The word wellbeing is so much more frequently heard these days in all sorts of situations. Advertisers promote the advancement of wellbeing by the use of their products, organisations are scrambling to be seen to promote the wellbeing of their employees, schools teach wellbeing as something to be nurtured, too. What does wellbeing actually mean?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines wellbeing as “the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy.” True wellbeing is achieved in a state of being comfortable AND healthy AND happy, too. All three elements are so deeply enmeshed that we cannot achieve true wellbeing without all three elements being present and balanced.

The concept of wellbeing can be applied to any part of our lifestyle that may have the ability to improve its quality. It can therefore be adopted by any organisation with a priority, focus or agenda to promote. Various corporations and charities promote wellbeing as it relates to mental health, physical health, nutrition, happiness, sleep patterns, nutrition and so on. In reality, the concept of wellbeing is entirely subjective; it is completely unique to each of us as individuals. Each of us will need to tweak a different element of our lifestyle to achieve the desired improvement in our levels of comfort, health and happiness and increase the feel good factor in our lives. It is likely that each of us will be prepared to commit to a different degree of or timescale for change to increase that sense of wellness. Wellbeing is really an holistic, bespoke concept. It is important to achieve wellness in mind, body and spirit and finding balance between those elements is essential to being able to maintain it. Each person and indeed any organisation or corporation will require very specific focus and support to do so.

Each part of the human body functions at its best and is most efficient when all of the other parts are working well, too. Just like a car, each part of the body and mind has to be maintained with care for the machine to work properly. If we want to reach our optimum performance in the wellbeing stakes, we have to take care to service each part of our own machine at regular intervals. It is equally important to pay close attention to our functioning, looking for signs that all may not be well and enabling us to intervene before the machine stops working so well or the wheels come off completely!

The principle and most essential component of any machine is its engine. Our brains are no exception and require extra care to maintain this most complex and essential of parts. The brain is the driving force in our lives. As well as ensuring the coordinated movement of all other parts of our machine, the brain also shapes our personalities and mood. Good mental health is a fundamental pillar of wellbeing and we can help our brains to achieve this by trying to maintain a positive focus and by keeping stress to a minimum. We also need to give our engine a rest from time to time, both in terms of proper and meaningful relaxation and in terms of clean and regular sleep.

Stress has an extraordinarily negative effect upon the body, both physically and mentally. The body and the mind both need rest from the daily grind and to do so have to be allowed to switch off from time to time. We would not expect to run our cars or mobile phones for weeks on end without switching them off to reset from time to time so why do we expect this of ourselves? Going for a short walk, enjoying a quick coffee with a friend or colleague, listening to some music or practising short mindfulness techniques during regular breaks at work are just a few easy ways that we can make sure our mind hits the reset button every few hours during the course of the day. And before you dismiss this as being unrealistic in your frantic, high pressure work place, ask yourself whether the smokers in your workplace make time for their cigarettes during the working day and importantly whether they are allowed by your employer to take that time. The answer is of course yes. There is no reason why we should not make time improving our wellbeing at work. It is our choice whether we take our statutory breaks; you are entitled to them for a reason. Furthermore, just like your computer when you switch it off and switch it on again, you will find that you benefit from a quick system reset in terms of smooth operation, processing speed and productivity. No right minded employer could argue with that!

The practices of mindfulness, meditation and yoga are invaluable tools in helping to train the brain and body to be more consciously aware. This is more important than it may first appear to be. The process of constant thought, often negative in nature, is both psychically and psychologically exhausting. It also keeps the body wired into the sympathetic nervous system, or fight and flight mode. This system causes a series of chemical reactions in the body and mind including increased heart rate, redirection of blood to limbs and away from digestion, increased blood pressure, changes in breathing patterns and oxygen levels and a change with the body to a more acidic environment. The brain and body are on ‘high alert’ and so we remain in a state of hyper vigilance until this nervous system is switched back to the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic mode. The sympathetic nervous system was designed to be used during times when hyper-vigilance was required, to keep ourselves safe in times of danger or to be more acutely responsive when hunting or fighting. It was never designed to be maintained over long periods of time, which the modern way of life tends to provoke. A regular mindfulness, breathing, meditation or yoga practice will help to switch the body back into rest / digest and keep blood pressure and body acidity low. It can also teach the brain to notice the constant narrative and negative thought patterns and stop them, taking control over worry and dread. In the quest for better wellness, these conscious awareness practices are essential tools for success.

The benefits to mind and body of a regular restful sleep pattern have been well documented. During sleep, the body rests and restores any cell damage that has been suffered during the day. Our body recuperates from the stresses of work, family, friends and the deluge of information that we are expected to process from day to day. We also are blessed with a few hours of freedom from worry and pressure. The quality and quantity of our sleep has to be protected to allow for this natural restoration process. The recommended amount of sleep for an adult is between 6-8 hours per night. Our body cannot function efficiently with less than that and, if we try to force it to do so, we are significantly more likely to need to look for other ways to stimulate ourselves the following day with things such as caffeine or sugar. Many of us don’t make time for proper sleep but it is perhaps the quickest way to making huge gains in our noticeable sense of wellbeing. Try setting a bedtime for a week, 8 hours before you need to get up. After a week, the noticeable benefits will make you want to hang on to your new found va-va-voom and push that gorgeous restorative sleep way higher up your priority list than it ever has been before.
It is imperative to nurture ourselves with the right fuel to give our bodies the best chance of operating at optimum levels. If you want to keep it simple, three simple changes you can make straight away and make huge improvements to your nutritional wellbeing are:

