DON’T expect instant results, stop chasing happiness, and realise that mindfulness doesn’t mean ‘meditation’ - these wellbeing tips could help beat the November blues.
According to the NHS, November marks the beginning of seasonal affective disorder, aka ‘SAD’ or ‘winter depression’, with a persistent low mood linked to a reduced exposure to sunlight.
And as we tackle this potentially tricky period, one Liverpool Hope University graduate turned professional ‘Resilience and Recovery Coach’ has shared some of the things she’s learned from helping others.
Gemma Margerison, who studied for a Masters in International Relations at Hope between 2014 and 2017, has produced a fascinating new book - Connected: The 12 Ways of Wellbeing for a Holistically Healthy Life.
The book contains information, advice, and guidance from 45 UK-based contributors, covering everything from healthy eating to career development.
Gemma, who runs Gemma Louise Coaching, explains: “I wanted to create something that’s a cross between a self-help book and a wellbeing directory - something with enough information in there for people to improve their own health and wellbeing, but also for those who say, ‘I want to improve my health and wellbeing in this particular area, but I need some extra help’. Those readers have now got the contact details for practitioners who are experts in their field and who can support them.”
Here Gemma, 33, shares some of the unique insights she’s gleaned from her professional practice as well as putting the collection together:
Don’t expect instant results
Gemma says: “As people, we often want things instantly. And that leads to unhealthy or extreme methods of trying to achieve those things. It’s arguably the biggest pitfall for a lot of us and it’s most commonly seen when it comes to dieting and healthy eating. Unfortunately wellness is an ongoing process - it’s not a destination. It takes hard work. But the results can be a healthy life full of all of the things you enjoy. Ultimately, that hard work is worth it rather than risking your wellness on seeking immediate results. We see it with peoples’ finances, too. They clearly need help, but they don’t want to ask for it. And so a loan leads to another loan and then another credit card, and it all spirals out of control.”
Confront bad experiences rather than bury your head in the sand
“Being mindful and present is a strong theme throughout the book. No matter whether it’s your finances, your relationships, being in the workplace or simply enjoying the environment around you. If you can, please take a moment to really be present and engaged with what’s going on around you, as this simple act can put you in a much better mindframe. Whether what you experience is good or bad, it’s better to experience it than to be overwhelmed with worry about what’s going to happen next, or to bury your head in the sand while things actually get worse.”
Mindfulness does NOT mean meditation
“Mindfulness might sound like a hard concept, but don’t confuse mindfulness with meditation. There’s nothing that requires sitting for long periods of time while you contemplate your life. One thing you might try is to tell yourself to physically lift your chin up. Whether you’re sitting at your computer, or out for a walk, lift your gaze and have a look around you. This is a really good thing to practice during the activities that you do repeatedly each week. For example, if you take your dog for a walk, take a look at what’s around you and try to notice what’s different on a day to day basis. Suddenly, you’re in that present moment. The buds of a flower might be starting to open, for example. You’re engaging - you’re being mindful in that moment and using that as a way to engage. This is what mindfulness is all about. It also gives you the opportunity to smile at someone as they pass - even a gesture as small as that can make someone’s day.”
Your habits are like a box of puppies...
“Your habits often try to challenge you. They’re a bit like an open box full of puppies. They’re going to try to jump out the box and run away. A big thing about having negative habits is being able to put them back in the box. And that’s fine - it’s okay to have little slips. Sometimes we worry about having to be perfect at something from the get-go where actually it’s about constantly reminding ourselves that it’s fine to just give something a go, or pick something up again, and to make mistakes with it. Mindfulness is the same - you probably won’t be perfect at it straight away. But start small and practice doing it regularly and it’ll soon become second nature.”
Sweat the small stuff
“This might sound obvious, but getting the really basic foundations right is really important. Getting enough sleep is a big one. If you’re really tired, sometimes your eating habits go out of whack, and your social habits also change because you’re too tired to be bothered to go and see that person. Your work habits might also change because you’re too tired to put your full effort into something. If you do the basics well, you’ve got something strong to build on. And small changes can make a big difference.”
Don’t mistake happiness for wellness
“We’re not going to be happy all of the time. And by expecting ourselves to be happy all the time we’re adding more pressure to ourselves. We’re going to experience things in life that make us sad, frustrate us and make us angry, and that’s all part of the wonderful fabric of life. There’s an obsession around being positive all of the time which I think actually creates its own problems. Whereas if we focus on ‘wellness’ rather than happiness, we’d be able to engage with all of those experiences in a much healthier way. We’d be a lot more accepting of who we are and the experiences of life. It would help us to understand that if we do feel sad or angry, or our mental health isn’t as good as it should be, it’s not a weakness or a lack of ‘positivity’. It’s not ‘wrong’. It might also help you to reach out for support if you need it.”
Don’t underestimate how the pandemic might have impacted on you
As part of Gemma’s work she runs ‘TRUCE’, aka ‘Trauma Resilience and Recovery for Uniformed, Care, and Emergency Services’.
She delivered sessions for the NHS, police, armed forces, local councils and private care homes.
And Gemma, from Preston, Lancs, says: “During the first lockdown I did a lot of work with people who suddenly found themselves isolated and who had found that this isolation had caused certain things to resurface. There were also people who found that Covid itself and the idea of being unwell with it triggered something for them. Cancer survivors, for example, were really worried about going outside and what that might mean for their health. And during the second wave, Christmas 2020, I had a big influx of people looking to build their resilience for when we do come out of lockdown. People were asking, ‘How do I give myself the coping mechanisms for getting back out into the world?’ Many people had had their ‘pedal to the metal’, as it were, just trying to do their job and now were forced to take a step back because they realised just how exhausted they were, and just how much of an effect the pandemic has had on them. It was about telling them, ‘It’s okay to take care of yourself. In fact, it’s necessary in order for you to be able to continue doing your job to the best of your ability’. There’s such an internal drive to be that ‘caregiver’ that I think that people don’t stop to consider the impact Coronavirus is having on them until it reaches the point of, ‘I’ve got no choice but to stop’. It’s about trying to find the right balance between being resilient and recognising when you need to step back.”
Remember that you’re more resilient than you might think
“I think the pandemic has shown us that we all have a certain level of resilience. We have fought on and got through the other side of some real difficulties. While talk of further restrictions this winter is tough and concerning to hear, my biggest tip when it comes to resilience over the coming months is always to take care of yourself. If you feel like you need a day on the sofa with a blanket, that’s absolutely fine. If you feel like you can go out for a run and do some of the things you’d normally do, that’s also fine. But make sure to ‘check in’ on yourself, ask yourself how you are, and ask yourself what you need. Whatever the answer is, then that’s what you require in that given moment.”
You don’t have to do it on your own
“No matter what it is you’re facing, no matter what it is you’re struggling with, there are people out there who can support you. My book is a testament to that fact. If you feel like you need support, I’d encourage you to reach out for it. There are so many people out there who can help you. You don’t ever have to go through something by alone.”
** Click link this link to purchase Connected: The 12 Ways of Wellbeing for a Holistically Healthy Life with £2 from the sale of every book being donated to support the work of mental health charity Lancashire Mind.
** It’s also on Amazon.co.uk
** To study Health & Wellbeing at Hope: https://www.hope.ac.uk/undergraduate/undergraduatecourses/healthwellbeing/