Looking after ourselves

General

After we have all experienced an incredibly challenging 2020, CHS Head of Sport Science and Assistant Director of the Waconian programme, Mr Andy Wrathall shares a few thoughts and helpful take-aways for anyone wishing to spend a little time working on their wellbeing in 2021.

2 minute read

“We are all leading busy (and stressful) lives at the moment,” he says. “The aim of this blog is to provide you with some tips to make life a little easier to manage. It will only take 2 minutes of your time and you never know there might be a tip which helps, if only a little.

Try to take at least one thing into your daily routine. It’s all about marginal gains.”

No. 12: Gratitude

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Gratitude is the expression of appreciation for what you have. It is taking time to think about the positive things in your life. Showing gratitude is becoming increasingly more valuable as a practice to promote wellbeing and contentment. When practising gratitude, you are making a conscious effort to be thankful for all that you have.

Having a daily gratitude practice has several benefits including:

  • Boosting your mental health.
  • Relieving stress.
  • Being more optimistic.
  • Improving your relationships with family and friends.
  • Helping you sleep.

Gratitude is an affirmation of warmth and goodness and makes you feel better. By regularly practising gratitude, it moves your inner attention away from negative thoughts and worries and decreases your use of negative words and phrases.

And it’s really easy to start doing some daily gratitude practice.

IDEAS OF WAYS TO BUILD GRATITUDE INTO YOUR DAILY LIFE :

  • At dinner, each family member gives three things they are grateful for that day.
  • Keep a gratitude journal, noting when you feel thankful for something.
  • Perform random acts of kindness for others during the day or write someone a thank you message.
  • Be mindful so that you are using all your senses as much as possible and be thankful for what you see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.
  • Have a visual reminder at home or in school or at work which triggers your gratitude that day.
  • Be polite – say thank you, greet people, ask how a friend or colleague is today.
  • Use positive words and phrases.
  • Do some gratitude-based meditation.

Try building one of the tips above into your daily routine. If we are more grateful for what we have, we will gain more from our lives.

No. 11: Meditation

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Meditation and mindfulness have many similarities and can overlap, but the terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Meditation tends to refer to formal, seated practice. It usually begins with deep breathing in a comfortable position, bringing all your awareness to your breath and consciously guiding the mind toward a single point of focus.

Mindfulness is the simple act of paying attention and noticing, being present in whatever you’re doing. When you are being actively mindful, you are noticing the world around you, as well as your thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and the affects you have on others around you. You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere, & with anyone by being fully engaged in the here and now.

Meditation brings the following benefits:

  • Increased calmness, concentration, awareness, and emotional balance. 
  • Decreased stress and anxiety.
  • Improved self-awareness and sleep.
  • Generates kindness and gratitude.

A SIMPLE MEDITATION PRACTICE TO GET YOU STARTED:

  1. Get comfortable & prepare to sit still for a few minutes, free from any distractions. After you stop reading or listening to this, you’re going to simply focus on your own natural breathing.
  2. Focus on your breathing. Where do you feel it most? In your stomach, chest, or nose? Try to keep your attention on the place where you feel it most & focus on inhaling & exhaling.
  3. Follow your breathing for 5 minutes. Take a deep breath in, expanding your chest and stomach, and then exhale slowly, lengthening the out-breath.
  4. While following your breathing, notice your thoughts. The purpose of meditation is not to clear your mind—your mind is bound to wander. Instead, focus on gently bringing your attention back to your breath whenever you notice your thoughts drifting. Don’t judge your thoughts or try to analyse them; simply direct your mind back to your deep breathing.
  5. Take note of how you feel at the end. You should feel more relaxed and focused.

There are numerous meditation apps and websites out there for you to try. Have a go at meditating daily, I do it every morning and it’s definitely made a positive difference to my life.

No. 10: Creating habits

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We’ve all tried (and probably failed) to introduce something new into our lives to improve our wellbeing in some way – usually physically or mentally. Ask yourself why didn’t that work, what caused it to fail?

The answer is often linked to it being unrealistic. We often make the goal or habit too big and then beat ourselves up when we inevitably fail. If the goal is too big it often creates anxiety and pressure, it requires too much effort to sustain it. So, here’s a solution – why not start small? 

