By Jennifer Green, public health practitioner
We all know that eating more vegetables, stopping smoking and exercising are some of the simple things we can do to stay healthy and strong, but what about our mental wellbeing?
Information about looking after our mental wellbeing is harder to come by. Fortunately, a set of guidelines called the Five Ways to Wellbeing is here to help.
The Five Ways to Wellbeing has been developed by the New Economics Foundation after looking at hundreds of research studies, containing information from thousands of people. They found that those with good mental health were more likely to regularly be active, give back to others somehow, keep learning new information, take notice of their surroundings, and connect with others.
Including the Five Ways to Wellbeing into your life isn’t hard and it’s made a positive difference to my mental health, complementing treatment from medical practitioners.
Following the Five Way to Wellbeing has given me simple techniques I can use to boost my mood a bit on a bad day; but these small improvements can add up so that better days slowly become better weekends or better weeks.
To give you a bit of inspiration, I thought I would share with you how I have turned this simple mental health advice into something that works for me.
1. Connecting with others
As a natural introvert, this one is most challenging for me. So I have started small – I might not be great at staying in touch with people but I make sure to send a quick text to people I don’t see often even just to tell them I am thinking of them.
A friend is going through a tough time and I have started send her little cards to make her smile. I will go to the effort of driving a couple of hours to see family for their baby shower or birthday party. Even though time or tiredness or the cost of petrol are easy excuses, it’s always worth it and I always feel a boost from spending time with people I care about.
2. Be active
Exercise decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our blood. So while I exercise I picture myself quite literally running off my feelings of stress and anxiety.
You don’t have to join a gym or play a sport. Anything that gets you moving, ideally enough to make you feel warmer and breathe a bit faster is fantastic. Start small and aim to do something active just once a week. Once you are in the routine of this, try to increase it slowly until the amount you are doing adds up to 150 minutes per week.
After you are in the habit of exercising, I promise you will miss it if you stop
3. Take notice of your surroundings
This one is more open to interpretation than others. People with anxiety might be familiar with the technique of ‘grounding’ to help see themselves through a panic attack or particularly anxious moment, and this is a bit like that.
Some people use meditation or mindfulness – ways of taking notice of your thoughts and feelings as their way of taking notice. Others might take notice through art or craftwork. I am terrible at all of those things so but I have found one thing that works. When I walk my dog I deliberately direct my attention so that I notice the flowers and changing colours of the fields, I listen to the bird song and I stop to take in views. Tapping into nature like this, for me, is very soothing.
4. Keep learning
This is an easy one for me. I work in the Public Health team and am surrounded by experienced colleagues with diverse professional backgrounds. We also take a number of Public Health Consultant students on placement, so I am always learning from the people around me.
However, your learning doesn’t need to be as formal as this. You could take up a new hobby or decide to do more reading around a topic that interests you, or even watch documentaries on Netflix about people with different life experiences to you.
5. Give back to others
Give is probably one of the easiest five ways to wellbeing! With a bit of consideration, it’s easy to make the conscious decision to give someone your time or attention.
You can choose to surprise colleagues or a neighbour with homemade banana bread or give out flowers on Newport high street like these ladies recently did!
You could formalise your ‘give’ by volunteering your time for a cause you feel passionate about. I like to walk the rescue dogs at my local rescue centre because it helps them out and I get to spend time with some doggos. The rescue centre don’t ask for a regular commitment so I can fit it around my life. Anything that involves you going slightly out of you way for someone else counts.
This is just a start on caring for mental health
You will notice that we use the term ‘mental wellbeing’ a lot when we talk about the five ways. This is because we don’t want to give the impression that the Five Ways to Wellbeing are any sort of miracle cure for a mental health. They can be helpful steps to take alongside the rest of your care from your GP or medical professional, and hopefully they are tips that you can use to manage your own bad days.