Self-care and wellbeing blog
Take a mindful minute
Many of us will have heard of mindfulness, which, in short, means paying full attention to something/focusing on the present moment.
Focusing on your breath for just 60 seconds can lower your heart rate and reduce tension within your body. Set a reminder on your phone or computer for a time that will be convenient (or download this free app (https://www.headspace.com) that you can access when you need to take a minute out of your day to help you keep going, and when it sounds, do nothing but breathe for a full minute.
Close your eyes if you can and try to think only about each exhalation and inhalation, making them as deep and even as possible. Once the minute is over, reflect on how your body and mind feel afterwards, do you feel more relaxed?
Let’s think about our mobile phones (perhaps being used even more than ever to stay updated and connected?!) – How quickly do we reach for a charger when we see the battery running low? Yet we don’t always apply the same principles to ourselves – at times of stress we must make time to ‘recharge’ and this can be done in so many ways. It is not just about ‘taking a break’, yes breaks are important, but what do we do with that break?
If our psychological energy levels are low, we need to find ways to fill up after emptying the tank. Given that some of our usual self-care measures may have been compromised by social distancing and self-isolation, we need to think more widely and creatively about how we can help ourselves…..
Instant self-care: 10 ways to recharge in 10 minutes:
1) Drink a bottle of water. Hydrate.
2) Make yourself a healthy snack. Or a treat!
3) Do something active. Stretch. Do some push-ups. Sit-ups. Jumping jacks.
4) Put on some headphones, play some music on your phone, close your eyes and focus on the smells and sound.
5) Call someone you like. Have a quick chat about how the day is going and catch up. Say at the beginning you had a few spare minutes and wanted to check-in. Don’t let yourself linger on the call too long.
6) Read a chapter of a book, or however many pages you can get through in 10 minutes. Escape.
7) If you are working from home, take a shower and get back to your desk refreshed.
8) Research a place you’ve always wanted to go to.
9) If you’re feeling drained, make yourself some tea, coffee, or hot chocolate and rest your eyes for 10 minutes until the caffeine kicks in.
10) Give yourself something to look forward to later. Decide on a film to watch, plan a relaxing bath or a phone call to a loved one
We are all in this together
You may have heard the phrase ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, but what do we mean by this, and how can we apply it to the current situation? We know that the unknown can lead us to experience fear, and we may think ‘I will face this when I am no longer afraid’, but in the current climate, many of us are being thrown into the unfamiliar, with little time to prepare.So how do we manage the fear? When we go and do something often enough, we can no longer feel as afraid in that situation, we will have faced the unknown, and we will have handled it. With each step, we feel a little stronger, and a huge sense of relief and achievement.
You will find that not only you are afraid when facing the unknown, but so is everyone else! So if you feel able, share your fears with others. We know that for some of you the challenges ahead may feel unmanageable, and we really encourage you to talk to family, friends and colleagues and ask for help when you feel you need it.
We are all in this together, and we can face the fear together.
Searching for solid ground
How do we find balance when the world is shaking around us, leaving us feeling anxious and unsettled? We will all have those moments of panic, wondering how we will get through our working day (and beyond). Grounding is a particular type of coping strategy that is designed to "ground" you in, or immediately connect you with, the present moment, here and now. Grounding techniques can help to pull you away from challenging or negative emotions that you want or feel you need to move away from in that moment. There are many different grounding techniques, some of which we will share with you over the coming weeks. We will start with the 54321 technique:
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Technique
How to do it:
This technique will take you through your five senses to help remind you of the present. This is a calming technique that can help you get through tough or stressful situations.
Take a deep belly breath to begin.
5 - LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see, and say them to yourself. For example, you could say, I see the computer, I see the cup, I see the picture frame.
4 - FEEL: Pay attention to your body and think of 4 things that you can feel, and say them to yourself. For example, you could say, I feel my feet warm in my socks, I feel the hair on the back of my neck, or I feel the chair I am sitting on.
3 - LISTEN: Listen for 3 sounds. It could be the sound of traffic outside, the sound of typing or the sound of your tummy rumbling. Say the three things to yourself.
2 - SMELL: Say two things you can smell. It’s okay to move to another spot and sniff something. If you can’t smell anything at the moment or you can’t move, then name your 2 favourite smells.