Micro-habits are small parts of a larger habit. By breaking down an ambitious goal into smaller, more achievable ones that you build over time, micro-habits help you complete the big goals.

To succeed with micro habits, try to piggyback it onto an existing daily task. When each micro-habit is so small, it’s hard to skip, meaning willpower isn’t an issue. This helps the micro-habit become part of your daily routine. Track your progress with the micro-habit and use family and friends to hold you accountable and to motivate you. Research suggests that it takes about 66 days for a new habit to become automatic.

Micro-habits link to the Japanese concept of kaizen which means “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” It is a Japanese business philosophy regarding the processes that continuously improve operations and involve all employees. Kaizen sees improvement in productivity as a gradual and methodical process. This can be related to us, as by developing your micro-habits you are trying to improve in a gradual and methodical way.

So, what micro-habits can you start building into your daily routine?

SUGGESTIONS FOR BUILDING MICRO-HABITS:

  • Do some squats while cleaning your teeth.
  • Always sit with your bottom to the back of the seat.
  • Write a daily to do list.
  • Start meditating with 5 minutes each day
  • Write a journal for a few minutes each evening – it gets things off your mind, so you sleep better.
  • Have a glass of water first thing when you wake up and before you eat any meal.
  • Do a minute of breathing prior to doom scrolling on your phone – you might decide not to doom scroll.

Try to take at least one tip into your daily routine.

Here’s a few links to look at if you wish to find out more.

To Achieve Big Goals, Start with Small Habits

20 Realistic Micro-Habits To Live Better Every Day 

10 Self-Care Micro-Habits To Transform Your Day 

The 5 Micro Habits That Changed My Life – Learning New Micro Habits 

No. 9: Having a rest

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It may seem strange to talk about taking a rest, as we all rest at different times of the day – watching TV, reading a book, and brushing our teeth for example. But do we all know how to rest effectively so that it recharges us?

Most of us don’t know how to take a genuine rest: we have always got something on the go, striving to finish something, or get somewhere. Have you ever said to yourself ‘I just need to finish this’ or ‘I’ll rest when this is done?’ It’s as if taking a rest and doing nothing implies we are being lazy.

But actually, taking a rest mid-task may help you complete it more productively. There is also much confusion about what rest actually is. Scrolling through your media feeds definitely isn’t resting as you are absorbing lots of sensory information.

So, what are the benefits of taking a break. Among other things, you are:

  • Improving your memory – research has shown that short, repeated sessions of learning with breaks increases your concentration and helps you memorise information. 
  • Boosting your energy levels as it allows your body to recover and stops you feeling drained if you focus entirely on one task.
  • Reducing your stress levels.
  • Improving your health due to the positive impact on your immune system, along with lowering your risk of heart disease.
  • Raising your performance and creativity – sometimes you get stuck on a task but by taking a break it allows you to process the information and then arrive at a creative solution after your break. Your productivity will be better after a break as well.

TIPS TO GET MORE REST IN YOUR DAILY ROUTINE:

  • Set an alarm at certain time intervals to encourage you to take a break.
  • Agree to meet someone for a break so that you show up.
  • Get away from your workspace when taking a break and don’t take any media devices with you – go for a walk, do some meditation, do some breathing exercise, be mindful.
  • Be aware of the benefits of taking a break so that you want to take one regularly.

Resting is stopping work and worry, a sense of being rather than doing. You need to be present in the restful experience, a sense of restful awareness where the whole body and mind is engaged in the restful state.

No. 8: Being active

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We all know how important being active is to our overall health and wellbeing. I’ve deliberately called it ‘being active’ rather than exercise, as the word exercise can sometimes put people off. Making sure we are active every day, whatever our age, helps with the following:

  • Decreasing the risk of major illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and type II diabetes.
  • Lowering blood pressure and assisting with weight management
  • Boosting self-esteem, and mood.
  • Improving the quality of our sleep and increasing our energy levels.
  • Helping us connect socially

When you are active your brain releases feel-good hormones, such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. These hormones promote positive feelings, including happiness and pleasure. They are released when we are active, along with, for example, when we are outside (especially in sunlight), when we laugh, when we listen to music, when we meditate, and when we stroke our pets.

