The term wellbeing is defined as ‘a positive physical, social and mental state.’ Wow. If we’re honest, that definitely sounds like a pretty dreamy place to be right now.
Lockdown might have us feeling like it’ll take everything we’ve got to claw our way back to anything near positive. But before we totally resign ourselves (or slip into a cycle of repeatedly refreshing media headlines, the Insta/Facebook feed, or even the gin) for myself at least I thought it might help to take a closer look at this definition and the research that comes with it. Knowledge is often power, and sometimes it can really help in altering our behaviour and habits at a difficult time.
Wellbeing is defined as feeling good about ourselves and being able to function well individually or in relationships; it is also the ability to cope with challenges of the day to day, as well as making the most of opportunities.
We see the impact on these positive feelings and our ability to cope when we struggle with:
· our feelings of connection to our community and surroundings
· our sense of control and freedom over our lives
· our sense of purpose and feeling valued
These are the longstanding and widely acknowledged factors at play when it comes to mental wellbeing. Re-read each of them in turn, and if you have been feeling less than yourself lately it may become incredibly clear as to why. Each of these three factors in turn has been undoubtedly affected by either the coronavirus itself or the restrictions in place to contain it.
So if we know this, what can we do? I am promoting the following for myself and anyone who wants to join me!
Connect with people Social media has its place of course, but too frequent or even overuse reportedly increases levels of loneliness for many and may actually see feelings of wellbeing drop. Even if we can’t physically see those we want to, it is meaningful conversation – albeit through a phone or screen – that will benefit connection and mood.
Getting out. Connecting with the surroundings, perhaps with local green or blue space can also do a huge amount. Just two hours a week radically makes a difference. Let’s prioritise it! I wrote about this before if you want more of the research. In my mind there has never been a better time to invest in some decent thermals and waterproofs and get on out there!
Focus on what is possible, rather than what isn’t Let’s take action where we can. For example, for the most part we can choose the food and drink we put into our bodies. It doesn’t have to be completely wholesome every time but tipping the balance in the right direction will help!
Moving This is the big one from our perspective at Move Happy! Our plan to help you do this through lockdown will be out as soon as we know more about restrictions on outdoor group exercise (and I’ve still got everything crossed!).
We know physical activity is shown to have a positive impact on mood. Studies regularly show people are more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They have also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was even greater when mood was initially low.
Furthermore, exercise is also effective in relieving stress. When events occur to make us feel threatened, our body’s defences cut in and create a stress response. This increases adrenaline and the hormones that increase blood pressure, heart rate and the rate at which we perspire. More on this from a blog I wrote in August.
Exercise, and particularly getting the right blend of training can have a balancing effect. Research suggests highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.
Finally, getting active also improves our sense of self-worth. Immediately you’ll get those endorphins raging (that’s a good thing!) and in the longer term you will notice the difference in your self-esteem.
Gratitude Feelings of stress are unable to persist at the same time of feelings of gratitude. Focusing just for a minute or two every day on those things we do have in our lives is a great way to find a bit more balance.
Being gentle This is perhaps the trickiest for some, and one that is easier said than done. On days where for whatever reason we don’t manage to stick to any idea or plan we did make, we must do what we can not to beat ourselves up. These are unprecedented times, and tomorrow is another day.
I do acknowledge that I write this as someone relatively cushioned (for the moment at least) from the sharp end of this crisis. I haven’t lost family or friends to coronavirus, I don’t work on the NHS and Social Care front line, I’m not vulnerable living with a physical or mental illness, and I can still put food on the table. My anxiety about the present and the future is real, but for those with more to cope it can only be far worse.
Mind, the Mental Health Foundation and NHS have some great resources and information on taking care during difficult times. And if we need help – on any level – we need to look for it and ask for it. There is so much we can still do.
I hope to see you on the mat very soon - either outdoors in the fresh air at a 2 metre plus distance, or on the screen for an online class. Together we are stronger. Together we can do this!