Tuesday 24 October 2017

15 simple steps to boost your wellbeing

The pressures of life can take their toll on our energy levels. If you feel your balance is off-kilter, here are some tips to restore equilibrium.

A successful life isn't supposed to be difficult and stressful
A successful life isn't supposed to be difficult and stressful

Shane Cochrane

Often, life can feel like endless struggle. Sometimes, whether you're studying, working or bringing up a family, it can take all you have, both physically and mentally, just to get through the day.

But a successful life isn't supposed to be difficult and stressful. Good mental wellbeing isn't just about avoiding mental health issues; it's about living your life in a way that's both full and fulfilling, not gruelling and mentally exhausting. But, it's easier than you think to get yourself back on track without therapy or expensive treatments. Here's 15 ways to improve your wellbeing.

1 Tweet

Frequent Twitter use has been associated with narcissism and blamed for the break-up of relationships. But for Dr Mindi Foster of Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada, Twitter can help women's wellbeing by helping them deal with, in a very positive and public way, the daily sexism they encounter. "We know women can be badly affected by experiences of sexism and that responding publicly can be stressful and risky," Dr Foster said. She invited study participants to tweet about the sexism they experienced. It was still a public action, but with less of the risks. Those who took part were found to be less negatively affected; and they increased their psychological wellbeing, which lasted for days after the event.

2 Me-time

Quality me-time improves your wellbeing. And it doesn't have to be lengthy or spent alone. Dr Almuth McDowall at the University of Bribeck found that it's those who have high-quality me-time - freely choosing how to spend your time - rather than those who have the most me-time, who enjoy better wellbeing and work-life balance. "Overall, our research suggests if people take time out to recharge their batteries and experience the time taken out as high quality, this reaps benefits for their own psychological wellbeing, their family relationships and their employer as they are more likely to perform better at work," said Dr McDowall.

3 Take public transport to work

According to the University of East Anglia, driving requires concentration and can give rise to boredom, stress and social isolation. And the longer the journey, the bigger the negative impact on the driver's wellbeing. Using public transport, however, leaves commuters feeling happier and better able to switch off and sleep at night. And if the journey also requires a short walk, well that provides an added boost to wellbeing.

4 Sing in a choir

Singing in a choir significantly boosts your wellbeing, more so than taking part in team sports. In a study of choristers in England, Australia and Germany about their experiences, many reported that singing itself made them feel better. Some said that the level of concentration that was required meant that their worries had to be put to one side while they sang. Others felt that the controlled deep breathing, intrinsic to choir singing, also helped to combat anxiety and stress. Being in a choir provides social support and cognitive stimulation, keeping the mind active and countering mental decline.

5 Help Others

Volunteering improves your mental health and helps you live longer. Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School found that volunteers had enhanced wellbeing and lower levels of depression than non-volunteers. And you can volunteer and reap the benefits at any age. In Vancouver, high school students volunteered for an hour a week to help young children at an after-school programme. After only 10 weeks of volunteering, the volunteers had measurable improvements in both their mental health and their cardiovascular health. And if you're a little older, volunteering helps you stay physically and mentally active, allowing you to live longer and better. See Volunteer Ireland (www.volunteer.ie) for opportunities.

6 Get to the Beach

A UK study found that those who live close to the coast - even in the most economically deprived areas - report having better physical and mental health. It's not known why this is, one theory is that just spending time near the sea has a calming, stress relieving effect, but it's also believed that coastal areas, with their paths and beaches, provide greater opportunities for physical activities like walking, running and swimming. Of course, we can't all live by the beach. Another UK study found that just visiting the coast "left people feeling calmer, more relaxed and more revitalised than visits to city parks or countryside".

7 Get on Facebook

Emotions are contagious. Normally, this happens through direct contact with people. But emotions can be just as contagious on social media, and positive emotions are more contagious than negative emotions. Though some researchers have suggested that hearing about how well our friends are doing can have a negative effect on our wellbeing - one German study even suggested that reading about their happiness on Facebook can propel us into an "envy spiral" - more recent studies have found that getting updates from friends via Facebook increases our wellbeing.

8 Switch off

While smartphones and tablets give many of us the flexibility to be out and about and still keep up to date with what's happening at work, many of us have great difficulty switching them off when the working day is done. And it's affecting our wellbeing. Svenja Schlachter of the University of Surrey led a study that examined the effects of being 'switched-on' for work outside of office hours. The study found that in the long run, staying 'switched-on' "can be detrimental to wellbeing due to stress and work-life balance issues".

9 Go Back to School

Adult education is not just about learning. In a study by the University of Eastern Finland, researchers found that adults who had returned to education had boosted their wellbeing after 12 months of study. Participants felt their self-confidence had been given a boost, and many made work and career changes. Those who had a low level of education to begin with benefited the most. For more on adult education, see www.aontas.com/whatnext

10 Grow Your Own

If you have a garden, big or small, try growing your own fruit and veg. At the University of Alabama, they helped cancer survivors to grow their own fruit and veg to encourage them to eat more of the foods that are beneficial for cancer survivors. As well as the physical benefits, Mary Beth Shaddix, one of the master gardeners on the project, said: "Just being outdoors for an hour each day to tend to your plants improves your mental and physical wellbeing. I think there's room for gardening in everyone's life, and I also think there is room on your kitchen table for what you grow, no matter what you are faced with in life."

11 Be More Social

Being more social, interacting with our partner, our friends and family, or playing a part in our religious, social or sporting groups, is a great for your wellbeing and physical health. And the more social you are, the bigger the benefits. Previously, it was believed that marriage was the only social role that provided health benefits. But more recent research has discovered that it's the number of social roles that an individual has that matters. Social interaction is particularly important for older people, as it provides a number of health benefits in addition to improved wellbeing.

12 Find a Green Space

If you live in a town or city, spend some time in its public parks and gardens. Research by the University of Exeter found that people who live in urban areas report greater wellbeing and life satisfaction if there are plenty of parks and gardens. The researchers were genuinely surprised at just how big an impact living near green space could have on psychological wellbeing. Just visiting these green spaces brings benefits, such as improved mood and cognitive functioning.

13 Sit by the Window

If you work indoors, it's important to get some natural light exposure every day. Even being close to a window is important. A US study found that workers who sat near windows received 173pc more white light than their colleagues. Those who got the most light were more physically active, slept better and longer and reported a better quality of life. Dr Phyllis Zee, who led the study, said: "Workers are a group at risk because they are typically indoors often without access to natural or even artificial bright light for the entire day. The study results confirm that light during the natural daylight hours has powerful effects on health."

14 Turn Down the Lights

Too much bright light can be harmful, mentally. It seems it can magnify our emotions - good and bad. On bright sunny days, while many of us may be feeling happier and more optimistic, if you're prone to depression, the bright light can make you feel more depressed. The same goes for artificial light: if it's too bright, it intensifies our emotions. It may also affect how we deal with others and make decisions. Sometimes it's good to spend time away from the sun and other bright light.

15 Keep a Journal

Psychologists believe that we can improve our wellbeing by recording the mundane events of our daily lives. "People find a lot of joy in rediscovering a music playlist from months ago or an old joke with a neighbour, even though those things did not seem particularly meaningful in the moment," said Ting Zhang, a researcher at Harvard Business School. "The studies highlight the importance of not taking the present for granted and documenting the mundane events of daily life to give our future selves the joy of rediscovering them." Your journal is private, so spelling and punctuation are unimportant, and what goes in it is completely up to you.

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