TIPS TO HELP INCREASE ACTIVITY LEVELS:

  • Walk and cycle more instead of jumping in the car or taking public transport.
  • Use the stairs instead of the escalator or the lift.
  • Park a small distance from your destination or get off public transport a stop early so you walk the remainder of your journey.
  • Build some activity into your daily routine – do some squats when brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil.
  • Start with a tiny habit – set yourself a goal of a 5–10 minute workout each day for a week and then slowly build it up week on week.
  • Get an activity buddy to share your journey. Plan your activity together so that you must turn up to avoid letting your buddy down.

No. 7: Being mindful

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It’s so easy to rush through life without taking time to notice things. We end up living in our own heads, caught up with our thoughts and all the emotions they may bring. When we are mindful, we are consciously aware of something and focusing on the present. Mindfulness is about calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is well known that being mindful helps you to improve your mental fitness. Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It lets you reconnect with your body and the sensations that you experience. It involves waking up to the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the present. 

Being mindful brings so many benefits:

  • It eases any anxieties and reduces stress.
  • It improves focus and productivity
  • It enables your brain to practise being calmer, so you become less reactive
  • It improves your sleep and relationships
  • It makes you feel happier
  • It improves your physical health and decision making

And it’s so easy to start incorporating it into your life.

TIPS FOR BEING MINDFUL:

  • Try some mindful eating – focus on the textures, smells, and tastes.
  • Be mindful when you are moving – think about how your muscles feel, the feeling of your feet on the ground, or how you are breathing.
  • Do a body scan by moving your attention through different parts of your body and check in with how you are feeling. Are there any areas of warmth or tension or relaxation?
  • Feel the warmth of the water next time you have a shower and do some breathing exercises at the same time. See post number 3 for some breathing suggestions.
  • Next time you are walking anywhere, focus on the sounds, sights, and smells, rather than what’s on your to do list.
  • Listen attentively to someone when they are talking to you, so you focus fully on the conversation.

No. 6: Transition

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Over the last 12 months we have all had to adapt to changes in our lives. Whenever something changes, there is a period of transition as you adjust to a ‘new’ normal, often for an indefinite period. Transition is defined as ‘a change from one type, or form, to another, or the process by which this happens’. Both parents and pupils will currently be preparing for another transition as we get ready for the return to school. 

Transitions can cause anxiety and be difficult as there must be some adaptation to the change. As humans, we like routine and a sense of knowing our boundaries and what is expected of us. So, when change occurs this can upset our sense of control and confidence in what we are doing. However, try to view the transition as a new challenge that you are going to embrace and grow and learn from. You have all already successfully navigated several transitions throughout your lives. Let the knowledge that you have coped before, give you the strength to cope again.

There are things that we can all do to help both ourselves and each other with any transition…

TIPS FOR A SMOOTH TRANSITION:

  • Be aware that any period of change may cause some worries or anxieties.
  • Be kind to yourself – sleep well, eat properly, exercise, enjoy nature, have some downtime, do something you enjoy.
  • Try to remember what things worked well with previous transitions so that you can use them again, and maybe what didn’t work so you can try something different this time.
  • Share any thoughts you may have with your family, friends, or teachers. Often when you talk about something you find that the issue is not insurmountable. It might be that someone else is having the same thoughts as you and you can talk them through. 
  • Don’t forget about all the support that CHS offers – make sure you talk to your Form Tutor if you have any worries, and they can direct you to the necessary help.
  • Write things down. This often helps you to process your thoughts.
  • Focus on the positives of being back in school, such as being with your friends again, having face to face teaching, getting away from a screen and being outside more.
  • Be kind to everyone around as you have no idea how they’re feeling.

No. 5: Scheduling your day…

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Do you ever find yourself asking the following questions? “I don’t get any time to myself”, or “I don’t get anything done”. This is not uncommon, and we all do it to a greater or lesser extent, depending on our circumstances. So how about making a detailed daily schedule that accounts for every minute of the day. Most people’s initial response to this would be that it would cause an increase in anxiety and worry as the whole day is planned. You could start your plan as follows:

  • 6.15 – wake up
  • 6.20-6.45 – yoga / mindfulness / reading / workout / walk etc
  • 6.45-7.00 – shower and get ready
  • 7.00-7.20 – breakfast
  • Etc, etc

And plan right through to the end of the day. Make sure that you plan time for yourself to do the things you enjoy.

