In this week’s University of Brighton podcast we’ve been speaking to Professor Angie Hart, Director of the Centre of Resilience for Social Justice based in the School of Health Sciences.
The podcast is on resilience during the coronavirus pandemic and the positive effect resilience can have on mental wellbeing.
Dr Hart talks about how ‘resilient moves’ can help mental wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Most of the conversation is transcribed below:
Hello. How are you doing? This is the University of Brighton podcast. I’m Richard Newman. Corona virus means we all are having to get used to a very different way of life. Working and learning from home and limiting time outside of your home, aside from essential reasons, isn’t easy. So more than ever, it’s so important to look after our mental health and to help that in this podcast our guest is Professor Angie Hart, director of the Centre of Resilience for Social Justice, based in the School of Health Sciences. Hi, Angie. First of all, how are you finding everything?
I’m coping. I’m getting to grips with my deep British spirit of perseverance, and I’m just basically getting on with it, Richard.
It is all a bit odd, isn’t it? Certainly, taking some time for us all to get used to. We are going to talk about taking ideas from resilience research to help support well-being. First of all, how do you define resilience?
Yeah. Funny, when I was just talking about the great British perseverance, I was slightly tongue in cheek because our way of thinking about resilience is very much not about just individual pulling up your socks and getting on with it, but actually about the relationship between what we do as individuals in society, what the community supports that we have around us, and also the wider social, social support from government, for example. So, it’s very much an idea that is not just about us as individuals somehow pushing through and managing in really, really difficult situations. The way I think about resilience is very much founded on the idea that you have to have some kind of adversity context, as we put it. Say something happening that might be chronic or it may be something short term that is really, really very difficult, something that getting through it- in a state that is well, is not necessarily going to happen. And certainly, the coronavirus situation counts for that. The other thing I wanted to say about our definition is that it is a definition that focuses on what happens in relation to individuals, but also about wider communities in the societies. It’s about beating the odds and also changing the odds. And that’s really important to think about in this current situation, not just thinking about our own individual resilience, but wider communities and society, particularly the most disadvantaged people in society, and really getting ourselves into a kind of situation where these situations are very much less likely to ever happen again.
I’ve watched your TED talk, which was a little while ago now. But so relevant. You said then that you have to learn to believe in the almost impossible for most of us all of this is so new, we don’t know where it ends. The uncertainty isn’t helpful for many and the end can seem a long way off?
Yeah. Believing in the almost impossible in this situation. Well, now there’s a real challenge for us all. For me, the key components of that would be one one thing to just keep plodding on, doing absolutely everything you can to get through the day, day to day you’ll be needing in these situations to be prioritising the basics- are you sleeping? Are you getting food? Are you supporting the most vulnerable people that you’re in contact with? And if you aren’t in contact or you have no people in your life who who are really vulnerable, get some. It’s an easy thing to do. There’s lots of volunteering opportunities out there. But also attending to our basics and it really concentrates our minds, these kinds of situations around what we really need in life. For one thing as well. So that’s one part of it. The second part is around what we do about the future and part of our resilience approach is always thinking about a view to the future, but not in this situation, a view to the future so much so that you are catastrophising and surrounding yourself with other people who are catastrophising. So, I’m quite protective myself about my own mental health. I only watch the news once a day because otherwise it sends me into a panic. Sometimes I choose to read more positive news stories where I can. I spend lots of time talking to people who have a more positive outlook whenever I can. Also, I have a real tenacity about trying to do things that are difficult. Again, you know, for any of us, there are some things now where perseverance is really going to come in and we just need to really, really work hard and crack on with, for example, getting our shopping, these basic things before we just took for granted where all of us now- some more than others, are struggling to get the basics sorted. The other thing that I also think is very important for those of us who are more privileged is to be constantly thinking about other people and our own privilege and actually just not be moaning all the time. So, we’ve got a decent house to live in. We haven’t got children with complex needs in a tiny little one bedroom flat somewhere. And some of us have got gardens. So really, we’re very lucky compared to many other people. And that can be very protective to really understand your own privilege and be grateful for it.
Absolutely. And for a lot of people, this virus will be especially stressful because of those situations. We’ve got a lot of people are very fortunate that this really is their key concern at the moment. But for a lot of other people they are already very stretched as it is in terms of their own maybe mental health but this is something that’s on top of other problems and it’s going to be a struggle even more?
Well, I just read a blog by someone who is severely disabled and housebound anyway. And her blog basically says, well, you know, the rest of you are getting a little, little taste of what it’s like for me in my daily life, actually. I can’t go anywhere. I’m housebound. There aren’t public transport options that serve me. And I have very little online community because there’s lots of online things that you can access, for example, classes or yoga or something but I can’t actually-I find it very, very tiring to do that. So those sorts of things are very, very salutary. And I do hope that this experience is going to really show some of those of us who are more privileged that we will shine a bit more of a light on the lives and day-To-Day practices of other people that we just don’t really have any insight into.
