Stress Less by Going Back to Basics: Building your resilience with the five pillars of health
April is Stress Awareness Month, which coincides with the relaxing of some of the lockdown measures.
If you think about the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of The Change Curve below, we are all rapid cycling around the curve rather than reaching the end point of ‘moving forward’.
Image: The Change Curve
It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience of the last year has been different. Whether you have home schooled children, looked after older parents, had ill relatives, or been isolated from your loved ones, all our journeys have been unique.
I believe self-compassion and compassion for others are key in achieving this next transition phase. Covid is not going away despite the promises of the vaccines – this is something we need to learn to live alongside rather than wait for it to pass.
We need to focus on our locus of control; we cannot control the pandemic or the lockdowns, but we can look after ourselves to allow us to come out the other side intact.
So, what can we do?
Well, think about your own journey – what one thing could you try to improve on that would give you maximum benefits?
The Pillars of Health
The core foundations of our wellbeing are sleep, food, exercise, relaxation and connecting with others. Here, we look at each of them in more detail.
Sleep underpins all aspects of health and wellbeing.
It regulates our appetite, helping to control body weight through healthy food selection rather than rash impulsivity. Plentiful sleep maintains a flourishing microbiome within your gut from which we know so much of our nutritional and immune health begins. Adequate sleep is also intimately tied to the fitness of our cardiovascular system, lowering blood pressure and keeping our hearts in good condition.
“If sleep doesn’t serve as some vital function, it is the biggest mistake evolution ever made’– Allan Rechtschaffen
The daylight-saving time is an annual experiment which proves just how detrimental losing an hour of sleep is. In his book Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker reported that when the clocks go forwards every year, the following day there is an increase in heart attacks, strokes, suicides and car accidents by around 24%. When the clocks go back and give us an additional hour of sleep, we see a 21% reduction of those events.
Working from home has removed normal boundaries too – many people have been working into the evenings whilst juggling childcare commitments.
Our Loughborough health and wellbeing needs assessment showed that 80% of our staff had trouble sleeping. If you’re struggling to have a good night’s sleep, try the following tips:
- Implement a strict rule to turn off all screens 90 minutes before you go to bed
- Avoid drinking caffeine after midday
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Consider the lighting in your house during the evenings
- Try breathing exercises before bedtime to quiet down your busy mind.
Eating a balanced diet is key to our immunity, our sleep and our mental health. Being at home can mean we snack more and working around family and work requirements can impact our ability to plan and prepare meals. Finances and mood also have a big part to play in nutrition.
Between October-March, there is a real benefit to considering Vitamin D supplements as our sunlight exposure is so limited. A magnesium supplement has also been found to be beneficial for those experiencing poor sleep, restless legs, or brain fog. If you have a vegan or vegetarian diet, ensure you consider a B12 supplement.
The key points when managing your diet are to eat the rainbow to improve your gut, and eat as many wholefoods as possible, whilst keeping your intake of processed foods to a minimum.
Have you ever realised that when you relax and do something else – like walk the dog, play with the kids, or do something creative – that new thoughts pop into your head?
Resilience needs a sense of calm. Without calm, we lack objectivity to rationalise problems and seek solutions. Without time to process and rationalise, worries pervade our dreams and disrupt our sleep. Calm is where creative solutions are found and is vital to resilience; invest in finding what gives you a sense of calm.
Our bodies are not built to be static. Intense deadlines and working from home can lead to prolonged periods of static inactivity often in less-than-ideal workspaces. Regular movement can prevent musculoskeletal problems and avoid the need for bulky ergonomic equipment.
It also makes us feel better – with exercise comes endorphin releases which makes for a happier work and home life. If you’re struggling, try the Pomodoro technique which helps productivity whilst encouraging regular breaks and movement.
We need others. This is non-negotiable. The amount of interaction we need differs immensely, but voicing your concerns and supporting others provides a context for our own worries and helps to diffuse them. Consider a drop-in lunchtime catch-up to connect with your loved ones.
Harvard’s well-known longevity study spanning 80 years found that social connection appears to be the key variable that’s linked to greater happiness and wellbeing, as well as a longer life.
So lead by example – resilience starts with you.
Our upcoming initiatives
The Occupational Health team are now hosting a number of webinars for staff, with the next session covering sleep. This will take place on 28 April 2021 – if you’re interested in attending, please contact Rebecca Ford at R.A.Ford@lboro.ac.uk.
We’re also planning activities for Mental Health Awareness Week in May, with this year’s focus being on nature. Keep an eye out for more information, as we have lots of initiatives taking place which everyone is welcome to join.
Occupational Health and Wellbeing Manager
*Main image courtesy of Getty Images
Health and Wellbeing
Wellbeing means being in a positive physical, social and mental state. Wellbeing is important to us as happy, healthy people who achieve harmony in their work / life mix are more creative, productive and help to create a great place to work.