This may take a bit of time to set up initially, but you’ll soon find that you get more done, and create more time for yourself, without feeling guilty about it (it’s in your daily plan after all!). And then at the end of each day you’ll see a satisfying list of ticked items, indicating how much you’ve achieved.

Each tick will also give you a little shot of dopamine. Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter which contributes to our feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, thus boosting our mood. This positive feedback from your ticked list will reinforce your feeling of being in control. Scheduling will help you prioritise what really matters to you. However, when scheduling you have to be honest with yourself. How much time do you waste on social media, watching mindless TV or procrastinating about what to actually do? 

Once you’ve got used to scheduling your day, you could start a little competition with yourself, by trying to beat your own schedule. This will create more gaps, so you become more productive. 

TIPS TO GET YOUR SCHEDULE UP AND RUNNING:

  • Think about what activity you would like to spend more time doing.
  • Decide what are the three most important things that you’d like to get done each day.
  • Decide who would you like to try and spend more time with than you do at the moment.
  • If you feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day for you to get all that you want done, consider getting up earlier. There are often fewer distractions, and you tend to be more productive earlier in the morning.

No. 4: Getting away from your tech

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The first thing I’d like to say is that this is not an anti-technology post. The change in technology over recent years has been a revolution with a huge number of benefits, especially during this pandemic – greater access to information, increased social connections and interaction, and entertainment, to name but a few. But I’d be surprised if any of us said ‘I don’t spend enough time on my phone, I need to up my weekly minutes!’

Some of the downsides of using technology too much include:

  • Being distracted and not paying attention
  • Stops you sleeping as well
  • Stress levels increase as you become dependent on it
  • Shoulder, neck and back strains due to the position you adopt when using technology
  • Hampers your own thinking as you go to your phone for all the answers
  • You never get away from school or work
  • Nomophobia – phobia of being out of mobile phone contact, increasing your anxiety

TIPS TO DECREASE YOUR SCREEN TIME:

  • When you pick up your phone, use the acronym WWW:
    • What for – what am I picking up my phone for?
    • Why now – why am I doing it now? Can it wait?
    • What else – what could I be doing more productively instead?
  • Leave your phone in a different room so it’s not as easy to pick up and definitely don’t have it with you at night when you are sleeping
  • Put your greyscale filter on. This removes colour from your phone so it doesn’t grab your attention as much.
  • Have designated times in the day when you switch your phone off. I do this between 5pm and 8pm each evening so that I’m more present with my family.
  • Leave your phone at home when you go out.
  • Put your phone on flight mode so that you can still use it as a camera but you don’t get all the notifications.

No. 3: Learning how to breathe…

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This might sound strange as surely we all know how to breathe – it’s instinctive!

But learning how to breathe, so it reduces stress levels is priceless. There’s not an easier, quicker way of calming yourself.

When we breathe out in a slow, controlled way we activate our parasympathetic nervous system. When this nervous system is in control, we feel more relaxed. Opposingly, the sympathetic nervous system, which can also be referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ system, is the one that takes over when we feel threatened or stressed. So, it’s clear that having your parasympathetic system dominating is great for your wellbeing.

Here’s a few benefits of taking some time to breathe:

  • Relieves your stress and anxiety
  • Improves your mood
  • Improves your memory, focus and attention
  • Increases your energy
  • Reduces your muscular tension

You should always aim to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to enhance the benefits.

Aim to have a go at one of these examples every day for at least one minute:

  • Box breathing – breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. Repeat for at least one minute.
  • Six breaths – focus on taking six deep breaths in one minute.
  • 3-4-5 breathing – breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and breathe out for 5 seconds for at least one minute.

