Wellbeing not well-doing

This series of articles exploring the truth behind the buzz about resilience concludes with a look at wellbeing.

In our model of resilience (below) wellbeing covers aspects of both physical and mental wellbeing. While we may be well aware of the foundations of good physical health – healthy food and the right amount of exercise – even if we do not always follow them, have you considered their mental and emotional counterparts. There is such a thing as healthy food and exercise for the mind, as well as some mental junk food.

Let’s deal with the pesky junk food first. Think about your best friend for a moment and imagine that they’ve told you about a mistake they’ve made. How do you speak to them? What do you say? Would you offer them some words of comfort, explaining that we are all human? Would you see if there was a way to help? Or would you turn on them in a vicious way and call them names? Somehow, I doubt it is the latter.

Now think about when you make a mistake, how friendly and supportive are you to yourself?

Speaking harshly to yourself, dwelling only on your mistakes and calling yourself insulting names is all junk food of the worst kind. It will serve only to lower your confidence, and raise your adrenaline, which in turn shuts down your ability to think. No one is at their best when they feel worthless, and this vicious voice of self-criticism will not help you achieve your goals. In terms of wellbeing it can also lead to serious depression.

On the other hand, developing a healthy sense of self compassion will help you weather all kinds of difficulties. Being kind to yourself in tough times, even if those tough times are a result of your mistake, helps you recover. Self-compassion is not self-indulgence, it is a key component of resilience. It is vital in remaining strong in the face of adversity. When we are kind to our friends, we do so without worrying that they will become a worse person because of it. We do so to help them through a difficult time. The same rules apply to self-compassion. Here is a great talk by Dr Paul Gilbert on this very topic.

The final tip I want to share with you emphasises the being part of wellbeing. Our lives, both inside and outside work, have become so busy and full we seem to have forgotten a very important skill – stillness. Taking a few moments each day to achieve stillness, clarity and focus has an incredible effect on both your physical and mental wellbeing. It does not need to take up large chunks of your day – even a single minute can help. Sixty seconds of regular rhythmic breathing will lower your adrenalin and cortisol levels (also known as the stress hormones), and allow your “thinking brain” to kick in.

Here is a simple breathing exercise that you can do at anytime and anywhere. It helps if you close your eyes the first few times while you are learning it, but after that just adjusting your breath will be enough.

Close your eyes and focus your attention on where you are. Have your mind and body in the same place at the same time. Move your focus to your natural breathing rhythm. There is no need to change it. On your next in-breath silently count 1, and on your out-breath count 2. Keeping counting each in and out-breath until you reach 9, and then begin again at 1.

Just this small moment of stillness will have huge benefits for your wellbeing. It is like a reset button form you brain in the midst of all the busyness and bustle.

We have now covered the three elements of Control, Bounce back and Wellbeing.  When you put into practice the tools you have learned and bring these three qualities together, you will uncover greater levels of resilience. I opened this series with a quote from Nelson Mandela. I’ll close it with one from Prof Tanya Byron:

“Resilience is the ability to resist or bounce back from adversity and not break”.

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