How to support your physical and mental health in these challenging times.

11 May 2020
Canva Four Person Standing on Cliff in Front of Sun

Throughout the community, there is significant concern that the current community crisis can lead to reduced physical and mental wellbeing.

Wellbeing consists of many factors. The components are so integrated that a crisis in one area can severely weaken your overall wellbeing. With the current concerns for our jobs, inability to exercise, anxiety about getting sick and broken social connections, it’s natural that wellbeing is a hot topic.

4 Pillars of Wellbeing

At Vital Chi Wellness, we believe that wellbeing starts with four main pillars of:

  1. Eat
  2. Move
  3. Rest
  4. Connect

We believe these foundations underpin robust wellbeing. Adopting 4 Pillars makes it easier to remember what is important and to identify our wellbeing strengths and weaknesses. When we change habits, it’s the small continuous changes that make a difference and applies to wellbeing habits too. As we discuss the Pillars below, reflect on the one or two actions that can change your wellbeing by making a small habit change.

What is wellbeing?

Our level of wellbeing works like fuel in a car. When the tank is full, there seems no limit to the distance we can travel. Our resources, fuel, are more than sufficient to meet the challenges (i.e. the distance to travel). Now, when the needle starts to get below a quarter, we start looking around for help, i.e. petrol station.

Wellbeing is similar because when we are in equilibrium across the 4 Pillars, our wellbeing tank is full to meet life’s challenges. As obstacles arise, the wellbeing fuel reserve is chipped away at and needs recharging. The things that chip away at wellbeing include job stress that impacts our rest, or we feel isolated for a while because we are working at home or we just don’t get enough exercise and movement in our day. While any single challenge isn’t a concern, a few issues at one time can deplete the tank.

Let’s consider some simple steps to strengthen our pillars of health.

Eat – get our nutrition and diet optimised:

We live in a world of abundance. Access to food is simple in this day. Unfortunately, this also means being confronted continuously with calorie-dense processed foods.

There are also abundant optimal food options. When assessing diet for wellbeing, both physical and mental health, the focus is on whole foods, fresh foods and a good balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Some broad tips for optimal eating for energy and vitality include:

  • Choose whole foods
  • Protein and fats are more satiating than carbohydrates, more emphasis on these and less focus on carbs.
  • Consider snacks that are more protein or fat-based than carb-based, such as Greek yoghurt, nuts and seeds, fruit and raw vegetables perhaps.
  • Think of eating as an 80/20 approach – make most of your meals optimised, so you don’t fret about your non-optimised meals.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine – these are stimulants that also impact your ability to rest and relax.

Eating well also boosts your mental health. Food can cause stimulation or inflammation to your brain and body which in turn can reduce your rest and sleep that can go onto affect your mental health.

Move – get working

Our bodies are designed to be moving. Many of us work in sedentary roles, that influence the amount of daily movement.

Exercise can help release stress through the release of tension and releasing positive hormones such as endorphins and also dopamine that create positive mind and body emotions and states.

Simple things we can do to activate our bodies include:

  • Taking a walk, which can also be a time to connect with loved ones if you can rope them into the routine
  • Doing yoga at home via online courses if we can’t attend a centre,
  • Running and games with the kids can be a great way to engage with the family and get some exercise in for all.
  • Where possible activities such as swimming, going to the gym or attending exercise classes such as yoga or high-intensity classes like spin or pump.

The basics are to elevate your heart rate for 30 minutes three times a week at a minimum. Think about raising your heart to a level where you have difficulty to speak when exercising but not so high that you are entirely out of breath.

Most importantly choose an activity that you will enjoy.

Rest – take the time to relax and destress

For the 4 Pillars rest includes sleep, downtime, stress management and ways to just let the brain clear from stress and pressures of the day.

The aim is rested sleep where you’re refreshed when you wake. That seems obvious, but many of us do not wake up refreshed. Way to improve sleep include:

  • Set up a sleep routine that reduces the use of devices, artificial lights and stimulants a couple of hours before bedtime. This allows your body to start producing melatonin which helps create your deep sleep state.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine in the afternoon to ensure your body isn’t overly stressed whilst you are trying to get to sleep.
  • Include some brain downtime in the day through

We are all under time and task stress on a regular basis. Whether it is on the job or family requirements of getting kids to school or activities that build pressure on our day. Taking time to switch off during the day will reboot the brain and let it reduce the level of cortisol. Activities that can assist with this include:

  • Meditation
  • reading for enjoyment
  • watching nature
  • breathing
  • stretching

Connect – make time to be with others

Keeping meaningful and authentic relationships is key to our wellbeing. Often, we take this for granted as we are social beings that naturally try to connect with others in our day to day life. The importance of connection includes reduced levels of anxiety and depression, improved self-esteem and improved stress levels.

Ways to maintain authentic relationships include:

  • Inviting friends and families to join us in our exercise activities
  • Sharing healthy whole food meals
  • Having kids help with cooking meals,
  • Making sure we connect with friends, even those that we don’t see frequently
  • Making deeper connections with work colleagues to create shared interests and personal dialogue, not just work task and focus activities.

One way to both boost your relationships, and other aspects of wellbeing are to connect the two. Invite friends to physical activities that you all enjoy, invite friends to participate in a clean eating challenge or a whole-foods dinner party. Whilst this is challenging during our current climate having a Zoom or Facetime dinner party with friends is achievable. Making it a fun adventure gets the positive brain chemicals flowing to help our ability to relate and rest.

We should focus on maintaining our connections for when we can really sit down together to enjoy a meal and conversation.

A final thought

Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, highlights that a Positive Mindset is a crucial aspect of wellbeing and happiness. The ability to literally create a positive intent during adversity will go a long way to being both mentally and physically well. This incredibly powerful idea supports our attempts to change our habits and face life’s challenges. Our choice about how we see those challenges can determine our attitude and wellbeing.

Pick one or two habits to change from above. Determine if working with an expert will help you get there faster and start to make incremental changes.