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Winter Wellbeing

Published Thursday 24th of November 2022 12:00:00 PM

As the winter draws in, Ian Morris, Head of Wellbeing at Wellington has shared some steps we can take to keep our minds in good health.

Even though our mental and emotional health is something that we have a surprising amount of control over, it is important to remember that the causes of mental illness are often complex and sometimes require great effort to manage. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of compassion in responding to mental illness, just as we would respond compassionately to any other ailment or disease.

There are some simple habits we can form that give us the best chance, not only of dealing with challenges and difficulties which come our way, but also extend and stretch our mind’s ability to make sense of our experience of life. Here are some of those habits.

-Remember what’s normal. Feeling the full range of human emotions is part of experience and a life well-lived. Sadness, anger and anxiety are normal and appropriate responses to certain circumstances, just as joy, calm and excitement are. The trick is to feel the right emotion, in the right way, at the right time, towards the right person, for the right reasons. It may well be that difficult or uncomfortable emotions are there for a good reason and our job is to understand why they are there, even if this may be difficult to accept at times. Our emotions and moods can be directly affected by what we choose to think, say and do and learning to regulate our emotions is an important human skill.

-Do not underestimate friendship. Friendship is vital for a good life of the mind. The people who care for us, commiserate with us, share our joys, offer a listening ear, stay out of judgement and spend time with us doing what we love make a massive difference. And of course, we are all those people.

-Sleep. There is a strong relationship between sleep and mood. Adults need 7 – 8 hours per night and adolescents need 8 – 9. This is a need. There are some ideas here for how to improve your sleep. Never feel guilty about taking time to rest yourself and replenish your energy supplies.

-Exercise. The NHS suggests that if exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever. This is especially true of mental health and our ability to learn and there is strong evidence linking a lack of exercise to poor mood. There is more here on the NHS website

-Learn the ways of the mind: tend the mind with care. 2,500 years ago, the Buddha created a whole system for tending to the mind centred around the practice of mindfulness. There is a good mindfulness app here. There are various ways we can tend the mind, but of most importance is learning to observe your patterns of thought and being curious about thoughts we might have that are inaccurate, inflexible or unkind (to ourselves and others). What we think directly affects how we feel and what we do and challenging yourself to think accurately and flexibly can help you to avoid prolonged unpleasant or difficult emotion.

-Play and learn. From pottering about with Lego to figuring out how to rebuild an engine, from picking out your first guitar chords to playing like Segovia, any worthwhile form of play or learning will build what is called psychological capital and our sense that we are capable and can accomplish things. The brain is plastic and open to learning complex skills well into old age.

-The transcendent. Finding things which remind us of our place in the universe, whilst remaining deeply connected to it are important in gaining perspective and finding meaning. This can involve religious belief, being in the natural world or acts of moral value. The works of Robert Macfarlane (e.g. The Wild Places and The Old Ways) are particularly good in illuminating how the natural world can have a profound impact on us.

-Mourn. Things are not always as we had hoped they would be: circumstances change; we feel; let down by others; we fail; we experience loss. It’s important to allow time and create rituals to grieve and mourn these things. Sometimes we will need to ask for help and support for mourning.

-Resolve conflict. Learn to see what is really going on when we come into conflict with other people. Take the time to understand and find ways of resolving it.

-Ask for help. Sometimes, low mood can be persistent, despite our best efforts. You are not on your own and there is lots of help to call upon. Trusted friends, colleagues and teachers can often help you through difficult times. Here at Wellington, you can approach our Mental Health First Aiders, our Chaplain or our DRM team. In addition, the College provides access to a counselling service for students and through Health Shield for staff. The NHS can also provide help through appointments with your GP, who can refer you to get the right help. Don’t give up.
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