Have your say and make a difference

“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher, can change the world”

Malala Yousafzai

There’s so much happening in the world that can make us angry – the burning of the amazon rainforest, increased train fares, Brexit, allegations of sexual misconduct and the roads being dug up yet again. We often get angry about these things (and many more) but how often do we actually do something about it?

As Malala Yousafzai says in the quote above, it only takes one person to change the world. Making a stand for what you believe in, no matter how big or small, can help you and others. Malala’s activism is ongoing, but we can make a stand – and a difference – with just a short amount of free time. This week’s post aims to encourage you to speak out, make a difference and improve your wellbeing in the process.

How standing up for what we believe in can improve our wellbeing

By understanding our needs and telling people what we want to change, the chances of our needs being met actually increase. After all, people can’t read each other’s minds, so once others are aware of what we need, things can change. A positive side effect of this is that we often take better care of ourselves as a result. This has been shown in healthcare settings – if diagnosed with a physical or mental health problem, having a say in the way we are treated can result in better self-management of the illness.

Standing up for what we believe in and seeing a resulting change can boost our confidence and give us a sense of empowerment. Having a sense of control over our lives is key to improving our wellbeing.

Having our say often increases our social interactions with others. As we know from a previous blog, interacting with others is good for our wellbeing. If our thoughts are shared by others, we can feel an increased sense of belonging.

Can one person really make a difference?

Yes, they can. There are hundreds of examples of individuals making their voices heard and creating change locally, nationally and internationally. Here are three to inspire you:

  • Greta Thunberg went on strike from school to protest about the climate crisis outside the Swedish Parliament. At only 15 years old, she inspired other students to create similar protests in their own areas. Her protests and speeches at events such as the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference have since inspired millions of children and adults across the world and raised awareness of climate change.
  • Mahatma Gandhi campaigned for the rights of poor Indian people and Indian independence from British rule. He did this using non-violent methods such as strikes and marches – the most famous being the Salt March. These were embraced by the people of India and started the movement towards independence in 1947. To this day, Gandhi is often referred to as the ‘Father of India’.
  • Elizabeth Fry saw the conditions female prisoners were kept in and fought for them to be treated more humanely. She started by taking supplies to women in prison and her continued work led to the 1823 Gaols Act, which improved conditions. Her work continues to inspire people working in the UK criminal justice system and she featured on the Bank of England’s five-pound note.

How can I change the world in 15 minutes?

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

John Wooden

It’s amazing what we can do in a short space of time. Small actions such as expressing how you feel about something, can grab people’s attention and start a domino effect leading to a big change.

So what can you do in 15 minutes? There’s so many ways you can have your say and make a difference in just 15 minutes. For example:

  • Create a petition about something you want to change. This can be done on change.org In the UK, if your petition reaches 100,000 signatures, your petition will be considered for debate in Parliament and you will receive a response from the government.
  • Write a letter or email to your local councillor/MP about an issue that’s impacting your local area. Most MPs aim to reply within 2 weeks.
  • Share a picture, quote and/or poem expressing how you feel on social media. What you say may resonate with others and help to start change. Look into the different hashtags you can use to increase the reach of your post.
  • Speak to your boss or the HR department at your workplace to change a policy or system you’re not happy with. Other people may feel the same as you, but only after someone speaks out will your workplace feel the responsibility to respond.

There’s no worksheet for this week’s activity – just go for it and have your say about something that means a lot to you. Not only may it make a difference, it can also improve your confidence, self-esteem and overall wellbeing.

I would really love to hear what you end up doing with this week’s activity. Get in touch via email 15minutewellbeing@gmail.com or tag me in your social media posts so I can share them.

I share wellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram in between blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms to keep up to date.


Want to get closer to others? Thank them

When was the last time you thanked a family member or friend for something they did for you? Not just saying, “Thanks”, “Cheers” or “Ta” but really appreciating what they’ve done for you? The people around us are often at the centre of everything we do, so it’s important every once in a while to recognise and appreciate them.

Despite the constant presence of social media in our lives, we struggle to make lasting, meaningful social connections with others. More and more people report feeling lonely, with 9 million of us in the UK often experiencing loneliness. This week’s post explains how the simple act of showing our appreciation for others can help us connect with them, strengthen our relationships and improve our wellbeing.

Showing appreciation, strengthening relationships

Showing how much we appreciate one another can strengthen our familial and romantic relationships, as well as our friendships. When we show our appreciation for each other, it evokes positive feelings about one another. Those who show their partner how much they appreciate them are often more committed and more likely to stay in the relationship. Not only that, we want to know that who we are and what we do matters, so expressing gratitude towards our family and friends can help strengthen the bonds we have with them.

Even though we like to be appreciated, we don’t actually express our appreciation very often. Many of us find it awkward, difficult or believe we’re not very good at it. This may be due to us showing a degree of vulnerability when we truly thank someone. Yet being vulnerable with others can help us develop meaningful relationships with them. Let’s turn that vulnerability into a strength (after all, why is being thankful a weakness?) and foster closer relationships with those around us.

Why is gratitude good for my wellbeing?

