Ways to Improve Your Wellbeing
When the coronavirus pandemic swept across the planet, it created stress, uncertainty and a rapidly changing situation for us all. Just like other traumatic life events, it challenged us not just physically but also emotionally. Some people, however, seem to cope better with these types of challenges than others. The difference is something called resilience.
Covid-19 crisis apart, we all experience stress, setbacks and change. But if you’re resilient you’re good at managing stress, you bounce back from difficulties and setbacks, and change doesn’t seem to bother you that much. if you’re resilient you don’t dwell on things when they don’t work out. On the contrary, resilient people tend to see pressure as something positive and motivating, rather than something to fear.
If you’re not resilient, on the other hand, you may struggle with stress and setbacks, and you may even experience stress-related ill health. But it’s not all bad news. While resilience may be something some people are born with, if you’re not naturally resilient it’s something you can learn. And if you do develop more of it, it can have a positive effect on your wellbeing, as well as many other aspects of your life.
What is good wellbeing?
If you look at the many reports, books and articles written about wellbeing, you’ll find there are many common attributes shared, including:
The ability to adapt to change
Optimism and positive thinking
A strong sense of identity
Sense of humour
Good social skills and social confidence
A sense of purpose
Persistence and determination in the face of adversity
Being able to learn from experience
An ability to take care of yourself, physically and emotionally
Building your physical wellbeing
The first step towards boosting your resilience is to look after your wellbeing, which means living as healthily as possible. That’s because if you don’t take care of your physical and mental health, your resilience will suffer. After all, if you’re in good health, you’re more likely to cope better with stress and challenges than someone experiencing health issues.
It’s not always easy to find the time – or the energy – for exercise, especially if you’re stressed out. But staying physically active is important for your physical and mental wellbeing. Best of all, you don’t have to train like a marathon runner to reap the benefits.
NHS experts recommend we should try to be active daily and do at least 150 minutes of moderate-aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week to stay healthy (i). That’s the equivalent of a 30-minute bout of activity on five days of the week. But if you find it difficult to set aside 30 minutes all at the same time you could simply do three 10-minute exercise bursts during your day.
Making time for exercise can help you feel healthier and happier in yourself and give you the energy to tackle issues head on. There’s even some evidence to suggest people who exercise regularly have more emotional resilience than those who are inactive (ii).
Grabbing some sugary snacks or drinking endless cups of coffee may make you feel better initially when you’re under stress, but it’s not going to make you feel very healthy in the long run. Eating a nutritious diet, on the other hand, could help you be more resilient because your energy levels will be higher, and you’ll have a more balanced mood.
Some nutrients – many of which are found in fruit and vegetables – may even help you feel calm, so make sure you get your 5 A Day.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s not going to help you cope well under pressure. In fact, studies show that if you sleep well, you’re more likely to be resilient compared with someone who is experiencing insomnia (iii). After all, having a good night’s sleep doesn’t just make you feel rested and refreshed, it can also boost your energy, your mood and help you concentrate and focus better.
If sleep is something you struggle with, try creating an evening routine. Cut out screen time an hour before bed, try to avoid heavy meals within three hours of going to sleep, reduce your alcohol intake and cut caffeine consumption after 3pm. You could also try going to bed earlier and at a regular time instead of sleeping later in the mornings.
For more tips on getting a good night’s sleep, read our Sleep and insomnia guide.
Improve your mental wellbeing
Besides making changes to your lifestyle, what else can you do to become more resilient?
Develop a resilient attitude
To keep your cool when life gets tough, try to think in a way that will help you cope with anything and everything that’s thrown at you.
First, don’t shy away from stress. There is, after all, no escaping it these days. So instead of getting wound up about how stressful things are, try to make a conscious decision that you’ll take everything in your stride rather than letting the pressure get to you. This may seem easier said than done, but with practice it’s not impossible.
Next, try looking at life as a learning process rather than a series of challenges. Think of it this way: we all come face to face with difficulties in our lives, but we can choose how to respond to them. We can panic and react negatively. Or we can try to see the positive side of the obstacles that are thrown in our path. Also, try to remember that change is something to be embraced rather than resisted. This will help you develop more flexibility.
Indeed, resilient people have a tendency to think positively rather than negatively. So, the next time something doesn’t go your way, try not to blame yourself or think negative thoughts. Ask yourself how important this will be in a week, a month or a year’s time. Then try to find something good that will come out of the situation.