I was going to say that actually in that obviously it takes a certain amount of time to form habits and new behaviours and we don’t know how long this is going to last. So, I guess one positive that may come out of this is that, like you say, people that maybe are more privileged can think about their community, can think about people that are more vulnerable and it’s all wired into them going forward when this is all over?
Yeah, I’m really hoping that that’s the case. I mean, for me, I’ve been juggling for many years, been a very privileged academic with some support in caring for my three kids, all of whom have got complex needs and were in foster care in their early years. And that actually puts me in quite a good place for coping in this situation, because I am actually very used to dealing with really, really complex situations, juggling difficulty, supporting other people. This is all my daily practice anyway. I mean, I think this is a different challenge now for us going forward in terms of working at the university- working online all the time, you know, supporting our students around their complexities. But as I say, those of us who have more hardship in our lives and that goes back further anyway, perhaps really quite used to dealing with this. And there’s a lot to be learned from these people who have been struggling through the years. Again I suggest that people take note of things like this blog by the disabled person that I was talking about, Amnesty International, have got a really good blog post up as well about the human rights implications of this and the fact that it will be affecting homeless people, people experiencing domestic violence, people with learning difficulties, refugees and women disproportionately. All of these things are really being crystallized now through this corona virus crisis.
After the panic buying that we’ve seen over the early weeks of this crisis. Things are settling down a little bit now. And I guess, Supermarkets are finding better ways for people to shop. People are starting to behave in a different way. We’re talking about resilient moves. I guess the panic buying that we saw and this hysteria isn’t really one of your resilient moves that you suggest?
Well, with the panic buying, again, that’s the very individualizing. It’s a concept that makes us think about self, isn’t it? And some of them, what was perceived to be panic buying was actually people buying on behalf of their communities. And I know someone was telling me in a very distressed way that they had actually been hit in the shop by someone for buying multiple nappies, and they were actually buying for a number of different households. So, again, you know, some people were not panic buying. They were buying on behalf of other people. But in some ways, some of the panic buying is actually irrational responses in very difficult situations. And I think supermarkets bringing a sense of order in terms of making sure their shelves are restocked quickly and that they have good queuing systems and all that. All of these things are very helpful for people to have some sense that they’re being looked after. And also, the constant news that there is enough food can also be protective. I was interested to see that in Italy they didn’t have panic buying, but actually they were much more orderly and there wasn’t a sense of panic that we’ve had here. But also, to think about for everybody that is panic buying. There are also a lot of people at home who weren’t able to get to the shops because of their disabilities or they were elderly or poorly or isolated. And I’d like to see even more efforts going forward into supporting those people, whether or not they’re on this list of people identified by the government with particular health concerns because there’s lots of disabled people, for example, who fall between the stool of getting really good social care support and being out there on their own. So, my I’m thinking about what any of us can do for those people living in our streets, in our communities, in our localities.
I guess a lot of us will be feeling, you know, very different right now. What sorts of symptoms could we be looking at seeing in ourselves, which we may need to feel like we need to act upon from this situation?
In terms of mental health if you are sleeping, eating okay, if your managing to get up in the morning and do something vaguely positive for your life. I mean, it’s a difficult situation. It’s not a normal situation because it would be a bit odd if we were absolutely euphoric. I met someone a week or so ago who was absolutely euphoric. I was thinking, oh, my goodness, that’s not a good sign because this is actually a very difficult situation. But the basics and that our mood is not so low that we can’t get out of bed or if we’re constantly catastrophising and obsessive, as I spoke about earlier. And of course, some people will have really, really profound money worries. And there are lots of people who lost their jobs. And one of my own children who found a job, and that was very difficult for him to find a job. He’s got a learning disability and other complexities, and he’s just lost his job. And I’ve been supporting him around that, trying to help him with a view to the future, that he will get a job again in the future and help him with it.
It is important for us all to find ways to get through this strange existence right now. Can you explain the resilience framework and how it might be applied in the current climate?
So, the resilience framework is a set of 42 different specific ideas put together some years ago now with colleagues working in mental health and social care. Originally it was designed for working and supporting the most disadvantaged families. I was working in child and adolescent mental health service. I have a background myself in mental health services, but it’s expanded a bit more now so that other people have developed the resilience framework to work, to work or support other groups. Some, including vulnerable adults, particularly. And also, young people themselves have taken it up and made it their own in many different guises. And there’s lots of examples of this and more information about the resilience framework on one of our websites. So, the Web site is boingboing.org.uk and you can download copies of it there. And if you’re an adult you could either download the children and family’s version, we have a children’s version, a young people’s version, but then also there is a family’s version and then an adult’s version. So, they suggest things to do that are Evidence-Based that can support resilience in times of really great adversity, which certainly the current situation is.
