Breathe

Are you holding your breath while reading this? I mean, I do expect regular readers to be thus entranced when a new blog arrives, but otherwise is this the case? If so, you’re not alone. 

I was replying to an email recently (not a particularly tricky one I might add, though they can be in the mix) and realised that I wasn’t really breathing. I was taking small breaths, no doubt, (and was therefore, thankfully, alive) but I wasn’t doing it properly. It was as if I was holding my breath in fear or anxiety. This is a phenomenon called ‘email apnoea’ and it could be that up to 80% of us are doing it. This is not good news in our technologically-heavy world. If we spend up to five (or eight if you’re a teen) hours on our phones per day, it stands to reason that screen use is indeed the new smoking. Our lungs are not happy at all. These incredible organs can do so much but we no longer help them out.

Holding our breath contributes to stress-related diseases and disturbs the body’s balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide, which helps keep our immune system strong. Shallow breathing can also trigger our sympathetic nervous system ‘fight or flight’ response. If we stay in this state of emergency breathing and hyper-arousal for extended periods of time, it can not only impact sleep, memory, and learning, but also exacerbate anxiety and depression.

It now makes perfect sense that I feel anxious when I get a notification or attempt to write an email response (or blog). My body is trying to tell me something. We usually need outside forces to remind us though. When I was on my way to my brother’s funeral some years ago I got an amazing message from my best friend. Katy’s words were wise and simple: ‘all you have to do today is breathe’. And she was right. My lungs got my head and heart through that difficult day. 

Our bodies are constantly trying to keep us alive and well. Screen breaks, noticing our breath and even exhaling slightly longer than inhaling can all help. Deep breaths, everyone. Everything is going to be all right.

Summertime Sadness

Here’s a weird one. I’ve only recently noticed that when summer comes around I get a bit sad. I’m not sure if I’ve been like this all my life (I’ll check with Mum and report back) but it’s a thing for sure. The sun comes up early, the birds sing loudly, school’s over and the nights stretch out. All lovely and positive things. So why the dark cloud above my head?

I sought advice from the world of psychology and was delighted to find that I’m not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder has been claimed by the winter but it’s a summer phenomenon too, albeit much less common. In the summer months it could be the early morning light affecting sleep quality, more noise in the world around us (garden parties and kids playing football, you know the drill) or even a sense of guilt that everyone seems to be having a great old time in T-shirts and shorts while you’re still wearing socks and scarfs (this may be just me though).

It made me curious to see if we are somehow overly fond of the season in which we were born. I’m a winter baby with a late November birthday so maybe I’m simply unconsciously reminiscing about those first days of existence? Or maybe it’s related to our personalities. I’m an introvert so it probably makes perfect sense that when the world flings open its doors and rushes outside to make NOISE and be loud at festivals and garden parties that I’ll recoil a little and run away. I love a dark evening under twinkling lights, drinking hot chocolate by the fire, wrapping up in a big coat and splashing through puddles. But I think I love all those things because there’s seldom a crowd nearby. Rain and darkness bring peace.

Don’t worry, I’m not like a vampire who hisses if the light hits my face (not really) and occasionally can even be seen to enjoy time with others outside. So it’s not a disorder for me, exactly, it’s more a season that I now recognise as my favourite. Winter is coming. 

Now You See Me

I was googling myself recently (bear with me, it was for a thing) and realised that I’m nowhere to be found. Well, not exactly nowhere, but you have to do some serious digging before you find me. I’ve been blogging and updating Shedwriting for almost four years, so I suppose I was kind of hoping it would show up somewhere in the blank, inter-web space. Maybe in the New York Times’ list of ‘Great Three-minute Reads’, or ‘Ones to Watch for 2024’ or some such. One of the main problems is that the original voice of ‘Siri’ is also called Susan Bennett. Any search result with my name inevitably brings up this smiling American lady. Who is not me at all. 

