As I write, the UK, along with many countries around the world, is in varying degrees of lockdown, brought about by a global pandemic.
For some, life would have continued along, albeit in a surreal way. For others this will have created space for rest and refection. Either way it will likely be a time when many of the things you hold dear have been put on hold, as we all ride out the storm. Perhaps you’ve put aside your connection with others, your work, your normal exercise regimes, healthy diets and alcohol limits and of course your freedom.
In some ways this blog could also be put aside, in these exceptional times, yet in some ways it is a pertinent topic?
Vivian Green was quoted as saying “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass – it’s about learning how to dance in the rain”
Whilst a global pandemic is one hell of a downpour, this raises a really interesting question. How do we integrate wellbeing into our everyday lives, regardless of the circumstances?
Often, we think we need to head somewhere to get out of the rain or to dry out. Exercise, meditation, yoga, cooking healthy meals, learning new skills – all examples of the places we would go or the things we would do, if only we had more time and life circumstances didn’t keep getting in the way.
How many times have you found yourself:
- Working late to meet a deadline and missing an exercise class?
- Skipping lunch to get through the workload?
- Keeping that new hobby on the new year’s resolution list year after year?
- Sacrificing sleep to tick a few more things off the endless to do lists?
- Reaching for a quick sugar or caffeine fix to get you through the day?
All common stories I hear when coaching wellbeing – the rain starts and we stop play.
Yet, we instinctively know that this restricts us from living the life we want, and from optimal health. So why do we do it?
This is the question I am going to endeavour to answer in this blog – how do we integrate wellbeing into our daily lives no matter how hard it is raining?
Before I jump in, a message to those of you reading this who may have been directly affected by the pandemic or another debilitating life circumstance. I would like to take this opportunity to send my heartfelt condolences to each of you. Also, to convey that this blog is not intended for those who are struggling deeply, experiencing ill health or are grieving.
What does it mean to be well?
How are you?
Even if your gut response was to say ‘fine thanks’, it is likely that not everything in your world is going swimmingly, and something will be challenging your wellbeing. Regardless of whether or not you are in good health.
The World Health Organisation defines health as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’. They go on to say that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
The Cambridge Dictionary defines well being as “the state of feeling healthy and happy”
I could, I’m sure, find 100 definitions, and what well being actually means would still be as clear as mud.
What I do know is that, in the era we live in, wellbeing seldom only constitutes the absence of ill health. Instead it conjures up an image of all aspects of daily life, and comes with an expectation that these should be working in harmony. We expect to be:
- Well in our work,
- Well in our stress levels,
- Well in our sleep patterns,
- Well in our relationships and community,
- Well in our financial situation,
- Or simply well in ourselves.
Hal Elrod in his book “The Miracle Morning” shares his concept of ‘Level 10 Success’. He looks at 10 areas, perceived to constitute a happy life, and invites you to set 10 goals against each of them – as a way of enhancing, or tackling, any areas getting in the way of your happiness.
In many ways what we believe makes us happy is the same as what we perceive constitutes overall wellbeing.
If a happiness/wellbeing spring clean is in order, then this is a great exercise to do.
Learning to Dance in the Rain
It would be fairly easy for me to create a list of things you can do within your daily life that influence your wellbeing – like eat well, start a hobby, stress less, meditate, exercise, sleep well, etc.
Whilst these are all great options for supporting your physical and mental wellbeing, if you are not already doing them then something is likely to be getting in the way.
So, instead, I am going to attempt to tackle some of the areas that may be impeding you. Hopefully, smoothing the way and creating space for more wellbeing to come in.
In reading through the following obstacles to wellbeing, you might like to think about how relevant they are to you, and how you might go about starting or stopping something that is getting in the way of you integrating wellbeing – should you wish to.
There is a plan in Part 3 ‘What Will You Do’, that you might like to use to do this.
Obstacles to Wellbeing
- Are you Sabotaging Yourself?
Anyone who knows me, or has heard me present, will probably know that I am a recovering A type maladaptive perfectionist, with a propensity for over doing things.
Left unchecked, you will find me running down the road to burnout with a list of goals and deadlines – and an even larger coffee in hand.
Fortunately, I have learnt, albeit the hard way, to manage myself and my wellbeing.