FINDING TIME TO BREATHE:

It’s easy to fit some breathing into your daily routine. Here are some suggestions:

  • While taking a shower
  • When having a drink
  • On a walk
  • When you wake up
  • Before you go to sleep

No. 2: Getting more lux light…

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Firstly, you’re probably asking what lux light is.

A lux is a unit used to measure the intensity of light hitting a surface. And for comparison, these are some average lux values:

  • Lux on a bright sunny day can be up to 100,000 units
  • Lux on a cloudy day can still be up to 10,000 units
  • Lux in a brightly lit interior room is only about 500 units

So, as you can see, it’s so important to get natural light into our bodies, even on cloudy days, due to the considerably higher lux value in natural light when compared to artificial light.

But why is getting lots of lux light beneficial?

  • Improves our mood.
  • Helps us sleep better.
  • Makes sure our daily circadian rhythm (our daily sleep – wake cycle) is working well
  • Boosts vitamin D which helps maintain healthy bones and teeth, supports immune and brain system health, and aids cardiovascular and respiratory health.

Therefore, it’s vitally important that you try and get outside during the day and take in some of that ‘free’ natural light, especially in the morning.

TIPS TO INCREASE YOUR MORNING LIGHT:

  • Have your morning tea or coffee outside, either in the garden or while walking – pop a coat on if it’s cold!
  • If you drive in the morning, park your car a short walk from your destination
  • Walk to the local shops instead of driving / taking the bus
  • Get off the bus or train early and walk the remainder of your journey
  • Have a morning break from work / school and go for a short walk with a drink / snack
  • Take a meeting while out walking
  • Move your workstation so it looks out of the window
  • Exercise outdoors or near a window

Try to take at least one thing into your daily routine to make your life better. It’s all about marginal gains!


No. 1: How to sleep better 

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As a nation we are sleeping less than we did 50 years ago. It sometimes seems as though it’s a badge of honour to function on less sleep, but sleep (and good quality sleep) is one of the most important requirements for a healthy life. The amount you need depends on your age. An adult requires 7-9 hours, with teenagers needing more. 

Here’s some benefits of a good night’s sleep:

1. Sleep helps reduce stress

2. Sleep can improve your memory

3. Sleep can lower your blood pressure

4. Sleep helps your body to fight back

5. Sleep can help you maintain your weight

6. Sleep puts you in a better mood

7. Sleep could reduce your chances of diabetes

8. Sleep helps keep your heart healthy

9. Sleep can be a painkiller

10. Sleep can make you smarter

So, with that list why wouldn’t you want to try and have a good night’s sleep.

4 GREAT TIPS TO HELP YOU SLEEP WELL:

1. Power down your tech – 90 minutes before bed, try and switch off all modern technology: tablets, phones, etc. This reduces the amount of mental and emotional stimulation you are receiving.

2. Get some daylight in the morning – exposing yourself to natural light, especially in the morning, helps you sleep better. It does this by helping you set your body’s daily circadian rhythm.

3. Avoid caffeine after midday – opinions vary but it can take several hours to metabolise caffeine which means it can still be in your system when you’re trying to get to sleep. If you don’t think it is, try giving up caffeine after midday for a few days and see if your sleep improves. I’m convinced it will.

4. Have a bedtime routine – young children have one so why shouldn’t we all have one. It helps us unwind from our busy lives. Try doing some meditation or reading a book before going to sleep.


Keep checking back, or better yet ‘follow’ the Be Extraordinary blog to be kept up to date with more wellbeing tips from Mr Wrathall as they’re added. In the meantime…

Tune in to our ‘Healthy New Year’ episode of CHS’s very own The Ed. Podcast

including more tips on looking after your mental and physical wellbeing. Featuring…

  • Nutritional advice with Nick of CHS’s catering team Independents By Sodexo
  • Sports motivation with CHS sports scholars
  • Looking after our mental health: combating exam stress and Seasonal Affective Disorder with CHS School Counsellor Rachel Vora
  • Reading for mental health with Year 7 Book Club
  • Ever tried Zumba? with Senior School Zumba Class

And much more!


Feeling a little flat? Why not lift your spirits by giving CHS Sports Department’s daily lockdown workouts a go… visit the playlist on our YouTube channel now and hit ‘subscribe’ to be alerted with each new session as it’s updated.