The COVID-19 pandemic has offered us many messages. Those of us who are making the conscious, active choice to listen to the ones that are obvious to us, and who are also committing to trying to understand some of the less overt ones, are starting to experience a new level of ‘knowing’, from within. This is deliberate. It is by design. The Universe, God, or whichever belief system we subscribe to, is telling us powerful things. “Take heed,” it is whispering. “Pay attention. This is your one precious, invaluable and irreplaceable life we are talking about here. These are the things you need to know.”
Some of us have borne witness to the extraordinary levels of compassion and support being extended by so many. Others among us have found it within ourselves to offer more of ourselves to the vulnerable. Still others have been the vulnerable ones, who have found it necessary to accept such magnificent degrees of kindness and support. In every case, we are being guided towards a new understanding: that meaningful positive connections are what matter most; the opportunity to offer the best of ourselves to others, or to learn to accept with grace and gratitude the best of others for ourselves. We are witnessing, with crystal clarity, that the awesome selfless human behaviours we have experienced or extended are what will – ultimately – triumph in shining glory over all bad things.
Wildlife in COVID-19 Lockdown
In COVID-19 lockdown, the birds were more brave, and vocal. Wildlife, flora and fauna flourished from the rare chance to be itself without the constant battle of carbon monoxide, noise and other forms of pollution generated by the constant movement of humans. Those species saw and instinctively understood that this time was a gift – a time in which to flourish without challenge, to be the best of itself, and it made the most of it. I never saw so many butterflies and bees in my garden, and I never heard so much birdsong in the trees. Nature got its confidence back, and ran with it, as far and for as long as it could, until normal human behaviour slowly but inexorably began to resume.
Maybe it bought us more time, in terms of global warming. Maybe that three or four months bought us, and certain endangered species, another couple of years. Or maybe some of us learned that we too could see time as a gift and not a punishment, a time to reflect and maybe embrace new considerations, actions, decisions or directions that would serve the world well, going forward. Maybe we also had it brought home to us that nature is important and has been suffering greatly, and we need to do more to change that.
Throughout COVID-19, the state of our health became the primary issue. Suddenly, everyone realised they might need to stock up on painkillers, soap and silicone gloves, hand sanitiser, vitamins and face masks. All too quickly, we realised how important it was to ward off the virus, as best we could. Those of us who were in a robust state of health were relieved that we weren’t as ‘at risk’ as some of the other people we knew. Mercifully, those claimed by COVID-19 who were allegedly in a good state of health beforehand were in the minority. But the fact that they died anyway was terrifying to us all, nonetheless.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the state of our health drives our success or failure to withstand the onslaught of illness and disease. Without divine knowledge, we have no way of knowing exactly how much tolerance our bodies need to have, to wrestle with and overcome the unexpected. Most of us literally fly through our lives with our fingers crossed, hoping for the best, hoping our immune systems are robust enough to keep us flying so we don’t crash to the ground in a screaming, diseased and dying heap. We throw the dice on the table, month after month, year after year, in the hope that we’ll continue to be lucky enough to escape whatever has the potential to ravage us. And we pray that the next viruses that the scientists are utterly convinced will come, and probably sooner rather than later, won’t claim us.
For me, as a health practitioner (Psychologist and Sleep Disorder Treatment Specialist) the BIGGEST and CLEAREST message delivered to us all by the current pandemic is that we absolutely must take more responsibility for our own health. It’s not enough to simply hope we don’t get sick, or wait until we do and hope the health system will (or even can) fix us! As we have seen, with terrifying clarity here in the UK, the capacity of the NHS (the UK government funded National Health System) is simply not enough to cope if the numbers of people falling desperately ill climb too high. In many countries that operate a user-pays system of health provision, people have the potential to die in record numbers because they can’t afford medical treatment, and even if it miraculously becomes “free” to them in their time of dire need someone, at some point, will have to pick up the tab.
Worrying Aspect of COVID-19
For me, by far the most worrying aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the sheer numbers of people who have been and are still likely to be more adversely affected than they needed to be, by it and other viruses, illness and disease, simply because they haven’t taken sufficient care of their own health, and in many cases not for a very long time. Some didn’t really know how to, others had simply chosen not to.
It is an active, conscious choice to be healthy or to indulge in behaviours that compromise health, and where addiction has been the result, there is also a conscious choice to reject or seek support to help to build the physical and emotional strength required to overcome it. To some degree there are genetic and other conditions which carry a degree of inevitability about them for some but again, in most cases, we have an active, conscious choice about how we minimise or manage the risks or the impact of such conditions that can or will affect our health. We have free will.
How Much Value On Health?