Perfectionism can be a positive (adaptive perfectionism), like when a job needs to be done and it needs to be done to a high standard. The challenge is when you set the bar so high for yourself and others (maladaptive perfectionism) when it actually isn’t that important and/or something else has to give – perhaps one of those areas that constitutes your wellbeing.
Ever hear yourself saying “I had to work late and miss putting the kids to bed because I am the only one who can get the job done properly”? or “I have to do all the chores at home as he/she doesn’t do it right”?
If you relate to having maladaptive perfectionistic tendencies, then utilising a perfectionism scale can help to manage it and stop these from being an obstacle to wellbeing.
Here’s an example based on the delivery of a work project….
· Quality and timeframe at 110%.
· Personal achievement.
· Reward and recognition.
|– Performance +||
· Will have to work excessively long hours.
· Life balance will be heavily impacted.
· High stress levels.
· Quality and timeframe at 90%.
· A job well done.
· Enables life balance.
· Demonstrates ability to manage self and work effectively.
· Sets a good example to others.
· Low stress levels.
· Reward and recognition and sense of personal achievement will need to be managed.
· Quality and timeframe at 50%.
· Minimal effort.
· Maximises personal time.
· Does not meet quality or objectives.
· No sense of self achievement or reward and recognition.
· This may impact future prospects.
Once you use this a few times, it is likely to become a habit. A quick sanity check before commencing something new or when you, or others, find you a tad challenging to be with!
- Sit Down and Stand Up
The average person is believed to sit for around 9.5 to 12 hours a day. That is more than we sleep!
Think about it – if we sit to eat, to watch TV, to drive, potentially to work – it soon adds up.
Aches and pains may arise as a result of prolonged sitting, and left unmanaged may result in the muscular and skeletal system adapting overtime, or potentially lead to injury.
You would think that we would feel trouble brewing, but pain receptors can switch off when busy or stressed.
So, if sitting is something you do too much of, this can be a real obstacle to the physical wellbeing of your body. One of the best ways to interrupt your sitting is of course to stand up, but it’s an easy one to forget to do, particularly when you are busy.
One way of overcoming this is to pick activities you do, and to stand up whenever you do them. For instance, can you stand up whenever you make a phone call?
Picking a few things can soon become a habit, and will reduce the amount of time spent seated each day. Equally if you spend a great deal of your day standing, can you interrupt this by sitting for some activities?
Whilst an interchangeable desk can be beneficial, it is not a necessity. I use my desk for writing and place my laptop on a book shelf when I am working standing up.
- Are you out of your mind?
As a Mindfulness Teacher I, of course, advocate the practice of Mindfulness.
It is not lost on me though that, for some and at times, it can feel like too much of a ‘something else to do’.
However, if you are not starting your day in a mindful way, then your day is likely to be running you and not the other way around. Here it is too easy to put wellbeing aside for the next thing that needs to be done.
To help overcome this, I recommend you take a few moments, at the start of the day, to ask yourself – “how do I want to feel today and what do I want to achieve”?
Fast forward to the end of the day and imagine what it will be and feel like to achieve this?
Perhaps writing 3 – 5 things down to reference during and at the end of the day.
You may like to get a bit fancy and meditate – perhaps using the following practice that can help set up your day in a mindful way.
Whichever method you select, and even if the day doesn’t go do plan, congratulate yourself anyway – for practising mindfulness.
A Morning Meditation to Set your Day
- Get Comfortable: Sit in a upright but comfortable position, with your hands in your lap or on your thighs, and your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and allow your body and mind to settle.
- Breathe: Take a few centering and grounding breaths. In through the nose and out through the mouth . Then just breath naturally, perhaps in and out of the nose.
- How are you? Allow your awareness to step inward and take a few moments to establish how you feel in this moment. Check in with your physical body, your mind and your mood.
- What’s on the to do list? Allow your mind a few moments to scan through what you need to get done and then do your best to put this aside.
- Visualise the day: Instead of what you have to do, think about how you want to feel. What quality do you want to bring into your day?
- Pick a Word: What word encompasses this? Perhaps its Courage, Clarity, Determination, Fun or Confidence. Whatever comes to mind.
- Reinforce: Breathe your word in and out for a few rounds – to help it stick.
