What is wellbeing?
In simple terms, wellbeing can be defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy, feeling good and functioning well.
How to improve your wellbeing
Wellbeing is important to us all. Wellbeing can be affected by all manner of different things, for example, diet and lifestyle, workplace pressures and personal relationships. The New Economics Foundation (NEF), an independent think tank promoting social, economic and environmental justice, has done extensive research into wellbeing.
It has found that feeling good consists of experiencing positive emotions such as happiness, contentment and enjoyment, as well as feelings of curiosity, engagement and safety. Positive mental wellbeing is not necessarily the absence of negative emotions. People with high levels of wellbeing will still experience feelings of sadness, anger and stress, but are likely to be better able to cope with these without a significant impact on their mental health.
NEF has identified five ‘ways to wellbeing’. These are:-
- be active
- take notice
- keep learning
The Mental Health Strategic Partnership (this partnership comprises of Mind, Mental Health Foundation, Rethink Mental Illness, Mental Health Providers Forum, Network for Mental Health, Centre for Mental Health and The AFIYA Trust) Building resilient communities report found that social connections were frequently highlighted as one of the most important factors, not only for wellbeing, but also for longer term resilience. Evidence suggests that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world.
Here are some suggestions for ways to connect:-
- talk to someone instead of sending an email or text
- speak to someone new
- ask about someone’s week and really listen to what they tell you
- set aside five minutes to find out how someone really is
- thank the people you are grateful to
- give a colleague a lift to work or share a journey home.
For further information on connecting with people, see the Action for happiness website.
The Building resilient communities report also found that that peer support is invaluable in helping people to deal with difficult circumstances, whether that’s unemployment, physical or mental health problems, bereavement or other difficult circumstances.
The Listening Friends telephone helpline is staffed by trained volunteers and provides callers with the opportunity to talk anonymously and in confidence to a pharmacist about any stresses they are facing in their work or home life.
For further information about the Listening Friends service, see the Pharmacist Support website.
Being regularly physically active really can make a huge difference to happiness and wellbeing. It may also help you feel better about your appearance, boost your confidence, improve your self-esteem, energy and sleep as well as reduce your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. There are lots of things you can do if you don’t want to join a gym. Find an activity that you enjoy and make it part of your life. You could try:-
- walking to work
- getting off the bus one stop earlier
- taking the stairs rather than the lift.
For further information on the benefits of exercise, including details about various types of exercise, see our Exercise fact sheet.
Take notice (Mindfulness)
According to Mind, being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your wellbeing and savouring the moment can help to reaffirm your life priorities. Taking time to enjoy the moment and the environment around you will also enhance your self-awareness. Some people call this awareness ‘mindfulness’. You could:-
- take a walk in a park
- get a plant for your desk
- get outside during your lunch break
- take notice of how your colleagues are feeling or acting
- take a different route on your journey to and from work.
For further information on developing awareness, see our Mindfulness fact sheet.
A review of evidence carried out for the Mental Health Foundation’s project, Learning for Life, found that learning gives direction to people’s lives. Attending adult learning can also help people to develop new friendships and increase their social support network. Learning does not have to be formal, activities could include:-
- paying regular visits to galleries and museums
- learning a practical skill, for example, plumbing or cooking
- taking on some extra responsibilities at work, for example, learning to use IT systems or creating reports
- rediscovering an old hobby, for example, sewing, knitting or building model aeroplanes.
For further information on lifelong learning, see the Mental Health Foundation report.
Seeing yourself, and your happiness linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with people around you. The Building resilient communities report found that the following volunteering activities proved most beneficial in terms of increasing wellbeing:-
- peer support, including self-help groups, peer-led education and advice
- organising and/or participating in environmental projects
- volunteering in health settings, particularly when involved in the direct care and education of patients
- mentoring and teaching programmes
- social support of older people
- providing palliative/hospice care
- organising community activities
- volunteering within a religious community.
Giving just a few hours of your time each week can make a difference to your wellbeing:-
- do something you love
- list the skills you have to offer – it is not just about your professional skills, for example, housekeeping, driving, fundraising and organisational skills are very much in demand
- don’t be afraid to commit – even one hour a week can help
- go digital – there are apps that can help you to help others
- students can get their pharmacy school involved.
For further information about volunteering, see the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) website.
