Monday 20 April 2020

5 Wellbeing Habits I Use to Navigate Self-Isolation

Tony shares his 5 wellbeing habits that have helped him to flourish during self-isolation.

- Tony Stevens 

As I reached for the last crumbs of my panic crisps, an unbidden thought struck me: “Is snack binging really the ideal coping mechanism right now?” Firstly inner voice, why didn’t you ask me this before I put six packets of Doritos in my supermarket trolley!? Secondly – good question. It occurred to me that I will need to be intentional about my self-care during this unprecedented phenomenon not only to shield myself from a downward spiral, but to establish positive habits that will help me flourish when I finally emerge from my pillow fort. I decided to revisit the wellbeing habits I’d started to develop before the world got flipped-turned upside down. Embedding them into my daily routine has gradually shifted my mindset from the negative side of the ledger towards the more cheerful shores of the emotional spectrum. I want to share these practices with you because I believe cultivating a more optimistic mindset will be vital as we learn to navigate this challenging new status quo.

1. Gratitude Diary 
Each day I begin by reflecting on three things in my life that I am grateful for. I write these down in a diary over a strong black coffee and aim to think of three new things every time. This encourages and conditions my brain to consciously search for positive experiences and contributes towards an avalanche of positivity I carry into my day. Our mindset is not hard-wired, and we can train our brains to think more positively through consistent practice. There is an overwhelming amount of research that links regular gratitude expression to numerous social, physical and psychological benefits including increased happiness, more social resources, stronger relationships, and better sleep. I’ve found it contributes strongly to reducing depression and is a panacea for toxic emotions like envy and resentment.

2. Kindness Feedback Loop
The next thing I do is send a kind email to someone in my social network praising them or expressing my appreciation. Not only does this kickstart my day by stimulating positive emotions, it makes me feel more socially connected. At a time like this, I can’t stress enough how powerful that connection can be. What I love about this is that you are creating a feedback loop of kindness. You email your colleague Jen saying how awesome she is and feel fabulous for being a nice person. She replies with an equally lovely message making you feel marvellous again. You are spinning a web of appreciation that invests in those who are meaningful in your life and then returns that investment to you by promoting positive cognitions. If you help people feel valued, it will change their day – and yours.

3. Movement 
Exercise gave me something to focus on at times when it seemed like the world was against me. I’ve fallen in love with calisthenics (bodyweight training) and it has provided me with a physical expression that helps shape my identity while keeping me mentally and physiologically healthy. It gives me goals to strive for, a sense of accomplishment when developing new skills, aesthetic confidence, and the pure pleasure of striving for mastery. Clinical studies have shown that as little as 15 minutes of exercise per day is as effective as antidepressants at reducing depression. Exercise helps boost your mood through the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. This is where the idea of the “runner’s high” comes from. More than this, physical movement, whether that is yoga, dancing, or handstand push-ups, is a metaphor for life. Motivation, frustration, triumph, discipline, connection, setback—all the hallmarks of the human condition are represented in how we move our bodies. It is a form of self-love that helps us realise we can overcome any challenges that come our way; to redefine what is possible and rewrite the narrative of what we are capable of.

4. Mindfulness Meditation
I look at meditation like mental flossing – something you do to keep your mental gums from decaying and preventing legions of cerebral plaque-like stress and anxiety from taking up permanent residence. I’ve been meditating on and off for about two years and have only recently developed some consistency—it’s been worth the effort. Like any skill, meditation take practice and consistency to reap the full benefits. Start off small and grow your practice over time. I started with short five-minute practices and have slowly built up to 15-minute meditations every evening. My top tip would be to set aside perfectionism—we are all made perfectly imperfect. If you’re anything like me then you are your own biggest critic. This judgey inner voice can creep into meditation and take over the steering wheel if it decides you are not meditating “correctly”. Self-compassion is important here and gently reminding yourself that there is no right, wrong, or perfect way to do this.

5. Positive Reflection 
With this practice I revisit my diary in the evening and challenge my brain to reflect on something positive that happened to me that day. Without thinking too hard, I simply jot down whatever comes to mind about that experience whether it’s a collection of words or a few brief sentences. Sometimes it’s obvious what that experience was and sometimes I have to push my brain really hard to think of something. Welcome this effort—that is where the benefit truly lies. It is this process of encouraging your brain to reanimate a positive experience that works behind the scenes to cultivate a joyous mindset. Lastly—there’s nothing wrong with enjoying snacks!

For more information Student Space is here to make it easier for you to find the support you need during the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information about the coronavirus outbreak and mental health, visit Student Minds Coronavirus Resources. Additional resources on looking after your mental wellbeing are available here.  

Tony Stevens is a student and wellbeing advocate studying psychology. Tony has been challenged by his own mental health struggle after a collapsed relationship and losing a family member to suicide. He is continuously exploring pathways to wellbeing to better promote a hopeful, flourishing society.

1 comment:

  1. I like your idea of a gratitude diary. That's what a lot of people are thinking about now, rethinking their lives. And I think it's a great way to really change the way you think about many things and make yourself feel better.
    In fact, everything you practice seems to be useful for me! It inspires me to work on my own well-being!