Steve Bugeja and Jamie Fallon talk to Retune's Tom Ryder about the social side of the charity's SCALES system for good mental health
Over the past few weeks, it has been a pleasure to walk you through Retune's SCALES system for mental wellbeing (Sleep, Creative, Active, Listen, Earth, Social).
We've seen how powerful a good night's sleep is for the mind, how using creative outlets can be therapeutic, how exercise can reframe thoughts, how outside sources and great content can inspire us, and we've also explored ways that yoga, mindfulness, breathing techniques, being 'in the now' and getting out into nature can keep us grounded and therefore feeling well.
For the final instalment in the series, we are going to look at Social. Social is the SCALES 'string' that holds all of the other strings together. You might be sleeping well, being creative, moving lots, reading, connecting with nature and so on, but if you are not sharing those experiences and developing great relationships with those around you, your mental wellbeing is likely to fall short.
Lockdown has been cruel to our ability to socialise. Face-to-face contact has been replaced by endless Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams sessions, Houseparty (not the good kind) and online quizzes. Warm embraces have been exchanged for elbow bumps and air kisses at a two-metre distance (or one metre-plus, whatever on earth that is). It has been a struggle to achieve separation between work and home life, and even the strongest of friendships and relationships have been sternly tested.
Now we must wear masks everywhere, obscuring our facial expressions and making even the simplest of everyday interactions a struggle. We've had to work doubly hard to keep our social lives stable, lives that we can sometimes take for granted. When it comes to person-to-person relationships in 2020, we should hand over to Joni Mitchell: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."
So what can be done to salvage our socialising? I've consulted two friends whom I consider to be experts in the field. Steve Bugeja is an acclaimed stand-up comedian and comedy writer who has penned jokes for shows including Mock The Week and Russell Howard's Good News, as well as touring a handful of celebrated Edinburgh Fringe shows all over the world. Currently working on a new sitcom, he's a former student of The Bishop's Stortford High School. Jamie Fallon, also a former TBSHS Sixth Former, is a presenter and entrepreneur who has used social media to excellent effect during lockdown, galvanising her community with upbeat posts and top tips, delivered with her signature light-heartedness. Here is what they had to say…
"Considering the entire industry of live comedy disappeared overnight, I'm feeling surprisingly chipper," quips Steve. "It's been a sudden and huge change to my lifestyle, but there are parts that I've quite enjoyed, like not travelling for gigs constantly and being able to watch TV in the evening rather than perform to strangers in a pub. But my low-level anxiety about what the future holds is definitely a drawback."
He has been part of two regular Zoom quiz groups, which "I think we can all agree is too many". But he's also made a special effort to call mates that he wouldn't normally call. "I've been teaching older family members how to do video calls, and I play a regular game of poker on a Tuesday with a bunch of other comics, which has proved costly, but good fun."
Steve has managed to improve existing relationships over the lockdown months: "I guess going through a shared experience like this gives us something more to bond over. It's become more normal to chat with my friends about how we're feeling inside.
"That said, I miss performing so much. I've done a handful of gigs over the internet, but it isn't the same, telling jokes sat in your kitchen, getting heckled by the coffee blender. I noticed the other day that I also miss being busy. When I was busy, I was crying out for a break, but this has been too much."
He can't wait for the news to be about something other than lockdowns, new cases and "the letter R", and is also looking forward to starting emails with something other than "I hope you're OK in these weird times?". As for tips on maintaining strong relationships, he says it's best to just reach out: "It's so easy to think people are too busy or would find it odd if you messaged. They wouldn't. They're probably not too busy and would be delighted to hear from you. Just make sure you sign off by saying 'hope you're OK in these weird times!'"
Jamie Fallon is quite the social butterfly and quickly became aware that her social life was going to diminish as lockdown set in. She took swift action in order to stay connected to friends, family and colleagues. "I started #home4lunch on Instagram to encourage people to share an image of what they did to help maintain some sense of normality in the working day. People were using their lunch hour to garden, do DIY, read, cook, work out, or as one person shared, clean the dog poop from the garden."
She stayed with family for six weeks. "We of course had the obligatory family quizzes, and several FaceTimes and phone calls, and our family chat has allowed us to stay looped in with grandparents stuck in Spain, and nephews who are growing by the day," she says.
"Friend quizzes peaked with our Trailer Trash Murder Mystery which required full commitment to the characters. We also created a joint playlist and added in tracks we were loving that week. Something I didn't expect was how generous we've all been to each other. We've been sending gifts, postcards and flowers to cheer up a friend or family member who needs a bit of TLC, or to celebrate a birthday. There have been some big smiles from surprise treats I've sent and received."
A new girls' WhatsApp group has been one of her favourite things to come out of lockdown, and the group has "genuinely become therapy". "It's a safe and honest space to chat about anything and everything and offer support to one another," she says. "One particular evening featuring the back catalogue of our ex-boyfriends in images was hilarious!"
At the beginning of lockdown, Jamie hosted virtual house parties – she hooked up the disco ball in her front room and donned a full sequin jumpsuit. "Offering something on Instagram where anyone could rock up felt like the closest thing to hosting one of my live events in East London, while that wasn't on the cards."
During Mental Health Awareness Week, Jamie also put together a series of videos called 'Happy Hour', where she was joined online by personalities including singer/songwriter SuRie. "It gave us an opportunity to speak and connect in a way we wouldn't normally, offering our followers some insight into how lockdown was for those from different walks of life," she says.
Live music is what she has missed the most. "I've been impressed by the live-streamed gigs, but it's not the same as my feet sticking to a venue floor with a warm beer in my hand, unfazed being in the personal space of a stranger all for a mutual love of music," she laments. "Sweaty heaven." Having the arts return to the stage is what she is looking forward to the most.
Jamie has found time to have a more balanced schedule, and to set her priorities in order. How can we keep the social plates spinning? "Be honest and flexible. There is so much joy and support in simply dropping a message to a friend you haven't heard from in a while, or organising a group quiz for a friend's birthday, or socially-distanced drinks in a park with colleagues.
"But this has been a trying time for many. It's important that we feel comfortable in saying 'no' when we need some space. And likewise, be supportive if someone needs to take a break from the calls and hangouts. Don't take it personally. Our different experiences mean that we'll adjust at different rates."
For more information about Retune and the SCALES system head to www.retunewellbeing.com or follow @RetuneWellbeing.