Now, more than ever, it is vital to do what we can to support and nurture our mental health and wellbeing. At the end of what many education staff have called the toughest term they have ever worked, it is clear that wellbeing must take the highest priority for the foreseeable future. While Christmas plans for many are already in disarray, and we all seem to have Covid déjà vu, there are some evidenced-based strategies we can employ to gently raise our wellbeing even in the most challenging of times.
First things first, however. While our mental health and wellbeing is of course our responsibility to nurture, the systems and structures in which we work can have a distressing impact on us, and if the cause of our mental distress lies outside of us, then it needs to be addressed, whether work related, environmental, social or cultural. Our mental distress does not always have a biological cause and we need to remember that. Building resilience in a dysfunctional system is not always the most positive thing we can do.
The Five Ways to Wellbeing
For the elements of wellbeing that we can have some influence on, there are some strategies we can use to get us back to equilibrium as efficiently as possible. Back in 2008 the New Economics Foundation, as a result of a commission by Foresight as part of the Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing, developed the Five Ways to Wellbeing as a set of evidenced-based public mental health messages which were aimed to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the whole population.
The Five Ways are still relevant and useful prompts for nurturing wellbeing in our lives especially at this time of year:
- Connect: Social relationships promote wellbeing. Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, we can still seek to build our connections with others by, for example, talking to people, asking questions and truly listening to the answers, offering our help, getting to know neighbours.
- Be active: Exercise is associated with lower levels of depression and may also slow cognitive decline. Go for a walk or run, out in nature if possible, for a wellbeing boost. Also aim to build more movement into your usual routines, for example, park further away from your destination than normal, take the stairs, or walk a little faster than you usually do.
- Take notice: Being aware of the present moment and what is happening can boost wellbeing. It also helps you develop self-understanding and awareness of others too. Clear the clutter in your environment, notice nature in your vicinity, tune in to how others near you are feeling.
- Learn: Life-long learning is a great way to boost wellbeing and increase social interactions. It may even help to lift you out of depression. Consider joining a book club, or doing a course, or getting into puzzles or sudoku, or expanding your vocabulary – the possibilities are endless!
- Give: Being a part of your local community, donating your time, and committing acts of kindness are all associated with an increase in feelings of wellbeing.
The Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby has done some fascinating research into how the human relationship with the rest of nature matters for our wellbeing. They say, “Nature connectedness captures that relationship between people and the rest of nature… it is a measurable psychological construct that moves beyond contact with nature to an individual’s sense of their relationship with the natural world.”
The team at Derby has identified pathways to nature connectedness that provide a “route for people to develop a new relationship with the natural world.” These pathways are:
- Senses – tuning in to nature through the senses
- Emotion – feeling alive through the emotions and feelings nature brings
- Beauty – noticing nature’s beauty
- Meaning – nature bringing meaning to our lives
- Compassion – caring and taking action for nature
The potential benefit of getting outside as much as possible whenever you have a chance cannot be overstated!
There may be a point at which your efforts to improve your mental wellbeing need support from health care professionals. It is so important to reach out for help from your GP or from one of the excellent mental health charities offering care in times of crisis. The links below may help.
NHS Mental Health: Mental health – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Mental Health Foundation: Mental Health Foundation
Samaritans: Here to listen
In order to support pupils with mental health difficulties it’s important that professionals also take care of their own mental health.
Working with vulnerable pupils can be emotionally demanding. Holidays can be a good time to give some thought and attention to our own emotional well-being.