1 - TASTE: Say one thing you can taste. It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth, or a mint from after lunch. If you can’t taste anything, then say your favourite thing to taste.
Take another deep belly breath to end.
STOP for a moment...
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. We all do it without even realising. But how can we use being mindful to support us today, both at work and at home? The STOP practice can help whenever you’re feeling distress, creating space to identify and regulate your feelings. It can help you to develop the psychological flexibility required to cope with challenging moments. It is especially helpful if you need support to move through intense feelings, so that you can set them aside for the moment, with the intention of reflecting on them more deeply later on.
This “portable” mindfulness practice can support you as difficult moments arise at any point in your day. The four steps of the STOP practice can take as little as a few seconds to a few minutes to complete. Try it out and see how long you prefer doing each step.
To begin, the “S” stands simply for stop. Literally. Just stop what you’re doing, whether it is typing or rushing out the door. Give yourself a moment to come to rest, pause, and collect yourself.
The “T” stands for take a conscious breath. Now that you’ve paused, take a deeper breath, or two, allowing yourself to feel the expansion of the belly as you breathe deeply. Notice the sensations of being here, now. As you do so, it may help to bring your attention to the sensations of your feet meeting the floor. Feel the support of the ground and of your own relaxing breath as you do so.
The “O,” stands for observe what’s arising in you, including any thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations (such as tension, butterflies, tightness in the jawline). Broaden your awareness to take in the circumstances. Notice how you can be in this situation without being ruled by it. For added support, offer self-compassion as you release tension and stressful thoughts. As you calm down, open to the choices you have in terms of how best to move forward from here.
Finally, the “P” reminds you to simply proceed with intentionality, taking the next step in your day from this place of strength, wisdom, and presence.
In a situation like Covid-19, updates, advice and guidance are constantly changing, and we need to keep well informed, especially as health workers. However, lots of us have noticed we are watching the news or checking news websites far more than we usually would. A constant stream of information can heighten our anxiety levels, which isn’t helpful for us at work or at home. It might be more helpful to limit our news intake to thirty minutes a day. When you do this can be up to you, one idea may be to do so later in the day, after the daily government press conference, when the most up to date information is released. This might not be possible for many of us, with the hours we work, or children listening in, and so try to limit checking in on news to 2-3 times over the day. It might also be useful to think about which news station or websites are trusted, to stick to reputable sources, and resist temptation to draw information from social media, which can be inaccurate. Taking in the news just before going to bed can raise anxiety levels and cause your mind to be very active, which can affect your sleep, so is best avoided where possible. After your daily news intake, consider scheduling in a period of relaxation or self-care, to help to bring down anxiety levels and shift your focus onto something else.
Making time for mindfulness
Mindfulness is something we are mentioning frequently for everyone to use to support their wellbeing. Many of us might feel we just don’t have time to prioritise learning and doing something new. But being mindful is simply what it sounds like. Taking time to focus on the present, being intentional and thoughtful about where you are and how you are feeling. These are trying times, but incorporating mindful practices into your daily routine can help calm anxiety and build healthy coping skills. So how might you make mindfulness work for you? It doesn’t have to be complicated:-Here are some simple activities to try:
- Squeeze Muscles: Starting at your toes, pick one muscle and squeeze it tight. Count to five. Release, and notice how your body changes. Repeat exercise moving up your body.
- Belly Breathing: Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Slowly breathe in from your stomach (expand like a balloon) and slowly breathe out (deflate).
- Mindful Meal: Pay attention to the smell, taste and look of your food. No multitasking.
- Meditation: Sit in a relaxed, comfortable position. Pick something to focus on, like your breath. When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath.
- Colouring: Colour something. Focus on the colors and designs.
- Listening to Music: Focus on the whole song, or listen specifically to the voice or an instrument.
It's ok not to be ok....