This lack of online presence is, of course, self-inflicted. Deep down I’m quite shy and private. I’ve always chosen to eschew Facebook (too adware) and Instagram (too data-miney) so when the time came to step into the online light and launch my website and blog, I chose to dive all in and started a Twitter account too. Since early 2021 I’ve worked hard to curate a lovely, engaged and supportive writerly following, from all over the world, who gently support my small wins and softly commiserate when it all gets too much. The Twitterverse is sadly undergoing a billionaire bash. The little blue bird has gone and in its place is a stark, sharp, black ‘X’. It’s awful. Musk is stomping heavy boots over precious places and I’m annoyed (and powerless). I’m trying to keep my small corner going and some of my followers are sticking it out too. It’s just more time-consuming to trawl through the hateful stuff and lots more work to block weirdos (I’ll not go into detail, but most of them aren’t wearing very much).

Which leads me to the conclusion that staying under the radar is probably wise. The more traction a post or piece gains, the more you lift your head above the parapet – and be warned, there are many people standing armed and ready to take aim and fire. It hurts out there.

So since it doesn’t make sense to send beloved words into the world only to have no-one at all see them, I’ll probably have to learn more about Search Engine Optimisation, and Tags, and other ways to bring an audience to my website. But I definitely plan to keep it small. Small but perfectly formed (like my Shed Email chums – you know who you are).

The Good Old Days

Are you glued to your smart phone with endless doom-scrolling and messages and notification beeps? Do you wish you could switch off once in a while and go back in time – that magical time when phones were, well, just phones?

Turns out Gen Z, as ever, can teach us a thing or two. Apparently they’re leaving smart phones behind and choosing instead a ‘dumb phone’ – you know the ones, little clicky buttons, maybe a cheeky flip screen, too. The idea is to give their heads a break from incessant scrolling, or always being available. Imagine, they say, being able to have a cup of coffee, look out the window, and (shock) NOT TAKE A PHOTO. Goodness. 

It all sounds rather blissful to an old Luddite like me. But it’s a bit complicated. Without the little piece of technology in our hands we really don’t know anything. Where is that new cafe? No idea. Have you heard about the war / election / funny cat video? Nope. What’s your best mate’s phone number? Um, it starts with zero seven, I think? The technological revolution has indeed made the smart phone its epicentre. The world now revolves around these small, handheld devices: communication is via WhatsApp, even car parks use Apps, and without Google Maps we’d all be (quite literally) lost. It’s a bit sad, somehow. And here’s a scary thought – maybe our brains are changing too.

Gen Z are onto something, for sure, but I’m not sure the world will let them get away with it. Or maybe another revolution is on its way? After all, going backwards isn’t always a bad idea. To play my part, I’m turning off notifications, limiting social media (I’m only on Twitter but still, the scrolling and cat videos take their toll) and starting the day with my poetry book (or Calvin and Hobbes, depending on my mood). Everything in moderation as they say. Balance is all.

Warm Heart

I know Spring is arriving and all, what with the daffodils and birdsong and general lightness in the air, but I’m still absolutely freezing. I’m sitting at my desk in full thermal base layers and two pairs of socks, but it’s not really helping. I just can’t get warmth into my bones.

A quick (ill-advised) internet search suggests all sorts of serious reasons for this: old age (thanks); low metabolism; blood sugar issues; anaemia; poor circulation; peripheral artery disease. Gosh. I’d really rather just blame my genes. Granny was always cold and would screech at us kids to “shut the door!” if we were popping in and out of the living room. Mum is the same and is never, ever, without a long-sleeve vest, even in the height of summer. A 1980s heatwave was possibly the last time Mum wore a T-shirt. And she didn’t like it.

The young ‘uns today are wearing shorts in all seasons, and I keep spotting them strutting around outside with not a care in the world. It could be fashion and influencer-based (I know), or they may genuinely not feel the cold. But even a flash of a bare ankle on a cold day makes me shiver and draw my scarf tighter round my neck.

Surely we should be stoic Celts who can withstand all sorts of inclement weather and strong winds? There are colder places to live. But my friend, Swedish Sara, has always said that it feels colder here in Ireland than at her home, where temperatures can reach minus 13. The damp air and general greyness seems to seep into our bodies. The Scandis have somehow mastered this. My forays into Swedish saunas during our year out in the van were a revelation: hot, hot, hot room; deep, deep, deep breaths; and finally, warm bones. Stepping out from those pine huts into a cold outdoors, with bare feet and arms and legs, I felt at one with the world. Who’d have thought that I could feel the breeze on my skin and simply smile and close my eyes? No shivering here. A cool outdoor shower woke me up in places I’d never even known I was asleep.