Session 6: Holistic Wellbeing
We’ve spent the last 5 sessions breaking down the aspects of wellbeing in order to better understand them, but holistic wellbeing is about putting them all back together again in order to reflect on yourself and your wellbeing as a whole.
Mindfulness can be defined as ‘the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment, free from distraction and judgement, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them’ (Headspace). There are countless benefits to practising mindfulness such as a decrease in stress, anxiety, frustration, aggression and sadness, and an increase in concentration, compassion, patience, positivity, happiness and general wellbeing.
So, how do we do it? There are many ways to connect to the present moment:
- Connect to your senses. What can you see/smell/hear/feel/taste right now?
- Pause between actions. When you go to open the fridge, pause. What do you really want? When you go to turn on the TV, pause. What do you really want? Often we behave on default, based on habits and don’t always take the time to consider what we really want in that moment. These pauses can make a big difference, and it might be you really want to eat a cookie and watch Killing Eve and that’s okay too!
- Listen wholeheartedly. When someone’s talking to us, often we’re just planning our reply in our heads. Next time someone is telling you something, really take the time to listen to what they are saying - added bonus is they’ll feel great afterwards!
- Lose yourself in the flow of doing something. You’ve probably heard the saying ‘be a servant to the learning not a slave to the clock’. Time management is important but constant clock watching and over-planning your time can kill the magic of ‘flow’. When we’re in the flow, our brains do their best work!
- Observe your breathing. If you start to feel anxious or stressed, take some deep breaths. No one has ever been three breaths late for something. It won’t change your situation but it will change how you feel and respond.
Last but definitely not least - Meditate! Mindfulness meditation is not about becoming a monk, (unless you want to of course!), it’s about connecting to your breath, relaxing the body and mind, becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings and calming yourself down so that you can truly enjoy every moment of your life. There are loads of resources out there to support a meditation practice, from specific apps like Headspace or 29k to YouTube videos and Spotify playlists. Start with just sitting down in silence for two minutes a day, closing your eyes and breathing deeply. Anytime a thought or feeling arises, just notice it and bring your attention back to your breath. You might find counting helps you stay focused at first e.g. breathing in and counting 1 2 3 4 holding at the top for 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 breathing out and counting 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 etc. In particular, the 4 7 8 breath stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system which calms down the body’s flight or fight response to stress. Mindfulness meditation is a practice: the more you do, the better you feel!
TASK: Find a quiet spot in your house or garden, set a timer for 2 minutes - a gentle alarm is best. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Try to keep your attention on the breath, no matter what thoughts or feelings arise or what is going on externally around you. Keep noticing the breath moving in and out of your nose. When your two minutes is up, it might not feel like enough time or it might have felt like an eternity! Blink your eyes open and go about your day: two minutes calmer. If you would prefer, why not try to find a guided meditation online.
Let’s talk about gratitude now. Gratitude can be defined as a two-step process:
1. Recognise a positive outcome.
2. Recognise that there are external sources for positive outcomes.
For example, you might feel grateful when your partner makes you a cup of tea. The positive outcome is the cup of tea you get to enjoy and the external source is your partner, who provided that positive outcome.
So what does this have to do with wellbeing? Well, more and more research is showing that practising gratitude can significantly improve wellbeing and life satisfaction. Keeping a gratitude journal - regularly reflecting on the good things in your life - can increase general happiness and mood. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy entry - your gratitude journal could simply look like this:
Today I am grateful for getting some fresh air on my walk, eating a delicious flapjack and cuddling on the sofa with the people I love.
(For these positive outcomes, the external sources would be nature/the world/the air we breathe, the person/company who made that flapjack and your loved ones - and/or maybe the sofa company!) Just one sentence a day with three wonderful things can be enough to shift your perspective but you might find as you go on that more and more things occur to you and your lists get longer and longer!
One important thing to note is that a gratitude practice is a long-term commitment. Doing it for a week won’t have much of an impact on your overall wellbeing (the brain can’t rewire that fast!) but studies show the benefits are reaped after at least 12 weeks of practise. Luckily, the beauty of gratitude is that it’s quick - though you might need to set an alarm or something to remind you for the first few weeks!
TASK: Start your journal! Take a moment to reflect and write down three things you are grateful for today. Be as specific as possible.