Wellbeing is not only about personal happiness, it is about feeling confident enough to cope when things get tough in our lives or when our physical health suffers. This requires resilience, and whilst people cannot always choose what happens to them, resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.
Building emotional resilience
Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. According to the Samaritans, there are three elements that are essential to resilience, these are:-
- personal control.
Viewing a difficulty as a challenge, rather than a paralysing event can help to build resilience. Try to look at failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth. Equally, one of the key factors in coping with challenges is the ability to balance stress and your emotions. The capacity to recognise emotions and express them appropriately helps people to avoid getting stuck in depressions, anxiety, or other negative mood states. Being able to see the bigger picture and realising that events, both the good and the bad, are only temporary rather than permanent, will help people to deal with these challenges.
Some challenges are just too big to be dealt with alone. Knowing when to ask for help is a key ingredient to coping with life’s challenges. As part of Pharmacist Support’s wellbeing programme, we can offer a range of services that can help with depression, stress and anxiety. People can talk anonymously and in confidence to a pharmacist from our Listening Friends helpline, attend a wellbeing workshop or listen to our webinars on stress and assertiveness.
Resilient people are committed to their lives and their goals, and they have a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning. Developing goals is an important part of commitment, however, it is important to make sure that any goals set are realistic.
Other common mistakes are setting too many goals, or setting negative goals, for example, many people have a goal to ‘lose weight’ or ‘stop staying late at work’. Rewording goals can be a way turning a negative into a positive, for example, ‘lose weight’ can become ‘be more healthy’ and ‘stop staying late at work’ can become ‘spend more time with family and friends’.
For further information on goal setting, see the Mindtools website.
Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events that they have control over. By putting their efforts where they can have the most impact, they feel empowered and confident. Those who spend time worrying about uncontrollable events can often feel lost, helpless and powerless to take action.
For people who feel anxious or worried a lot, having a worry period can be a really helpful way of containing those worries so they don’t overtake their entire day. Here are some suggestions about how to do this:-
- when things come into your head, take out a note book and jot them down, then forget about them until it’s worry o’clock
- At a specified time in the day, allow yourself time to worry; this should be no longer than an hour.
- look back over what you have noted down
- if there are any worries that can be resolved start brainstorming, make a list of solutions and from this develop an action plan
- there may be things to which there is no solution and you will need to find a way to accept them – go back to earlier wellbeing steps for further help when dealing with challenges.
It is surprising how different these worries look when time is set aside to deal with them and how many of them are no longer an issue once the time is taken to look at situations with a little more perspective.
For further information on dealing with worries and anxiety, see the Moodjuice website.
Other useful information
See below for a list of useful organisations that can help people to implement the five steps to wellbeing.
The Big Lunch
The Big Lunch is a very simple idea from the Eden project. The aim is get as many people as possible from across the UK to have lunch with their neighbours annually. For further information, see The Big Lunch website.
Streets Alive is a not-for-profit group who promote street parties and run Street Party. They help people to organise local neighbourhood events and build community spirit. For further information, see the Streets Alive website.
Happy Café Network
Action for Happiness supporters have started to create Happy Cafés in their local communities. For further information, including details on how to find a local Happy Café, see the Action for Happiness website.
BBC Sport Get Inspired
The BBC has compiled an A-Z guide of more than seventy different activities complete with helpful tips and links. For further inspiration, see the BBC Sport Get Inspired website.
The NHS choices website has a range of information on exercise designed to help people to get started. For further details, see the NHS choices website.
Mental Health Foundation
The Mental Health Foundation website contains useful tips on how to look after your mental health using mindfulness. For further information, see the Mental Health Foundation website.
Mindfulness Exercises offers a range of 700 free exercises that you can use to help improve your mindfulness. For further information, see the Mindfulness Exercises website.
The Hotcourses website allows you to search a wide range of courses, including courses for fun, hobbies and degrees. For further details, see the Hotcourses website.
Open College of the Arts (OCA)
The OCA is a non-profit educational charity offering a wide variety of distance learning courses. Options include painting, drawing, photography, art history and film. There are no entry qualifications or fixed enrolment dates making it easier to fit your studies around your life. For further information, see the OCA website.
Community Services Volunteers (CSV)
CSV offers many volunteering opportunities. For further information, including what volunteering opportunities are available in your local website, see the CSV website.
Many charities require trustees to help with the running of their organisations. The work is almost always unpaid, however ordinarily reasonable expenses are reimbursed. For further information, see the government website.