Meanwhile it’s also important to be realistic and accept what you can’t change.
Build good relationships
Resilient people have good personal relationships, plus they often have a tendency to focus on others rather than themselves. If you’re resilient you may spend a lot of your time with others who are also calm and positive. After all, it’s hard to stay upbeat if you hang around with people who are negative and panic under stress (these are the people you should spend the least time with if you want to build your resilience).
Believe in yourself
Self-belief is another common trait of resilient people, as it helps them to cope with stress and setbacks. So the next time your confidence takes a knock, don’t tell yourself how useless you are – do the opposite and remind yourself of all the good things you do. As an exercise to help build your self-belief, try to think of one thing you did well at the end of every day.
Keep a record
The next time you're faced with an unwanted change in your life, write down how you feel about it, as well as how you plan to deal with it. This is a much more resilient strategy than burying your head in the sand and hoping everything will go back to normal.
Next, think about what benefits or opportunities this change could bring you. What could they help you achieve? Then make a note of your goals and how you plan to make them happen.
Of course if you’re trying to adapt to something like bereavement, illness, redundancy or financial difficulties, finding any benefits at all will be difficult. But you may still be able to find something to feel positive about, even something really small.
Think forwards not backwards
If change comes along that you can't control – such as the coronavirus crisis, for instance – try not to let it overwhelm you. Just carry on as normally as possible, as this can make you realise how your life hasn’t changed – which itself can be very reassuring. Realise there are some things you can do, and some things that you can't do. Then instead of dwelling on the things you can’t control, try to put them behind you and move on.
Helping other people is a good way to build your resilience, so try to make life easier for others who are experiencing changes whenever you can. This could also help you to build a network of people who you could turn to for support and guidance should you need it.
Evidence suggests practicing mindfulness – a popular wellbeing technique – may help you become more resilient (iv). According to the mental health charity Mind, mindfulness is a technique you can learn that involves making a special effort to notice what’s happening in the present moment without judging (v).
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and meditation, but there are lots of ways you can practice it in your everyday life. For instance, try to be mindful when you’re walking. Notice how your body is moving, how the breeze feels against your skin, how the ground feels under your feet, the smells and sights around you and so on.
If you’re interested in finding out about learning mindfulness, there are details about some of the courses and sessions you could do on Mind’s website.
Developing resilience is achievable, but it won’t happen overnight. Most people – even those who seem really good at it – have to work at it throughout their lives. The rewards, however, are worth it.
Natural support for your mental wellbeing
While you’re working on building your resilience there are some nutritional supplements you could try that may help you deal more effectively with stress and anxiety:
High-strength multivitamin and mineral
Studies suggest taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement may actually help you cope with stress. Researchers assessing the stress-reducing effects of taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement in people living in South Africa found that the supplement in question could be used as part of a treatment programme for stress-related symptoms (vi). Another claims taking a multivitamin may be useful for reducing anxiety and stress in healthy older men, and that it may also improve feelings of general day-to-day wellbeing (vii).
This traditional Ayurvedic herb is often used to help with tiredness, fatigue and stress. Indeed, a small-scale study suggests ashwagandha may reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol (viii), while another found 88 per cent of trial participants felt less anxious after taking it (ix). Ashwagandha has also been found to significantly improve sleep quality, as well as reduce stress and anxiety (x).
Also known as arctic root or golden root, rhodiola is a herb used traditionally throughout Europe for stress relief. Its roots contain many active ingredients, including rosavin and salidroside. There is some evidence it may help reduce anxiety and stress more effectively than a placebo (xi), with one study finding it effective in people with burnout symptoms (xii). Elsewhere experts have found it may improve mental alertness in people with sleep difficulties (xiii).
Lavender aromatherapy oil
Lavender essential oil has a long-established tradition of helping you feel more relaxed and to sleep better. One study even suggests lavender oil may be an effective natural way of treating the signs of anxiety (xiv), while researchers elsewhere claim it may be more effective for generalised anxiety disorder than a placebo (xv). Try having a warm bath with a drop or two of lavender oil before bedtime to help you sleep more peacefully.
Learning to develop more resilience may help boost your mental wellbeing in several ways. And even if you’re not a naturally resilient person, this guide aims to show you things you can do that may help you cope better in a crisis or whenever you’re faced with change.
For more advice on caring for your emotional wellbeing, visit the mental health section of our health library.
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Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.