Often it can be challenging to take a step back, with many of us feeling guilty for taking a bit of time out of their day but doing good for your mind doesn’t need to take up a lot of time.
The search for wellbeing had preoccupied people since antiquity and likely before. Perhaps wellbeing starts with feelings of life satisfaction, purposefulness and being in control of our lives. Having good relationships, enough money and good health all also contribute to our wellbeing. A sense of vitality, enjoying outside interests and being in balance with our environment are other factors. Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say it is the search for how to best live and fulfil our human potential. The concept of wellbeing runs right across our lives – from our work, home life, leisure time and even the quality of our sleep. Wellbeing involves a complex mix of physical, psychological and lifestyle factors.
A good wellbeing not only means we are happy and fulfilled but it may help us to avoid encountering any mental health difficulties. 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer with mental health difficulties at some point in their life. It is clear to see what we need to make sure we are doing all that we can to maintain a positive wellbeing state and avoid these difficulties – where we are able to.
But, in order to begin these steps, we must first be aware of what wellbeing is and what contributes to a positive wellbeing, and what negatively effects our wellbeing.
Here are some suggestions to start with...
Upgrade your to-do list
Rather than writing out tasks, compile a ’ta-da’ list of what you’ve achieved. Research from Harvard Business School shows people who track and celebrate small achievements are more motivated.
Write by hand
The sensory experiences of writing “create contact between different parts of the brain and open it up for learning and remembering better,” explains neuroscientist Professor Audrey van der Meer, who co-authored a study on the subject.
Make your jobs more joyful
Create a small ‘joy ritual’ around your everyday tasks, whether it’s enjoying a sunset on a dog walk or a podcast while cooking dinner. Research published in Frontiers in Psychology found that engaging with pleasurable activities may play a protective role in maintaining health.
Press pause on your daily grind
Salt Awareness Week in March (14-20) is a prime time to take action on keeping your sodium intake to the recommended 2.4g (equivalent to 6g salt) a day.
Spruce up your snack cupboard
One way of making healthier food choices could include ‘choice editing,’ says Sarah Coe, nutrition scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation. “This means having vegetable sticks prepare as snacks, or pre-cooked wholegrain such as bulgur wheat or quinoa ready in the fridge or freezer to make a quick meal when peckish.”
Swap sweet multipacks for a homemade snack
Clementines are hydrating as well as a source of cell-protecting vitamin C. For a delicious snack, dip them in melted 70%-cocoa dark chocolate and set in the fridge.
Find the positives
Try looking for silver lining as you wait for news. This acts as a buffer against the emotional consequences of bad news - but won’t backfire if it’s good.
Give your bedroom a 10-minute makeover
Think clean, tidy, fresh bedsheets and free of tech. Wind down for an hour before sleep, dimming the lights and opening the window to lower the room temperature for optimal sleep conditions.
Add fresh flowers to your weekly shop
A small study conducted by Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, found that people who were given a bunch of blooms and displayed them in rooms they visited in the morning reported feeling less anxious when at home and more energetic at work.
Dress in colour
Hailed by Vogue as one of the biggest post-pandemic trends ‘dopamine dressing’ is about embracing bold pops of colour or patterns. “In the UK, we have learned to associate bright colours and sparkle with celebrations,” explains fashion psychologist Dr Dion Terrelonge. “Therefore, when we wear this type of clothing, we experience associated feelings of joviality.”
Walk a few more steps each day
A recent study showed that taking just 2,000 extra steps a day can be linked to a longer lifespan. “Progression is good - increase your step count or intensity and keep it fun with new terrain, distances and inclines,” says FLEX Chelsea personal trainer Jason Bone.
Try finger breathing
Your brain processes around 6,000 thoughts a day - so give it a bit of a break. Trace around your hand with a finger. On the ascent (from palm towards fingertip), breathe out, and on the descent (from fingertip towards palm), breathe in.
Leave your earphones at home
Instead of plugging into music or a podcast while you’re out for a walk, try listening to the sounds of nature. Researchers have found that sounds of a flowing brook or steady waterfall increased positivity, while birdsong helped to lower stress levels.
Chase the sun
Light outdoors is 100 times brighter than indoors. Get more daylight during waking hours and it’ll help your body sync with the fluctuations between light and dark, so you feel sleepier at night.
Paint a picture and it could result in more than just a pretty image. Research suggests that art and creative therapies can help those who find it hard to put emotions into words, as it feels like a less invasive way of expressing experiences.
Build in pockets or silence
Find quiet moments in your day to help you return to a parasympathetic state, setting you up for shut-eye later. “Your night-time sleep is a reflection of daytime life,” says The Sleep School’s Dr Guy Meadows. Aim for 30 seconds of stillness every few hours.
Try a relaxation recipe in your bath
Build in some box breathing
It helps to relax your nervous system and instils a feeling of control, says “The Breath Guy” Richie Bostock. “Inhale for four, hold for four, exhale for four, hold for four. Repeat this pattern to find calm.
Unwind with ASMR
An Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a light, tingling feeling triggered by certain sounds or actions, such as whispering or tapping. Feel the meditative effects for yourself by reaching for your headphones and exploring the library of ASMR videos on YouTube. It could help lower your heart rate, according to scientists at the University of Sheffield.
Speak to yourself kindly
Try daily affirmations - science says regular repetition of these statements about ourselves can encourage our brain to take them as fact. “Affirmations can help people feel more accepted, and change insecurities or uncertainties to become more positive,” says psychotherapist Yuko Nippoda, spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy.
Move for 30 minutes a day, five times a week
According to the British Heart Foundation, being active can increase your levels of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
Bend your right elbow and rest your left arm in the elbow crease. Pull this arm to the right, keeping your shoulder down. Lower your right ear to your shoulder for five breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Shake up your salad with a variety of leaves and grains
Build a base for your salad with leaves that vary in texture and colour. Add a mix of grains, beans and pulses to help provide a wider range of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre.
Walk without a map
“There are unique neurons that help us navigate our way through cities. These are part of the tissue that is lost in Alzheimer’s, leading to disorientation in severe cases. Using your internal compass is a great way to enhance your cognitive capabilities and build your brain’s resilience,” says Dr Rahul Jandial, author of Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon.
Change the scents around you
Whether you’re in the mood to relax with lavender or reinvigorate with lemon and tea tree, a few drops of essential oil in a diffuser will help you achieve your intention.
Tune into your cortisol levels
Feeling stressed or anxious is a result of heightened levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body. Lower yours with gentle exercise – a walk, a yoga session or some deep breathing can all help.
Trial a micro schedule
If you have a busy day ahead, write yourself a timetable that schedules everything in 10-minute slots – from tea breaks to self-care rituals such as desk stretches – to help you prioritise your wellbeing alongside your work commitments.