This is an unprecedented situation. It’s ok not to be ok. It is normal, expected and human nature to have times when we are not ok. It's important to remember it is ok to feel this way and that everyone reacts differently. Remember, this situation is temporary and, for most of us, these difficult feelings will pass. Let’s think about how often we respond to the question ‘How are you?’ with a simple ‘I’m fine’? But are you really? We as NHS workers are driven by our compassion and empathy for others, and are highly skilled in our ability to pick up on when others are not ok. We nurture others. So how can we acknowledge those times when we are not doing so well? There can be shame that surrounds not being ok, as if we are weak or doing something wrong. What if we were more able to let go of that notion, and simply feel whatever is coming up for us? We have shared in our daily messages a number of strategies to support us in getting through difficult moments, where we may need to distract ourselves from our feelings in order to get through our day. But when we come back to them, what can we do to cope? Follow this link to the NHS Every Mind Matters website for some tips on dealing with anxiety:
Almost all of us have had our normal routine upset in one way or another by COVID-19, and our sleeping patterns may be compromised, too. We know that when stress levels are high, sleep becomes more difficult. The temptation can be to see sleep as a luxury, not an essential. Crucially, when we are sleep deprived, our immune systems can function less well, which makes protecting our sleep now all the more important, because getting a sufficient amount of good-quality sleep helps to keep the body and mind healthy. Sleep can boost your immune system, improve your mood, and keep your mind sharp. So, what are the key things we can consider to try to improve our sleep?
1. Keep a regular sleep and work routine.
It may feel tempted to sleep in when the opportunity arises. Resist if you can. Get up and go to bed at the same time each day. This will help you maintain a good sleep rhythm. Avoid doing other things in bed (like checking your phone, watching TV, eating, online activity etc.). Make your bed a sleep sanctuary.
2. Keep calm and don't bring your worries to bed.
Uncertainty can trigger excessive worries. Limit the time you spend checking the news and social media if it is too upsetting. Set aside 20 minutes during the day to write down your worries and problem-solve. Calm your mind with any relaxation strategies that work for you – this might be listening to music, singing or taking a long bath. Be mindful—take a moment to breathe and bring your attention to the here and now. Connect with friends online and talk.
3. Keep moving and looking out for the sun.
Find the time to exercise daily. Use online resources to get a good home workout. Where possible, exercise outdoors while keeping a safe distance from others. Daily light exposure helps to reset your circadian rhythm.
Building a compassionate image
Generating compassion for ourselves has been found to improve our psychological well-being. One way of doing this is to build up a compassionate image. We think in images all the time, without even realising it. But why would imagery be used to stimulate compassionate feelings? Read the following words……beach…….bicycle……..holidays and focus on what you think about. Chances are that certain pictures flashed through your mind, or ‘popped into your head’, it may have been a memory like a film playing in your head. Research shows that imagery can be very powerful in triggering emotions, because our brain will often respond to an image as if it is real. This exercise is to help you build up a compassionate image for you to work with and develop. Whatever image comes to mind, or you choose to work with - it is your creation, but it is important that you try to give your image certain qualities: wisdom, strength, warmth and non-Judgement
We begin by focusing on our breathing, finding our calming rhythm.
Then let images emerge in the mind - as best you can – do not try too hard if nothing comes to mind, or your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to the breathing.
Here are some ideas that might help you build a caring and nurturing image:
- Allow an image that conveys a sense of understanding for you, for your struggles and your feelings…
- Allow an image that shows kindness, care and concern for your wellbeing…
- Allow an image that is strong and wise and it supports you…
- Allow an imagine that is completely accepting of you just as you are…
Now notice these things about the image, is it:
- A person or not?
- Real or imagines?
- An animal or some other aspect of nature?
- Young or old?
- Male or female?
- What colours or lights are associated with it?
- How does this image make you feel?
- Would your ‘image’ have gone through similar experiences to you?
- Would they be like a friend or even part of a team that welcomes you to belong?
Pay particular attention to the compassionate feelings this image generates. See if you can allow these feelings to take over, to grow inside you, almost feeling your whole body filled with compassion. If you found this exercise useful in triggering feelings of compassions within you, then you can practice bringing your image to mind regularly, so it becomes really accessible.
Rainbows are used universally as a symbol of peace and hope. They serve to remind us that there is hope and light to follow even after dark times. Hope keeps our minds at ease, lowers stress and improves physical health. Holding on to hope can keep us in an optimistic frame of mind, which can significantly influence mental and physical well-being by the promotion of adaptive behaviours and cognitive responses. We know that during this challenging time it can be hard to hold onto hope, but it can be beneficial to remind ourselves that this situation is temporary, and it will pass. Try the rainbow breathing technique, alongside some thoughts of hope…..
