How to take charge of your well-being for 2021

How to take charge of your wellbeing in 2021

This year has proved the ultimate challenge on our health and wellbeing for many reasons, not least because we are moving further and further away from what keeps us well. Not only are we living in a more digital age that is far removed from how our prehistoric minds function but now we have also been removed from the one main thing we thrive on as humans… connection.

A word I’ve heard thrown around a lot recently is resilience, as if the lack of it is at the core of how we need to improve as a society. From my clinical experience, a lack of resilience isn’t the problem.

Suicide rates – especially amongst men – are soaring. The latest data available for suicide figures in the UK is from 2019 (pre-COVID) but shows that the rate among men and boys was 16.9 deaths per 100,000, the highest since 2000 (compared to 5.3 deaths per 100,000 for women and girls, itself the highest since 2004). These figures are expected to increase again following the fall-out of the pandemic and economic downturn. Compare this to the period during the two world wars, when suicide rates were some of the lowest on record. Although times were incredibly challenging, society was united in a common cause. As humans, we are resilient to difficult times as long as we have purpose and community.

There is so much division in society at the present time, the result of working from home, the inability to freely see loved ones and socialise…Even the sense of community provided through sport and exercise has been limited or withdrawn.

There is much confusion too: Are we fighting a pandemic, battling with mental health issues, protecting the NHS? Arguably it’s not resilience we’re lacking as a nation but education, an awareness that how we are living our lives now is so far removed from our natural state. Ultimately, many of the mental and physical symptoms many of us are now experiencing are as a direct result of this.

So, what can we do to take charge of our wellbeing?

Firstly, it’s important to recognise the symptoms of stress: There are over 50, too many to list here but a quick Google search will throw up some interesting results … from more obvious signs such as irritability and feelings of loneliness, through indecision and restlessness. Even constipation and heartburn can be physical manifestations of stress and anxiety.

When you first start to feel stressed, anxious, in a low mood or that you’ve hit burnout, recognise the symptoms and take action. Remember that the busier your schedule, the more relaxation you need to practise to counteract the stress.

One of the most common mistakes I see people making with their mental and physical health – and this includes nurses, doctors, military personnel, successful business people and athletes at the top of their game – is to believe they are invincible and can function in a stressed state indefinitely.  This is simply not true. It will catch up with you one day and the longer you go without addressing the cause, the harder the fall will be.

Whilst a certain amount of adrenaline and stress can be great for meeting deadlines and achieving goals, continual stress will build up and manifest somehow physically or mentally in a form that we cannot ignore, from chronic anxiety to autoimmune deficiencies. Stress can come in various forms that we need to be able to acknowledge too. Whether that’s stress from work, over-exercising, relationship troubles or just too much screen time.

Whatever 2021 has in store, we need to be able to look after each element of our wellbeing to ensure we have enough fight in us to deal with these ever-changing and difficult times.

Here are a few simple steps to managing your stress:

·         Take time out to breathe. Just two minutes of deep diaphragmatic breathing a day can do wonders. Breathing exercises, yoga and mindfulness are all are key to taking yourself out of a stressed state into a relaxed one.

·         Put a relaxing bedtime routine in place to ensure a deep, restful night’s sleep. We’re great at creating bedtime routines for children, but many adults will go from one hectic chore to another, indulge in too much screen time, eat late then head straight to bed and expect to be able to sleep, without letting our minds and bodies know it’s time to power off.

·         Seek connection wherever possible, if your friends or sports teams can’t meet currently then set up a group chat and take it in turns to set daily challenges or tasks and encourage everyone to post their photos of them doing it to keep the moral up and making plans for future get togethers.

·         Eat a balanced, unprocessed diet. Studies increasingly show that our gut has a huge impact on both our mental and physical health.

·         Check your mindset. It’s easy to focus on everything that is currently wrong with the world but there are always positives if you have the right mindset. See change and challenges to overcome as a good skill that you need to develop. Learning to adapt to change and rising to challenges is one of the most important skills for good mental health.

·         Lastly but most importantly, get outside and into nature. Relish solitude in the wilderness, walk, wild swim, camp, forage, cycle. Whatever takes your fancy, just spend as much time in nature as possible. This is where our minds are at peace, where we are designed to be, what helps to relax and reset.

Better still, plan a whole weekend of ‘me time’. Our rewilding retreats combine all the above steps in one digestible experience, giving you all the tools you need to take the benefits of lifestyle medicine into your daily routine.