- Breathe in: Today I will be “ “
- Breathe out: Today I will be “ “
- Overcome Challenges: See yourself faced with a challenging situation and still being able to demonstrate this quality. Allow this quality to move with you throughout the day
- Come back: take a moment to breath naturally and to feel your feet on the ground. Blinking open your eyes when you feel ready.
Take a moment to write anything down, if you would like to – to refer to during or at the end of the day.
If you lose your quality through the day you can always come back to your word or this meditation.
- Is there Orange in your Day?
To easily see that I had the balance right, I used to colour coordinate my online planner and play time was in orange. 7 years on’ I still call it putting orange in my day.
Building orange into the day may be something you naturally do. Or, like me, you may find that not proactively scheduling it in means it doesn’t get prioritised.
Whilst some activities admittedly require time, don’t let that put you off.
If time is a challenge, think about how you might combine some orange into what you do already– for instance a shared dog walk, reading/listening to a book on route to work, or a shared meal.
Lifehack in their article, 30 Ways to Add fun to Your Daily Routine, provide some ideas.
Not all achievable during lockdown but some food for thought.
- Eat, Drink ….
You have probably heard the phrase ‘you are what you eat’?
What you may not know is that it was coined by French author Anthelme Brillat Savarin who wrote, ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are’. Way back in 1826.
My point here is that, it’s fairly safe to say, we have known about the importance of food for many moons – it is the fuel of wellbeing. If we are not getting enough, too much or the wrong fuel then it will affect everything. How we feel, how we perform, how we look, our ability to deal with stress, our health, our ability to sleep and so much more hangs on what we put into our bodies.
If the right fuel is so critical then why are so many people eating so much junk?
There are many factors that get in the way of our eating for our lives, such as awareness of what constitutes a healthy diet, how confusing food choices and labelling are, our emotional relationship to food and planning.
The fun stuff can taste so much better than the fuel, and clever marketing can so easily dupe us into poor choices.
I’m sure you will appreciate that this is a huge topic in its own right. For the purposes of this blog, I am going to suggest just one obstacle to eating right – planning.
Do you know what you are going to eat this week? Or today even?
Some people will say that they prefer to rely on ‘how they feel’ to select their next meal. If you are highly tuned in to your body, and you can trust yourself around food, then go for it.
Personally, I find that having a plan for core meals means I can proactively ensure I get a variety of healthy and nutrient dense meals throughout the week. It also means less trips, to buy supplies and generally works out cheaper, which is a bonus at any time.
Now, I will point out here that I am no purist and live mostly by the 80/20 rule of ‘fuel’ versus ‘fun’ foods!
Another way to look at this is if Nature made it, eat it, and if Man made it, limit it.
If planning is an obstacle to you eating well, I recommend mapping out your weekly meals and sticking to it, well mostly!
Hydration is essential to wellbeing, but one that is easy to forget to do or forget how many hydrating drinks we have had. A tip here is to fill up a couple of containers, for instance glass bottles, with water at the start of each day and work your way through them.
There are many obstacles to eating and drinking for fuel, but having a plan will hopefully remove one of them.
- And Be Merry
Children are believed to laugh significantly more than adults. Whilst the degree to which this happens seems to be far ranging, it makes sense that the gap widens over the years.
Laughter is good medicine, yet it is easy to get caught up in the seriousness of life and forget to build in opportunities to have a good laugh.
In the article ‘ Six Science – Based reasons Why Laughter is the Best Medicine’ Forbes provides us with some compelling reasons to up our laughter quota.
So how do we go about removing the obstacles to having a good belly laugh?
I get sent a fair few funny clips which I keep in an album on my phone. And I have my go to comedians and programmes in the planner, that always give me a good reason to chuckle.
- Are you engaged in your work?
I once worked for a bank in Australia and every year they would do a Gallup Survey, where one of the questions was ‘do you have a best friend at work?’.
As you can imagine, it was the butt of many a joke.
The reason for the question was that there is believed to be a direct link between feeling we have good friends in the workplace and how engaged we feel in our jobs.
An example provided In the article ‘Why we need best friends at work’, is that women who strongly agree (highest rating), to having a best friend at work, are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) than women who say otherwise (29%).
So, if you are not feeling it, in a job you generally enjoy, or are now working more from home, it could be that you are not valuing or missing the connection with those you work with?