No one can avoid the unexpected
Most people are creatures of habit. When things go as planned, we feel in control. But when life throws a curveball, it can leave us feeling anxious and stressed. This is an unprecedented situation. New diseases like the coronavirus can naturally fuel uncertainty and anxiety. You may find yourself oscillating between feeling grateful and happy with the simple things, to then slightly overwhelmed and unable to process everything.
Research shows that people react differently to uncertainty some people may tolerate it well while others may struggle more to cope. We face incredible uncertainty at the current time, with many facing huge changes to their work demands, roles and responsibilities. It will be expected that some of us may become overwhelmed on times and a little more prone to low mood, negative feelings and anxiety. No one can avoid the unexpected. But these there are some simple steps that can help you better face life’s uncertainties.
- Be kind to yourself. Some people are better at dealing with uncertainties than others, so don’t beat yourself up if your tolerance for unpredictability is lower than a friend’s or a colleague’s. Remind yourself that it will take time for the stressful situation of COVID-19 to resolve, and be patient with yourself in the meantime.
- Reflect on past successes. Chances are you’ve overcome stressful events in the past – and you survived! Give yourself credit. Reflect on what you did during that event that was helpful, and what you might like to do differently this time.
- Limit exposure to news. When we’re stressed about something, it can be hard to look away. But compulsively checking the news only keeps you wound up. Try to limit your check-ins and avoid the news during vulnerable times of day, such as right before bedtime.
- Avoid dwelling on things you can’t control. When uncertainty strikes, many people immediately imagine worst-case scenarios. Get out of the habit of ruminating on negative events or imagining the worst possible scenarios.
- Take your own advice. Ask yourself: If a friend came to me with this worry, what would I tell her/him? Imagining your situation from the outside can often provide perspective and fresh ideas.
- Engage in self-care. Don’t let stress derail your healthy routines. Make efforts to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Many people find stress release in practices such as yoga and meditation.
- Seek support from those you trust. Ask for help. If you’re having trouble managing stress and coping with the uncertainty posed at the current time, ask for help, whether this is from a friend, a work colleague or your manager. Having a conversation with others going through the same uncertainties may be helpful to feel that you are not on your own.
- Control what you can. Focus on the things that are within your control, even if it’s as simple as weekly meal planning or laying out your clothes the night before a stressful day. Establish routines to give your working days and non-working days some comforting structure.
Keep a healthy self-esteem
Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves. When we have healthy self-esteem, we tend to feel positive about ourselves and about life in general. It makes us better able to deal with life's ups and downs. At this unprecedented time, as we are faced with new challenges and uncertainty. We may feel less confident in ourselves as our resources are put to the test. Moreover, it would not be surprising to feel a little less positive about the world around us at the moment. Our self-esteem may feel a little fragile.
Now more than ever it will be important to boost your self-esteem and to notice the positive things about yourself. The challenges we are facing are no mean feat and yet we are continuing to work and to do our best day after day. Some days may feel more difficult than others. On occasions, especially as we are required to learn new skills or to work in a different way, it may become more difficult to recognize the good things about ourselves and to give true value to all that we are doing. Here are some other simple techniques that may help you feel better about yourself.
Recognise what you are good at -
We are all good at something. We all have useful skills. Our skills can be adapted and applied to new challenges. Take some time to think about your skills base. What do you bring to the table when a problem needs to be solved or a goal needs to be attained?
Build positive relationships -
Over the coming weeks we may find ourselves developing new working relationships. See this as an opportunity to develop positive communication with colleagues, Getting on with people makes work a better place to be. It could also be an opportunity to support someone else’s’ self-esteem by telling them you value their efforts.
Be kind to yourself -
Being kind to yourself means being gentle to yourself at times when you feel like being self-critical. Think what you'd say to a friend in a similar situation. We often give far better advice to others than we do to ourselves.
Take note of the positives -
Write down or take a mental note of the positive things about yourself, such as "I'm thoughtful" or "I'm someone that others trust". Also write some good things that other people say about you.
Aim to have at least 5 positive things on your list and add to it regularly. Then put your list somewhere you can see it. That way, you can keep reminding yourself that you're doing OK.