You have suggested a few things people can do to support the resilience of themselves and the community. I will read a few out which were provided from people, you know, I’ll read a few out now some ways that people can use: putting on a lovely working from home outfit for at least one day a week, even if it’s only going to be seen by my colleagues on Microsoft teams. Another one- I am looking for to planting my flowers to put up on my windowsill in anticipation of a nice summer garden. Another-I’m presenting some structure and boundaries, making sure that I take screen breaks and be careful to not let technology take over my life, now that I’m having to socially isolate. A final one here, neighbours in our streets who have never even spoken to each other before have pushed notes through doors offering help and support. I’ve done the same! So, these are all moves to help us feel better about the situation, but also to help others. And that last one, we’ve had lots of things through our door! We are seeing the best of humanity as well at the moment since answers after the initial panic died down a little.
One thing I’m thinking about is to try and think also about the idea of a slow move rather than a quick move because people seem to be ready to rush in to support. Many of us have been working flat out ever since. And I think now perhaps is the time to be thinking about ‘Slow Moves’. Making sure that you do not overwork, that you’re not constantly on the Internet, which again, we know that the Internet doesn’t have great benefits for mental health. There’s a lot of research both in relation to children and adults that show excessive Internet use cannot be good. So, we need to be mindful of that both individually and as a university. And that also we need to be careful and think about what the consequences might be of all this Internet use further down the line in terms of mental health, but also about in relation to our own privacy. So, we have all these tech companies taking all our data and we just quickly sign a form saying, oh, yes, don’t read it properly. Anyway, so I’m just thinking about family life at the moment, particularly for people who are living in really tricky, difficult situations. And we’ll be having staff and students who are in these situations and just trying to carve out some personal space or flat. Even if it’s a favourite cushion or, you know, a small chair that you can just say that this is my chair- can we all agree that we’ve got our own bit of space. If you have relatives living with you, it is important to think about how you are going to have your own personal space. I also wanted to say something about people and their partners, how things may be in that sphere, because you got to take the long view around all this being around someone for that amount of time is really, really challenging for a relationship. So again, have half an hour day when everyone in the household is able to say what they feel about the situation and how the family is coping together and bring up any difficulties and try to resolve them together in half an hour, dedicated half an hour space.
That’s a good tip. And one of the things we keep hearing about. We have also heard a lot about home schooling, of course, and how parents are dealing with working from home. What about the children? How are they feeling in this situation? They are being taken away from their friends in school? You don’t know when you’re going to be able to see them again. It’s tough for young people, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s certainly tough for young people, particularly tough for the young, the vulnerable young people who actually many of whom are still going to school, remember. And on that front, I’m really pleased that the government have actually recognised that the needs of the vulnerable children in this country and have got a system of free school meals and in many cases providing schooling or safe space for those children, some of whom will actually not always be safe at home. So, in terms of home schooling for children, many people in that situation will just get on with it and will do a good job of it. And I’ve already heard lots of tales from colleagues and friends of mine who are much more privileged in society around how they’re managing that, how they teach, teaching their children and managing their work. But for the children, of course, some of them again on many kids I know are just getting on with it. Some kids, they’re just really good at getting on with things. And again, limiting their access to the Internet is really important in terms of them not catastrophising or reading things much too adult for them. I think that’s important. I think there might be a temptation now if you work at home and your kids are around to just think, oh, well, they’re quiet on the Internet. That’s potentially storing up difficulties for the future. There are a number of good books around that can support children at these times through thinking about their anxieties, always having a space for children to talk about their anxieties. But again, not all the time. There’s a balance there. I again, I’m really quite in favour of this half an hour a day. You have a dedicated, bounded space to talk about anxieties, concerns, and it can become a bit of a family ritual. Kind of debriefing the family debriefing. So, my heart really is and my energies are more with those children who don’t have parents who are going to be able to home school them properly. And those children who don’t have parents necessarily to be able to talk through the difficulties with children in foster care, children in children’s homes. All of these children, are children that need all of us to be thinking about them and thinking what we can do about them. I think the concern I have about the neighbourliness is that many of us who are more privileged, we live in streets where other people are generally more privileged. So, I know there’s been a lot of that, that people are putting notes through each other’s doors. But again, I’m thinking. I think it’s important for all that we do that in our streets that all of us who have more privilege in society do something for other people who really have not. I think would be good to get involved with lobbying the government, write into your MP I’ve certainly written to my MP absolutely outlining that I thought vulnerable people who are living in rented accommodation, for example, or people in precarious employment should be given more space in the daily press briefings that the government has been giving out. So, things like that are really crucial in terms of beating the odds and changing the odds, because it’s easier for those of us who are more privileged to beat the odds for us in our individual circumstances. We know that in doing things for other people and supporting other people is also protective for our mental health. Obviously, we need to look after ourselves, women generally in society are more at risk from this that we take on caring roles. Lots of the frontline responders and people working out there again, and many of them are women trying to juggle childcare, household work and outside work and caring responsibilities of elderly relatives. But there is also that fundamental issue that helping other people is something that’s actually good for us. Doing something useful is good for us. So, anybody who’s working for the university and hasn’t- isn’t actually being able to work at home. I would really strongly recommend, if you’re fit and healthy, that you do get involved with the volunteering opportunities out there.