If this is a relatable obstacle, perhaps it’s time to put a little focus on cultivating friends at work or in the community you work within?
- Are you man / woman or machine?
Have you ever heard someone being referred to as being like a machine?
Implying they can keep going non-stop – like it’s a good thing?
Take it from someone who has lived in both the IT world and is well versed in wellbeing, many machines need downtime and we humans definitely do.
Taking a break, every one and a half to two hours, should be a non-negotiable for any human wanting to be wellbeing centric.
As well as a productivity hack, it links to our ultradian rhythms which are the highs and lows we all experience during the day. These were given to us by nature for a good reason. Put simply, they enable us to get things done during the highs, with the lows an opportunity to rest and recharge supporting wellbeing.
Trouble is that we have learnt to see the highs as ‘being on a roll’, and mask the lows with a quick fix like a refined sugar or caffeine hit.
The double trouble is, that in doing this, we are not as effective, and if we keep flogging an already frazzled nervous system we, like any overworked machine, will eventually crash.
So why is taking a break too often overlooked?
I think there are two main obstacles that need to be overcome.
The first is do with how we perceive taking a break. Perhaps the perception is that it means you are weak, lacking stamina and are non-machine like?
If this is you, then this is a belief that needs to be challenged to enable wellbeing. Ask yourself:
- What would you think if you saw someone else taking a break?
- If taking breaks makes you are more and not less effective – what’s to lose?
- If breaks come with benefits to wellbeing, isn’t this more a priority than perception?
Hopefully this will do the trick. If the perception is a cultural one and you don’t feel you can lead the change, perhaps send them my way?!
The second obstacle is that we don’t know what to do when we are taking a break. If this is you then here are 5 ideas about you can do whilst you pause, rest and recharge.
- Do a lap, or several, of your working environment. A sensibly paced walk will get the body moving, the circulation flowing and help to burn off any stress hormones that may be accumulating.
- Make yourself a cup of herbal tea and gently stretch out any muscles that are feeling tight whilst the kettle is boiling. The tea will also help your hydration quota.
- Create playlists, perhaps one for relaxation and one for uplifting you. Sit back and play a couple of tracks.
- Up your laughter quota – see ‘be merry’!
- Make a phone call to a friend, family member or colleague that is non-work related.
Set a timer, if you need to, and then take a break. Your productivity and your wellbeing will both appreciate it.
What will you do?
We, and our lives, are all unique, and how you go about integrating wellness is also going to be unique.
Therefore, you are going to need your own plan.
This doesn’t need to be complicated and its actually better if it’s not.
All you need to do is complete the following table, highlighting some things you might start or stop doing, to remove obstacles and enhance wellbeing into your work or daily life. Assuming you would like to?
|Area||What will you start or stop doing?|
Once you have completed your plan, you may like to pick your top 3 and do these first. It is better to take incremental steps rather than have ‘yet another list’ that you don’t get to.
Once these have stuck and become a habit, which allegedly takes around 28 days, you can always pick another 3.
Wellbeing is a loaded word that means so much more than the presence of ill health. Even when we understand what constitutes wellbeing, it can be challenging to accommodate it within our already busy lives, with many obstacles getting in the way.
Now, I appreciate that there are many more topics I could have tackled – sleep, stress, exercise, procrastination… the list goes on. But this is a blog not a book!
So, let’s imagine that you do this and your plan sees you:
- Utilising a Perfectionism Scale to tackle maladaptive perfectionism, enabling you to have more time for what’s really important.
- Using mindfulness so that you rule your day and your day doesn’t rule you.
- Scheduling something you enjoy every day.
- Valuing and prioritising friendships to feel more engaged at work.
- Standing up or sitting down to support your physical wellbeing.
- Planning your meals to fuel your body and mind.
- Upping your laughter quota knowing its good medicine.
- Taking breaks to rest and recharge and up your effectiveness.
You pick your top three and you’re away.
That looks like a great start in integrating wellbeing to me. No umbrellas required.
Bev Alderson wrote this blog for Cytoplan, who have kindly agreed that we can publish here.
Bev previously spent 18+ years in management in the IT industry, in both the UK and Australia. Here she learnt first-hand the impacts of a high-pressure environment and lifestyle and how, left unchecked, this can negatively impact performance and health.
Get in touch here or on 0845 450 0988