“‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’“
What is wellbeing?
Wellbeing is described in the dictionary as the state of being ‘comfortable, healthy or happy’. It also features in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of health: ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. This means that well being is part of the foundations of both our physical and mental health.
How is wellbeing different to mental health?
Mental health and wellbeing are often used interchangeably to describe broadly the state of our mind and how that impacts and influences our lives, there’s no right or wrong way to use the terms. Mental health can be seen as the umbrella of all things related to your mind, often mental health is used to describe the absence or presence of a mental ill-health. Wellbeing, on the other hand is a component of good mental health, if we go back to the WHO definition of health ‘mental and social-well being’ wellbeing isn’t just about the presence or absence of a mental health illness (you can have a mental health illness and still have a healthy dose of positive wellbeing!). Wellbeing is maybe a softer term to describe all the little things that build up to make us happy and content with the life that we live, including who’s in it and how we live it.
Why is it important?
Let’s continue with the thought that mental health is the umbrella and wellbeing is the stalk..holder…stick thing? (what are they called?). If we don’t look after our wellbeing, it can crack, bend or even break which leads to the umbrella (our mental health) being at best a little wobbly, at worst completely off balance. When this happens we can be more prone to developing mental health issues. Or if you live with a long term condition, a break in your wellbeing can lead to symptoms resurfacing. Wellbeing might be seen as the softer counterpart to mental health, but like everything that is underestimated, it can actually provide rock solid foundations to mental health.
Why do I think wellbeing is important
As a mental health nurse and general champion of looking after your mind, I think wellbeing is important for two reasons:
One: Prevention is always better than cure.
Take a look online or in the media today and I can guarantee that you’ll come across an article, statistic or story related to mental health. Suicide is THE leading cause of death in men over 35 and each year the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHs) continues to receive higher referrals for children and young adults experiencing mental health issues than the previous year.
How different could those statistics be if instead of waiting for things to go south people were supported to strengthen their wellbeing? What if instead of people not being ill enough to receive mental health help and support, they’re too well to even need to ask? That’s why wellbeing is so important in my opinion, because with a strong wellbeing foundation it will hopefully translate into less people getting to the point of crisis, battling against stretched services and long waiting lists to get the support they desperately need.
Two: It’s completely unique to you
One of my favourite things about working with people on their wellbeing, is that no two people are EVER alike. Yes, they might share the same diagnosis, the same negative thought or unhelpful behaviour but what separates people from their diagnosis or experience is the things that make their wellbeing thrive are completely different. Sometimes the fact that your wellbeing is yours and yours alone is the biggest revelation. People spend so much time distracting themselves with what they think they should be doing that they lose sight of what they actually want to be doing. When you shift your focus back into yourself an amazing thing can happen; you can feel happier, healthier and comfortable – the definition of wellbeing.
How to improve your wellbeing
Start by having a read of the NHS’s guide ‘5 steps to mental wellbeing’. This is a great place to begin as the resource summarises the 5 areas that research suggests can be taken to improve your wellbeing. When you read, try to note if there are areas that particularly stand out to you and why they do.
Next, look at your easy wins. I call them the easy wins, because absolutely everyone can use these to find some simple ways to improve their mood (and overall well being). The easy wins have 3 core areas; Sleep, Food, Move. Told you they were easy!
The Easy Wins
Sleep is very underrated on its impact on mood, recovery and motivation. Waking up refreshed in the morning can have such a massive impact on your day and the decisions you make.
What to look for: First use a tracker (most sport watches have this function, or simply write down what time you turn off for the night and then what time you wake up) to see how many hours you sleep for.
Secondly and possibly even more important than how many hours you sleep for, what is the quality of your sleep? Take notice of things like: do you wake up often during the night, do you feel refreshed in the morning or like you haven’t slept at all, do you have a good sleep routine?
What you can do:
– aim for 7-9 hours a night
– go to bed and wake up at roughly the same times to allow your body to get into a good rhythm
– be mindful of consuming things like caffeine and alcohol
What we put in our bodies will directly influence our mood (we literally are what we eat!). The topic of food and mood is massive and too big to go into right now, but simply the food we eat doesn’t just go into fuelling our bodies. It influences how it physically works from blood sugar levels to how well it can take on nutrients and it has a direct influence on your mood. Things like skipping meals, eating too much or little or eating lots of processed foods can cause dips in mood, motivation and increase irritability and fatigue.
What to look for: There are so many things you can do to improve your nutrition but, these easy wins are meant to be just that; easy. Start just by taking notice if and how your mood changes after eating. Do you get tired easily? Does your mood dip or motivation start to lag?
If you want to take this further, use a food tracker (I like MyFitnessPal) to start to look for patterns if there are certain foods/meals that could be influencing your mood.
What to do:
- Sounds easy (and it is) but increasing how much fruit & vegetables you eat will give some noticeable improvements on your mood.
- Try cooking from scratch once or twice a week replacing freezer or take out meals
- Cut back on high sugar, high fat or processed foods. When you pay attention, it’s an eye opener how much processed food we eat!
“ I call them the easy wins, because absolutely everyone can use these to find some simple ways to improve their mood (and overall well being).“
I call this move, rather than exercise because sometimes the word itself ‘exercise’ can put people off, which I don’t want to do. I’m a big advocate in the connection between movement and mood, not only because it has a huge evidence base but because I’ve first hand seen the difference it has made in my own life. 3-4 years ago I would usually be found in a pub over the weekend only moving from hangover to hangover. Now my weekends are fuelled by swimming, biking and running as I train for a triathlon. I’ve never been “sporty” and felt exercise was a term for other people, I still wouldn’t consider myself sporty especially as I’m still learning and finding out what works for me. But I am out to prove that moving is for anyone, all you have to do is find what works for you and if I can do it, anyone can!
The great thing about exercise (or moving) is a little can go a long way. As long as you can be consistent with it, you’ll feel the mood boosting qualities.
What to look for: How often would you say that you exercise across a week (I use exercise here, as it should be something that gets your heart rate up and works up a bit of a sweat)? Then check it against the NHS guideline for exercise based on your age range:
Are you meeting the recommended guidance or was it a shock to see how much you should be moving? If it was a little shocking, don’t fear, incorporating more movement into your life can be as simple as going for a brisk walk to start the day or taking up a new activity like cycling or dancing.
To take this further you can also start to be mindful about how often you move during the day. Many of us continue to work desk jobs, and at the minute those desk jobs are also from home. Broken down this means we can go from bed in the morning to sitting at the office or sofa, only getting up every now and then for food or toilet breaks. Once the day is finished, we sit back down on the sofa to watch some TV and switch off. Some of us might not even get outside over a 24hour period some days. For a bit of an extreme prediction of what desk work can do to you, take a gander at this How Stuff Works article about ‘Emma, the work colleague of the future’ , off putting right?
These easy wins might be simple to follow but hopefully that can help you to make a huge difference to your wellbeing. If you give them a go let me know how you get on!
Wandering Mind Wellbeing Sessions
Are you interested in taking a deeper look into how to improve your wellbeing? Is there something specific that you would like to work on and you’d like some support and guidance? Please take a look at how I can help you as a Wellbeing Coach or email me today to book a free consultation call.