In short, the vast majority of us have the ability to optimise the state of our own health. The questions are – how much do we want to? How much value do we really place on the length and quality of our own lives? Are we willing to make the appropriate self-investments in maintaining our health to the absolute best of our ability, as the global message is urging us to do, or do we keep throwing the dice and hoping we don’t get sick and need treatment, and hope it will be there if we do? The problem with gambling is that most people lose more than they win. Health is not something we should be gambling with or expecting other people to sort out after our own failure or refusal to take responsibility for the single biggest thing that drives our quality of life.
My work involves supporting people in a holistic way to identify and overcome sleep disorder. As a psychologist I am more aware than most of the truly horrific, life-limiting impact on the human body and brain, of not getting enough sleep. I am also fully aware of how few people realise the importance of it. We cannot repay sleep deficits, and the longer insomnia goes on (as in, longer than a few weeks), the more habitual it becomes – and the more dangerous to physical and mental health. Once insomnia kicks in, the body and brain both start, slowly but surely, to degenerate and the very first thing to be damaged through prolonged lack of sleep is the immune system. It begins to deteriorate at an alarming rate, and of course a less-than robust immune system literally cannot ably withstand the onslaught of aggressive illness and disease.
This is not to say that people with compromised immune systems don’t recover. Most do, but it takes them longer, and depending on the illness they are trying to fend off, it often means they don’t go back to the level of functioning they used to have before they got sick. Sometimes, organ damage has occurred to the level where the organs in question will never again function as well as they once did. Sometimes, vascular damage occurs that can only be repaired to a certain level, leaving the patient permanently compromised to some degree and at increased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers or Parkinsons.
Worth The Gamble?
And of course, some people don’t get better at all. They die. And, if their immune systems were in better shape, maybe – just maybe – they wouldn’t have died. For most sane and logical people, the primary question here has to be: is it worth the gamble of not doing everything they possibly can to attain or maintain a good level of health or, if that’s not possible, to better manage an existing health condition that may not improve, but could at least be prevented from getting any worse?
As we move towards whatever will pass for the new ‘normal’, as imposed by the government and other authorities who have the power to dictate what our lives will look and feel like, going forward, what ALSO needs to become the new normal is a greater level of personal responsibility for how healthy we can be. As I have said many times, and what my clients have come to appreciate through the protocols I put in place for them, the fundamental cornerstone of health and wellbeing is sleep. Everything starts with that.
Control Over One’s Life
Fixing a sleep disorder hands back people’s control over their own lives, on a plate. With adequate, consistent levels of good sleep, those who are living with illnesses they cannot cure can manage them better, and that is a fact. People who are struggling with mental health concerns can regain some control over how they feel and function, and that is a fact. The brain and body work in close alliance, and we generally find in scientific analysis that people who sleep better have strengthened immune systems that can act as effective barriers against a wide variety of both mental and physical illnesses that routinely come calling, such as colds, flu, COVID-19 and hopefully whatever else might apparently hurl itself at us without warning.
I have tried hard to listen to the lessons delivered through this pandemic. I am reaching out and helping the vulnerable in my local area. For example, I am offering products at discounts, I have provided counselling to frontline NHS workers, I have baked and cooked more with natural ingredients free of additives that can pollute and compromise the strength of my body. I have breathed deeper, meditated more, cherished my loved ones more, listened to music and danced more, planted more flowers for the bees to come, hugged trees (yes, really!) and listened more to the resonant vibrations of nature. I have helped people to sleep better.
Conscious Active Choice
In addition, I have created connections where there were none, and consciously turned my back on the extraordinary, mushrooming levels of negativity that permeate every platform I look at or listen to. I have continued to make realistic plans for whenever I will be able to carry them out.
What I have learned is this: when it comes to what’s important there are only three real things: meaningful positive connections we have with other people, our environment and how all living creatures can exist meaningfully within it, and a level of health that can give us the strength to ward off disease. We need all three, not just for survival, but for life to have any real meaning.
We can make the conscious active choice to be more positive, and make and keep strong bonds with people who matter. As well as optimising our environment and making it as kind and comfortable as we can for ourselves, we can be mindful of the impact of our actions upon it, and we can be more responsible, caring and nurturing of our own health, and making the active conscious choice to give ourselves the best possible confidence in being able to withstand illness and disease that comes calling, and vastly reduce the capacity for living in a state of despair or fear.
Maxine Cook is a Psychologist, Complementary Therapist and Sleep Disorder Treatment Specialist. She is based in South Wales and works with clients all over the world to overcome sleeping problems that have started having a negative impact on their lives and health. Maxine works with Clients in a holistic sense, identifying and addressing each Client’s unique contributing biological and emotional factors that influence their insomnia. She and her Client design individually tailored sleep protocols together that offer targeted, specific support. The protocols are carried out in the comfort of the Client’s own home and offer continuing support throughout the sleep reset process. Maxine worked as a Psychologist with the prison service, the police and the NHS, before switching her focus away from forensic and addiction psychology to sleep disorder treatment and holistic health.
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