'It took an MRI for me to feel calm for 30 minutes'

Mental health is key in lockdown – teachers and students need to carve out personal time, says student Alfie Payne
7th November 2020, 9:00am


'It took an MRI for me to feel calm for 30 minutes'

Coronavirus & Wellbeing: 'it Took An Mri Scan For Me To Feel Calm For 30 Minutes,' Says Student Alfie Payne

A few days ago, I had an MRI head scan. I had a consultation on Tuesday and was told to expect an appointment in eight weeks' time. That Friday, I got a call: they had a cancellation and wanted to do it on Saturday morning. "Great," I thought to myself. The quick turnaround meant that I did not have time to worry about the experience, or to imagine some totally unrealistic, stressful situation in my head.

A tweet later, and I had a rough idea of what to expect - the noise, being clipped in, and the cold feet. But there was something I had not prepped for: that I might actually enjoy the experience. I spent 30 minutes laying still, having nobody that I needed to talk to, or message, or a to-do list to work through. The only thing I had to concentrate on was the music playing through the headphones. I had a realisation in the car on the way home: when was the last time I felt "in the moment" like that? I could not give myself an answer. It seems that it took an MRI for me to feel calm for 30 minutes. 

For as long as I can remember, I have always struggled not being busy. I revel in the challenge of finding time for everything and everyone. I will never forget the nickname my food tech teacher gave me - "Mr Yes" - because I do not know how to say no to things. That does not have to be a bad thing: if you are happy, and you have balance, then there is no problem.

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I have known for a while that I need to take up more relaxing hobbies: I don't read for pleasure anywhere near as much as I should, I could do more cooking; even watching Netflix is something I struggle to want to do.

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But it was not until the scan that I realised just how much I could benefit from forcing myself to actually do it: to cut away from the world, and to dedicate more time to myself. I can ignore the 28 unread emails, five Instagram DMs, two Snapchats, four messenger notifications, 16 texts and 10 WhatsApp chats. Plus the 36 items spread across three work projects and two college assignments on Todoist. That is 65 messages that I need to read. I do not find that overwhelming, though, and I know there are many people - especially in education - who probably have much worse.

I do not find it overwhelming because everything is planned out, to the minute. I do not even try and use my memory to retain my schedule - there was an afternoon where Google Calendar went offline, and I do not think I have ever been more flustered. My dog probably knew his schedule better than I did that day.

How much personal time did you spend?

Just because everything is planned out to the minute, it does not mean that I cannot have fun, though. Or that I am not spontaneous. Or that I am not flexible. Knowing what I need to do, and when, means that I can be just the opposite - I just move a block around in my calendar, which keeps me calm: yes, something has come up right now, but it's OK because I know what I'm going to do instead.

But when reflecting on my rainbow-coloured calendar, I can clearly spot something: that the personal time that I have discovered I actually enjoy isn't there. 

Think back on the past week - how much personal time did you spend? I bet it was not as much as you wanted it to be. So that presents a (fun?) challenge that teachers, lecturers and support staff can take part in together: working as a team to support one another in reducing working hours.

I think a big way in which we can cooperate on this is watching our out-of-hours responsiveness. The introduction of remote working and packages like Microsoft Teams, with its direct messaging feature, makes it more tempting than ever to talk about work outside of it. Especially since the mobile app feels just like any other messaging app. This, in turn, can make it feel like you need to reply straight away - but we don't. It can wait until the morning. So can sending the message.

I'm all for working flexibly at times that suit us, but if it's 10pm, why not use the delay-send email function? Or set a reminder to message that person when you're next working in daylight hours?

Taking measures to support our communal wellbeing - especially as we enter a second lockdown in England - is so important. As Henry Ford said: "If everyone is moving forward together, success takes care of itself."

Alfie Payne is a media student from Hampshire

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