What a year 2020 has been!
The coronavirus pandemic has brought challenges and heartache to millions of people around the globe; disrupting the education of children and young people, causing job losses on a scale unprecedented in recent times, bringing illness and bereavement to our communities. Many people’s mental health has been affected by the pandemic, leading to increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, not being able to cope and a lack of motivation. Stresses such as these can have a serious effect on our sense of wellbeing.
What is wellbeing? A dictionary definition is ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’. But wellbeing is a much broader concept than how happy I am feeling at this moment in time. It includes satisfaction with my life as a whole, having a sense of purpose, and feeling in control of my circumstances.
How can you boost your sense of wellbeing if you are feeling stressed by things that are out of your control? Here are some top tips for increasing your sense of wellbeing:
Take regular exercise
Being physically active really can impact your mood by releasing endorphins in your body. These are feel-good hormones which make you sleep and feel better. Outdoor exercise is great, ideally in a green space where you can get close to nature, for example in a park, by a river or at the seaside. Experiencing sunlight, especially during the winter months, will also help you feel good. If you don’t fancy exercising on your own, why not go out with a group or with a friend, which provides the added benefit of social interaction.
Get plenty of rest
Try relaxation exercises, such as Yoga or Pilates, to help manage stress and anxiety. Quality sleep is also important for our sense of physical and mental wellbeing. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you have difficulty getting to sleep try to relax before bedtime by reading a book. Cutting down on screen time in the hour before you go to bed will give your brain the chance to get into sleep mode.
Have a well-balanced diet
Eating a healthy diet impacts both physical and mental health. Aim for plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet and cut down on foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt. If you find yourself using stimulants, such as alcohol and caffeine, to help you cope with stress it’s wise to cut back on them to avoid sleep and anxiety-related problems in the longer term.
Connecting with other people is important for our sense of wellbeing so take time to talk to family, friends and colleagues, either in person, on the phone or online. Laughter is a great stress-reliever because it triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. So make space in your life for fun activities that facilitate laughter. Helping other people is another way to reduce the effects of stress; for some this could involve a regular commitment to support someone else or simply looking for an opportunity to express kindness to a friend or stranger.
If you are feeling stressed and anxious you may find the mindfulness technique helpful; it’s a useful tool to improve your sense of physical and mental wellbeing. By focusing on the present moment, becoming more aware of what’s going on around you, and your own thoughts and feelings, you can gain perspective on your situation. Watch the mindful breathing video on the NHS website which will take you through a short mindful breathing exercise.
Do something for yourself
Take control of your busy schedule each day by choosing to do something for at least 15 minutes that gives you pleasure rather than something that must be done. For example, reading a book, pottering in the garden or going for a walk. Or you could take up a new hobby or interest to stimulate your self-esteem.
Practising gratitude, or thankfulness, every day is especially useful when we are experiencing challenges or difficulties. It can help us refocus on what we have, rather than what we don’t have. Expressing gratitude to others strengthens relationships and has a beneficial ripple effect on those around us. A simple way to cultivate gratitude is to write down three things every day that you are grateful for. Or send a message to say thank you to someone else; you will feel happier as a result and it will nurture your relationship with them.
Ask for help
Remember, it’s normal to feel worried and anxious at times, but if your feelings are getting on top of you it’s important to recognise when you need to ask for help. There’s no shame in asking for support from your family or friends if you are feeling low, or in talking to your GP if you are concerned about your mental health. You could also check out these tips to improve your mental wellbeing on the NHS website.