What is wellbeing?
It seems that we talk a lot about wellbeing nowadays – particularly since the pandemic started. I decided to do a little research and find out more.
The World Health Organisation says that wellbeing is a keyword in their definition of health: a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Often we mean mental wellbeing when we use the term wellbeing. Organisations use different definitions of mental wellbeing. Generally, mental wellbeing describes how well we feel we are coping with the everyday stresses of daily life over time. If you have good mental wellbeing, usually you will be happy and have the resilience to cope with difficult events. If you have good mental wellbeing, you will find it easier to recover effectively from illness, change or misfortune. In contrast, poor mental wellbeing can make it harder to cope with even the most essential aspects of daily life.
How can we improve our mental wellbeing?
A few years ago, the UK Government Office for Science commissioned a report called Mental Capital and Wellbeing: Making the most of ourselves in the 21st century. The ‘Five ways to mental wellbeing’ came out of this report. These five ways are groups of suggestions for individual action, based on the evidence reviewed. Here they are:
With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.
Do something nice for a friend or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look outwards, as well as inwards. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, as linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.
Many organisations use this concept of five ways when working to help people improve their mental health. Both the NHS (5 steps to mental wellbeing) and Mind (Five ways to wellbeing) have their versions.
Wellbeing during the pandemic
We are in our third lockdown in the UK. At the beginning of the first lockdown, I remember having several conversations in which someone said “at least it is spring and not winter”; “thankfully the days are long, and flowers are blooming”; “at least we can sit in the garden”. It is not surprising that lockdown feels harder now. It is winter, the days are short, and many of us have lost family and friends to Covid-19. And at the beginning of the first lockdown, although we knew that we might have a second wave in the winter, somehow I don’t think many people understood how tedious things could become when you rarely leave home.
Now, there are many uncertainties. We do not know when it will be safe enough for our lives to return to something like normal. So, I think now is the time for us to fight for our mental wellbeing. It is not easy, but every little action that helps is a small victory.
What can we do?
Firstly, be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge that this is a difficult time. We are all experiencing the pandemic in different ways, depending on our circumstances. Each of us will find some aspects more difficult than others.
Then, decide to try something for a week to see if it helps.
Start with something simple
For some reason, in November, I decided to have my first cup of tea of the day in the garden. I wrapped up warm, sat on a bench and just listened and watched. At first, all I could hear was traffic noise. After a few minutes, I heard birds singing. It is surprising how much birdsong there is in November. There is so much joy in seeing a bird when it is singing. And, that is how I learnt that a Robin has a beautiful song!
And I’m sure that the exposure to daylight at the beginning of the day was helpful. I felt more alert and able to do things than for a long while.
However, I stopped having my tea outside in December. Not because it was too cold or wet, but because it was dark. I shall do it again soon because it is such a simple thing that does not take much time.
In terms of the Five ways to mental wellbeing, having my first cup of tea of the day in the garden allowed me to ‘take notice’!
More recently, I decided to go for a short walk before I start work. Many people, who have worked from home for a long time, do this. There are several reasons. Leaving the house creates a boundary between the non-work and the work parts of the day. It is a good way of making sure you have some exercise each day. If I plan to go for a walk later in the day, often I do not because I am busy working. And, again, being outdoors is good for you.
In terms of the Five ways to mental wellbeing, a daily walk before work allowed me to ‘be active’ and ‘take notice’.
However, things do not always go to plan. The daily walks helped me feel better: I love to exercise outdoors. Unfortunately, the combination of walking for about 30 minutes a day together with my other activities was enough to trigger a flare-up of fibromyalgia. Over the weekend, I had a lot of rest and sleep, and am now feeling much better. I shall start walking again, but not every day. Some days I shall sit in the garden and drink my tea!
One more thing!
Now there is something that I have not mentioned: creativity. I want to discuss using creative activities to help with mental wellbeing in more detail, so I shall write a separate blog post on this topic.