Our wellbeing requires more than just a focus on our attitudes towards life, our ability to regulate and tolerate our emotions or our search for meaning.
Wellbeing requires a totally holistic approach that includes looking after our physical health as well as our mental health.
In addition to avoiding illicit drug use, and being mindful of alcohol consumption we might also have to treat physical illness or accept and tolerate long-term and unexplained physical conditions.
These areas often receive attention and focus because they have clear impacts on our wellbeing. But what about the basic pillars of good physical and mental wellbeing?
Do we sometimes forget to attend to the basic essentials of wellbeing?
Do we sometimes focus on finding meaning, grit, resilience and so on, forgetting that much of this is not possible if the basics are not in place?
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that this is not a new idea and how the basics are the building block from which the rest is built.
Evidence has begun to illustrate that sleep is key to our wellbeing and that without restful sleep our physical and mental wellness will suffer.
Sleep plays an important role in our brain’s ability to function, is involved in learning and memory and helps reduces psychological stress. A lack of sleep is also associated with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Sleep also plays an important role in our physical health helping us regulate our metabolism and immune system.
Unfortunately when things are happening and our lives are hectic, getting a good night’s sleep – when it is in fact most needed – becomes increasingly difficult. Poor sleep can include i) not getting off to sleep, ii) not getting restful sleep and iii) early waking.
However, there are a number of things we can do to help get a better night’s sleep.
Getting our sleep under control takes time and effort, so it’s important that we don’t give up.
Trying the 10 strategies outlined should help with getting a more rested night’s sleep.
Some may help more than others and you may not need to do them all.
However, with practice and effort, you will be able to improve the quality of sleep you get each night.
Diet and hydration
A growing amount of research shows that our wellbeing is influenced by what we eat and drink. With regards to our mental health, evidence is emerging that our diet plays an important role in the occurrence, management and prevention of several mental health experiences.
A healthy diet can also help protect against strokes, heart disease, cancers, diabetes and digestive conditions. Additionally, shopping for and cooking fresh foods can also be an effective way to distract yourself, an opportunity to be creative as well as practice mindfulness skills.
Dehydration occurs when our body loses more water than we put in. Research shows that mild dehydration (1.5% loss of normal water volume) can impact our physical and mental health and occurs before we notice or even become thirsty.
Dehydration slows our circulation, which of course affects every organ in the body because lower blood flow leads to less oxygen reaching the organs.
This naturally impacts the performance of the organ and the brain is no different.
Our mood and concentration can all be impaired by dehydration, additionally, some of the feelings of dehydration such as feeling lightheaded, flush and having a dry mouth, are very similar to feelings of anxiety and stress.
To ensure good mental and physical health a wide range of nutrients and hydration is needed. These will usually be found in a good balanced diet that includes a range of different things such as;
A variety of different coloured fresh fruit and vegetables
A variety of whole grains, nuts, and seeds
Occasional oily fish, lean meat and dairy products
A limited amount of processed and convenience foods
Plenty of fluid, around 1.2 litres a day
A simple daily chart can be a useful way for you to start monitoring the effects of different foods and your hydration on your wellbeing. Using a diary like this will also help you see what happens if you don’t eat healthily or keep yourself hydrated.
When we plan and do activities, there are a number of things to be mindful of in order to get the most benefit to our wellbeing.
Activities that promote wellbeing include those that offer us the opportunity to;
· Practice Mindfulness
· Generate Meaning and a sense of Achievement
· Be physically, psychologically and emotionally Healthy
· Feel a sense of Closeness (to others, nature and the world)
· Have pleasure and Enjoyment
· Experience Gratitude and Savoring
· Do something for others that is bigger than us alone Self-transcendence
· Create ripples(follow this link for an awesome video on creating ripples)
Physical activity is an important part of our wellbeing and is most effective when we do it frequently.
One of the great things about exercise is, that as long as you don’t overdo it, there are no known negative side effects.
However, if you haven’t been physically active, have not exercised for a long time or have medical concerns you must check with your General Practitioner (GP) before taking up physical activity.
Remember also though, that it is important not to over-exercise and get addicted to the high adrenaline or “good feelings” that exercise can create.
Like all things balance is essential.
Exercise has this positive effect because as well as reducing muscle tension it causes the brain to release chemicals (endorphins) which are known to influence our moods and can give people a feeling of a “natural high” or boost.
Exercise also can help people get a good night’s sleep and be a distraction from moments of stress and crisis. This often provides a break from the source of the crisis and gives you the chance to charge your batteries.
Exercise will also improve your appetite and if you eat healthy your ability to do more exercise and improve your physical health will improve. Exercise also provides a good opportunity to practice mindfulness.
When planning activities it is also important to include activities which are done “Just for the fun of it”, that are frivolous, carefree, or purposeless; downtime, day-dreaming or times of idleness also have an important part to play in our wellbeing.
In fact, creativity and problem-solving often depend upon this “downtime” and daydreaming.
All living things do better when there is a consistent, predictable and coherent routine. A good routine should include the things we have already touched upon (e.g., sleep, diet and hydration and activity).
Keeping and maintaining a daily routine is considered so important to people’s physical and mental health, that astronauts are given strict sleep and activity routines to ensure their maximum performance is achieved in training and when actually in space.
Additionally, a routine needs to include our essential daily living chores of cooking cleaning, shopping, working studying and so on; but it should also have time for pleasure, fun or even times when we do nothing, daydream, or do things just for the pure enjoyment.
As well as being essential to your physical and mental wellbeing, a routine enables you to be more efficient and productive.
The increased efficiency a routine provides, reduces stress and anxiety (because we feel less overwhelmed and have greater cohesion), leads to greater productivity and success (because we have planned) and reduces the chaos often found in life. When combined these often lead to increased feelings of achievement, satisfaction and control. A real win-win!
Routines are unique to each of us and one size doesn’t fit all. What is important is that we create routines that work for us, are flexible and balanced and we do not create rigid inflexible routines that cause more stress than they alleviate.