We will pop some links about the boing boing website in the description and you will be able to find out more about the resilience framework as well. We are going to end with our questions as normal-What advice would you give to your younger self?
Just analyse carefully what will matter down the line. So, I’m a really highly emotional person. I get into a stew over things that might not necessarily matter and I’ve actually forgotten about three weeks later. So very, very important to one under react in situations where you might overreact.
If you could pick any other subject to study at the University of Brighton, what might it be?
Either textiles. Because I love doing and making. And so that’s a brilliant way as well to develop activists’ messages. So we are developing some work at the moment with them colleagues in fashion, which is very exciting, or sports science because it would make me get out there and do lots of exercise, which I do and I love in fact since the ‘lock-down’ a few people said to me I don’t really do much exercise, but it is at least an opportunity to get out of my house now, so I’m going wander around the block. So maybe that will get me loads of the nation up and running or something.
Yeah. Good advice. Can you pick a favourite place in Sussex?
Rottingdean seafront. I’m sitting there with my takeaway coffee in a re-useable mug sharing an ice cream from the local shop if I’m lucky. And this this is for me. Is really what I call a safe space in my mind? The seas calm. It’s actually beautiful. And a few years ago, I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as my sister died under very tragic circumstances. And it was really it’s a really calming kind of place in my mind to go back to that I used when I was trying to work through what had happened. And it was really, really helpful. And again, it’s a really good thing for people now. Another tip is if you if you’re getting yourself into a state, you know, fine. Think of a place in your mind where you have been really maybe happy and content and go there, go there in your head and really get a sense of what it is like, feel about feel the texture of the place and what the weather’s like and learn in some detail in it. That’s a really good technique to help people calm themselves down.
When we can all go out and about again and freely move about and do whatever we like to do in the Brighton area. What would you advise people to do?
I would advise they go to some of the quirkiest pubs and bars in in in the country. So, we have some fantastic places. The Bedford Tavern is lovely. I took my mum there and she did karaoke for the first time! She said she’d never do karaoke, but they got are up there singing. The Queen’s Arms where you can see some great acts and a real, really good way to lose yourself in a crowd and just have a real laugh.
Final few questions, tell us something interesting about you, which a lot of people may not know.
Well, according to my Fitbit, I’m in the excellent fitness category for a woman and my age. And I’m quite podgy so you might be very, very surprised.
And finally, if you could pick three people to host a dinner party, who would they be and why?
Well, right now, frankly, nobody, because I am quite peopled out. Ironically, but working online and also the people I support. I’m not lonely in the slightest. And I’m spending a lot of time communicating with people. But if I did, if I really had to, I would definitely pick Boris Johnson. So, I could on the one hand, wow, him and my amazing culinary delights, I absolutely love cooking. That’ll be lovely. But also help him to commit to raising tax rates. Some of the things I feel really fundamentally are important. I feel it could slip some legislation in now raising the rate of the higher tax rate. Also, paying essential workers like cleaners and delivery drivers properly and really rebalancing the idea in society about who counts and who should be paid a decent wage. And I’m hoping this will this will create a massive shift in that. And I’m also making sure that those most vulnerable, the homeless people, people are learning difficulties, refugees are looked after during the crisis. We really hear very little about those on the press briefings. And I’ve listened to every single press briefing. Then, of course, I’d have somebody to make me laugh. Julia Davis, a comic genius. She’s one of the people behind Gavin and Stacey, because having a life for me in these situations is so important. I’d be the last person to watch anything horror related or things around crime and murder, but just good old-fashioned fun and laughter. But then I’d only invite them. I wouldn’t invite anybody else because my husband is here and I wouldn’t be able to not invite him to my dinner party. And I think four peoples enough for a dinner party, there’s loads of washing up afterwards.
That’s it for this podcast. Thank you so much to Angie for her time. Hopefully there is plenty in that interview which will help you through this strange time. You can subscribe to these podcasts, Spotify, Apple podcast, we’re on a lot of them-search University of Brighton. We Will be back next week. Thanks for listening.