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” I know you’re probably doing lots already, but is there something else you can do? Buy that shampoo bar you’ve been thinking about, rather than a plastic bottle. Change to a renewable energy supplier. Buy an outfit for your Christmas night out second-hand. Choose the glass bottle of ketchup, rather than the plastic one. Buy more seasonal and locally-sourced produce in your weekly food shop. All these small differences add up.
8. Set up a regular donation to a charity or sponsor a friend raising money for charity
I donate to two charities every month, one of those I’ve been giving to for almost 18 years and one for around three. It’s only a few pounds each month but these regular donations make a massive difference to charities in being able to predict their fundraising income. I also try to sponsor one friend doing a charity event every month. They might not always be big donations, but they all add up.
9. Create a kindness project with your children
I’ve seen several posts this morning from friends worried about what kind of world their children will inherit. As you’ll know if you’ve read this blog for a while, I always channel the words of Whitney Houston and her song The Greatest Love of All at times like this
“I believe the children are our are future.
Teach them well and let them lead the way.
Show them all the beauty they possess inside.
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier.
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.
I decided long ago,
Never to walk in anyone’s shadows.
If I fail, if I succeed,
At least I’ll live as I believe.
No matter what they take from me,
They can’t take away my dignity”
I am continuing to hold my head up high and modelling the kind of values I want my children to inherit: kindness, compassion and helping those in need among them. As I mentioned above, we’re donating to the foodbank after school. They’re helping me with my London Marathon fundraising for Tommy’s with their own running challenges. They’ve helped sort out toys they no longer play with and old clothes to give to charities. They understand why we make the environmental choices we do, and they suggest their own ideas too. They know that their small actions can make a big difference.
10. Carry out a random act of kindness
Aside from the political stuff, the thing I find sad is the awful division in our country right now. I feel like we need a country-wide equivalent of a marriage counsellor to help work through the rifts. In the absence of that, wouldn’t it be great if we could all do something kind for someone else totally unexpectedly? Pay it forward at the coffee shop so that the next person gets their drink free; be the driver who stops and gives way so that the car waiting at the junction can get out onto the main road; hold the door open for someone; smile; make conversation with someone. Anything that spreads a little kindness right now has to be a good thing.