A superfoods smoothie, coffee made from beans sourced from high altitudes and the occasional HIIT gym session often serve as a quick but temporary fix to the daily stress many of us undergo. As highly intelligent creatures we are emotionally charged, responsive to our environment, spiritually alive and exist in social contexts.
However, many of us perceive health as just something physical. How often do we allow ourselves to take notice of our spiritual, mental, environmental and social well-being too without feeling ‘leisurely’, ‘unproductive’ or ‘guilty’?
How long are we actually spending in work mode?
It’s 7.00am and you scour the numerous messages, Tweets and updates on your phone as you lie in bed deciding which outfit to wear for the day. Monday morning has arrived.
You’re oblivious to the two-hour commute to the office as you check your emails and catch up on the minutes from Friday’s meeting. You grab a coffee in the cafe before sitting down at your desk, where you spend the next eight hours with your head in your laptop, only moving to attend a meeting or two and to get yourself a pre-packed sandwich for lunch.
6 pm – you endure the same tedious journey home, frantically trying to finish the presentation for tomorrow. At 8 pm, you’re exhausted and left wondering why.
For many of us, we believe we’re working an eight-hour day, whereas in actual fact we could be spending 12-14 hours constantly in work-mode, given the additional time we have our heads buried in mobile devices or our brains are preoccupied with business chatter.
According to BBC News, the TUC reports one in eight people work more than 48 hours a week, with managers and professionals working more than 60 hours a week. So, what is it that spurs us on to be so committed to our jobs? Perhaps working around the clock to finish the presentation that earned you the pay rise or promotion you’d been longing for, or like most of us you feel duty bound to work long and hard – to be busy because ‘being idle’ can lead to boredom. And in today’s date boredom too is frowned upon.
The harmful impact this game of modern life is having on our health
Not only do longer working hours take up almost 35% of our week, the extra time spent on daily chores or being connected to our devices can be a trigger for stress and anxiety. Ultimately, this has an impact on our nervous system and mental health, making us more susceptible to disease and life-threatening illnesses. Science Daily refers to a study undertaken by Ohio State University, which has linked excessive working hours to cancer and heart disease in women owing to their hectic schedules.
In a demanding society that wants us to conform, it’s all too easy to forget how to ‘feel’ and be ourselves. Although modern technology has radically transformed our lives in many positive ways, it can also be blamed for the oh-so-familiar connectivity creep that often eats into our daily routines. Not only can this consume much of our precious time, it can steer us away from reality, causing us to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Constantly comparing ourselves to others who appear more beautiful, wealthier or who lead more exciting lifestyles can have a negative impact on our self-perception. This kind of negativity may well lead to feelings of insecurity and self-loathing, which in turn can lead to depression and anxiety. We may find ourselves spiralling down and, at that point, we could develop poor eating and sleeping habits and an unwillingness to socialise.
3 simple strategies to improve our well-being
Just for a moment, stop spinning those metaphorical plates and let them crash to the floor. We must start putting ourselves first and tend to our well-being. Too often we fail to see that our body, mind and spirit are longing for nourishment and enrichment. We must remember to listen to our inner voice and begin treating ourselves holistically.
As humans, we have an innate need to understand and accept ourselves, and although much of our self-awareness is developed in childhood, through increasing social pressures in later life we are often stripped of this throughout adulthood. By combining creative and well-being activities with cultural immersion, we can nourish and enrich parts of ourselves that have been neglected for too long.
1. Stimulate your brain through creative learning
Creative learning is a means of gaining understanding through a creative process. There are many forms of creativity, from playing an instrument or painting to writing poetry.
Creativity can also be used as a form of meditation that lets us delve deeper inside ourselves and draw out our innermost thoughts and feelings. There is nothing more liberating than creating something that comes from our heart, giving us the freedom to be who we are.
In “Arts with Brain in Mind”, a book published by Eric Jensen, the author examines the positive effect creativity can have on cognitive, emotional and motor abilities. While Psychologist Dr. Dacher Keltner believes that creativity increases the chemicals cytokines, which are used to fight against disease and stress. By participating in creative learning, we can retrain our brains and strengthen our mindset.
2. Immerse yourself in unfamiliar cultural practices
Every day we are immersed in culture, however, not everyone chooses to notice what is happening in the world around us. We may be so caught up in our daily lives that we neglect to appreciate the customs and social behaviour of others.
By experiencing cultures that differ to our own, we can learn exciting things, not only about other people but also about ourselves. We become more observant and mindful of what is happening around us and our mind becomes open to a new way of thinking. For example, imagine visiting a country you have never been to before and experiencing an array of new sights, sounds, languages or music. Imagine how exciting this feels and notice how your mind begins to think differently.
3. Invest in your physical, mental and spiritual well-being
Strengthening our mind and body doesn’t have to involve gruelling gym routines for marathon running, there are much more enjoyable ways of improving our well-being.
Meditation is great for clearing our thoughts and disposing of the “junk” that takes up precious head space. Taking a few moments out of every day to meditate can reduce stress and increase self-awareness. A study by the John Hopkins University found that mindfulness meditation improved anxiety, depression and pain.
Yoga has become increasingly popular and is a great way to balance both body and mind. Through using breathing techniques, physical postures, meditation and relaxation, yoga can help with easing back pain and reducing stress. Harvard Medical School believes “By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems”.
Healthy eating is another simple way to improve well-being, and it should come as no surprise that food can affect our mood. We need to make sure we eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water and cut down on fats, sugar and caffeine. As well as boosting our energy levels, a healthy diet can help us think more clearly. Whenever possible, we should also try to escape to natural surroundings as nature can reduce negative emotions, contributing to overall feelings of well-being.
There are many people from various walks of life who incorporate culture, creativity and well-being into their daily routines in order to enrich their lives. In “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled”, Ruby Wax reminds us to really start experiencing life by noticing our thoughts and the world around us. Through various techniques such as mindfulness, creative thinking and exercise, Ruby manages her depression.
Stephen Fry also suffers from depression and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was aged 37. In an interview with Warwick University, he talks about his love for poetry and how he uses it to improve his well-being: “For me, the private act of writing poetry is songwriting, confessional, diary-keeping, speculation, problem-solving, storytelling, therapy, anger management, craftsmanship, relaxation, concentration, and spiritual adventure, all in one inexpensive package.”
Geoff McDonald, former global Vice President at Unilever spoke to The Telegraph about his anxiety-fuelled depression. In a bid to “get better” he co-founded Minds@Work, which incorporates yoga classes, meditation and mindfulness into the workplace.
Time and again we bear witness to the transformative powers of creative, cultural and well-being experiences to give us the much-needed enrichment we need to thrive.