1. Cut out sugar as much as possible from your diet. Sugar is in many of our foods but often disguised in the labelling under one of its aliases. Familiarise yourself with what to look for. Sugar has a multitude of hidden side effects on the body. From the known impacts on the liver, on neurotransmitter dysregulation, stimulating inflammation and increasing cellular ageing to the ever emerging science that sugar is related to a significant increase in cancer risk, there has never been a better time to get rid of this wellbeing drain from your diet. Be aware of hidden sugar in foods like ready made sauces, fruit juices and breakfast cereal. Definitely don’t add sugar to anything. It will take a couple of weeks to truly ween yourself from your sugar addiction which most of us unwittingly suffer, but it will be worth it. In the first few days, you may find that foods taste bland but after a while, your body will rid itself of the cravings and stop telling you that your new, more healthy eating plan is boring and tasteless. Your taste buds will wake up to the new flavours in your food and help you to get back to enjoying nature’s produce at its healthiest and best;

2. Say a firm and consistent NO to processed foods. Processed foods aren’t just microwave meals and other ready meals. A processed food is any food that has been altered some way during its preparation before it reaches your fridge and can be mechanically processed or chemically processed. Not all processing is bad for us; pasteurising milk (if you eat dairy produce) is one obvious example. However, processing provides the opportunity for manufacturers to add sugar, salt and chemical additives to foods whilst removing some of its nutritional content. This makes it longer lasting and more flavourful for the consumer but also often make it harder for our bodies to break down. Ultra processed food consumption has been positively linked to an increased cancer risk in a study published in the British Medical Journal. Processing loads the produce with unnatural and unnecessary sugar, sodium and fat and are designed to make you addicted to them so that you overeat them and then buy more. Fizzy pop is the perfect example. They also usually contain a plethora of artificial ingredients which we don’t understand. In short, processed foods are linked by scientific research to a multitude of health problems such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and changes in behaviour in the nutritional food tastes so good on its own. We can surely all remember our mothers telling us not to play with our food… It’s not a toy! So why take the risk of eating it after someone else has played around with it? Healthy, nutritional unprocessed recipes are readily available now more than ever before. It’s easier than you think to eat healthily and within a reasonable budget if you know how…;

If you don’t know what it is, don’t put it in your body! Part of pushing your wellbeing to the max is becoming aware and accepting that everything you do to, with and for yourself is your own choice. If someone gave us a pill and told us to take it without any other information, we would refuse. So why do we take the same risks with our food, just because it’s in a shape or form that we are familiar with? Be aware of nutritional information but also take care to read the ingredients list. And if you see something you don’t understand, put it back! Take control of your nutritional health and watch your wellbeing soar…

Don’t leave your precious machine sitting on the driveway! Keep that body moving. Whether it is walking, hardcore HIIT or something in between physical exercise will improve your sense of wellbeing no end. In the UK, GP’s can actually prescribe exercise to improve physical health. The UK government recommends that we engage in exercise that raises our heart rate for one hour at least three times per week. The truth is that any exercise is good. Find something that you enjoy; it helps to keep us to motivated to do more. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness can have massive health benefits for body, mind and spirit and can improve holistic wellness when incorporated into a regular wellbeing routine. As well as regular planned exercise, it is important to keep our body moving throughout the day, especially if we work on a sedentary or seated position. Get up from the desk every hour and move around for 5-10 minutes. Keep those joints well oiled by staying hydrated, too. Your body needs more water than your probably think…
Whether we have a diagnosed mental health condition or not, it is essential to maintain our mental wellness if we are to achieve a positive sense of overall wellbeing. It is a cornerstone of the wellbeing network and should never be ignored. Following the recommendations above will organically improve your mental wellbeing. However, there is lots more that can be done to help ourselves. Mental wellbeing is dynamic and can change from moment to moment. It is impacted by internal factors such as worrying, stress, our ability to control racing thoughts or manage our emotions or physical health issues but also is impacted by external factors such as our relationships or bereavement or similar. If we have good mental wellbeing we will naturally feel more confident in ourselves and have positive self esteem, be able to feel and express and range of emotions in a healthy way, build positive relationships, adapt to changing circumstances without fear, live more mindfully and be more productive.

Self care is a critical component of wellbeing and keeping our machine clean, inside and out, makes driving it around all day a much more pleasurable experience. Stay well to live well!

Schedule in your wellbeing MOT every six months. This may mean checking in yourself, with health practitioners or by regularly making a mental note to book in with your GP to address any niggling concerns that have been troubling you. Staying ahead of the wellbeing game is the goal. Try to ensure that you are servicing your beautiful machine rather than only ever getting it in to the garage once you have already broken down.

This proactive wellbeing model applies to every area of your life. Taking proper care of yourself is the first step to feeling good and being able to take proper care or others. Remember the rule about fitting your own oxygen mask first before trying to help others? It applies to everything. A journey into self care and being kind to ourselves in everything that we do will pay dividends in our ability to live a full, meaningful and happy life. Applying this wellbeing model of striving for a state of being comfortable AND healthy AND happy to every element of life can easily be achieved by adopting a positive and growth mindset.

There are so many different ways that we can improve our wellbeing. The trick is to identify one that will work for you and be consistent with it. Develop better habits and stick with them. Try and make small changes in each area which collectively will amount to a tangible improvement in how we think, feel and live. Ultimately, wellness is a choice. Sometimes changes need to be made in favour of our health and they can often feel like sacrifices. Once the changes begin to take effect and we notice how much better we are feeling however, we recognise the benefits that flow as the prize. The real sacrifice of unhealthy patterns is our health. Wellbeing is focused in proactive and positive change and in taking control of our future health, happiness and wellness.

Take control : Stay well : Be happy

Here are some useful tips and videos to help your Wellbeing