There are multiple reasons why appreciating others and feeling grateful are good for our wellbeing, for example:

These are all good reasons to express gratitude – so let’s show our appreciation for those around us and maximise both our and their wellbeing.

Write a thank you letter

This week’s activity is to show your appreciation of someone by writing them a thank you letter. There are multiple ways we can show our gratitude towards others, but making the effort to write a thank you letter can have a longer lasting effect than just saying it.

You may think that a thank you letter won’t make much difference to someone’s life, but you are mistaken. When people were asked to write a thank you letter, showing their appreciation for something someone close to them had done, they thought their letters would appear insincere and make the recipient feel awkward. They greatly underestimated the impact these letters had – many of the recipients said they felt ecstatic and surprised to receive such a letter. These letters took less than five minutes to write.

Our friends and family do so much for us every day that goes unnoticed and we may even take it for granted. Why not spend 15 minutes thinking about something that someone has done for you recently and write them a letter to say how grateful you are? If you’re struggling to think of something, remember even the little things others do can make a positive difference to our lives. For example:

  • Giving you a lift home in their car
  • Taking the time to help you solve a problem such as a difficult homework question or a small home repair
  • Cooking you dinner from scratch after a tough day at work
  • Always being there to listen to what you have to say

It’s up to you how you write your thank you letter, but it will be more meaningful to the recipient if you are specific about what you are grateful for. Explaining why you appreciate them and what they have done, along with the impact it has had on you, will increase their feelings of happiness. Not only that, it will encourage them to continue helping you and others because they know they are appreciated.

There’s no worksheet for this week’s activity – just grab some paper and write that thank you letter.

I would love to hear about your experiences of writing – and receiving – thank you letters. If showing appreciation has had a positive impact on your wellbeing, please do get in touch and share your story 15minutewellbeing@gmail.com

I share wellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram in between weekly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms to keep up to date.


3 ways telling jokes can benefit your wellbeing

Is laughter really the best medicine? It seems like it could be. Employers are sending their staff on comedy courses to improve wellbeing and productivity in the workplace, and people are signing up to laughter yoga classes in droves to feel better within themselves. This isn’t happening because it sounds fun (though that does help), but because it has been shown to improve our wellbeing.

  1. Laughter can help us connect with others. Sharing a joke with someone else, or making each other laugh can help us bond with our friends and family. If we laugh with others, we may feel more comfortable sharing things, therefore deepening our relationships.
  2. Having a laugh can reduce stress. Enjoying humour and laughing can lower our levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This may be due to laughter releasing endorphins and dopamine in our brains, which help our immune system function better and reduce the stress placed on our bodies. 
  3. Humour can increase our resilience. Being able to laugh following negative life events such as illness or trauma can help regulate our emotions and distance ourselves from these negative situations. Having a sense of humour can help us cope in the face of adversity.

Take turns telling a joke

The credit for today’s activity comes from my seven year old nephew. At every dinner time since he could talk, he would ask everyone sitting round the table to tell a joke. Even though we sometimes groan, the variety of jokes – good or bad (and many of them are bad!) – always make us laugh and help us connect. The jokes even facilitate a whole host of different conversations, which is another opportunity for interacting with each other.

Today’s activity is to tell jokes amongst your family, friends, peers or colleagues. My family and I typically do this round the dinner table, but you could do it whilst watching TV together, travelling somewhere together, or over lunch. Make sure that everyone in your group tells one, so you can share in the laughter or groaning. It doesn’t matter whether your joke is good or bad, just tell one!

There’s no worksheet for today’s activity, just exercise your funny bone with your nearest and dearest.

Check back here (and @15minwellbeing on Instagram and twitter) tomorrow for the next wellbeing activity as part of Mental Health Awareness Week!


How to make the most of a train delay

Image subject to copyright, Evening Standard

How often is your trainor tube delayed? How frequently does your bus drive straight past your stopbecause it’s already full? If your answer is “too often”, you’re not alone.

On the London Underground, there was an average of 5 signal failures per day between January 2016 and February 2018. In 2018, 43% of train passengers experienced a delay lasting between 15 and 30 minutes. Not only that, train delays across the UK and Northern Ireland totalled 283,904 hours, which equates to 32 years of delays!

How delays can affect our wellbeing

Not only are these delays frustrating, they can also have a negative effect on our health and wellbeing. Poorer mental wellbeing, increased blood pressure, poorer diet and less sleep are all associated with delays and lengthy commutes.

People who commute by bus report lower life satisfaction and those who take the train are more likely to experience stress and anxiety. In a survey of over 1,000 commuters, journey delays were the aspect of commuting reported to be most detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

Until public transportsystems improve, there is little we can do to control train, tube and busdelays. However, we can use this extra time to our advantage.

Using delays to improve our wellbeing

We often feel like we don’t have enough time – which we covered in a previous post – so let’s make more use of the time we would otherwise spend waiting around, getting more and more frustrated. We can do this by connecting with others – one of the simplest and most effective ways of improving our wellbeing.

Do not worry – this doesn’tinvolve striking up a conversation with your fellow commuters! (Though if wespoke to each other more on public transport, we may enjoy our journeys more…)It’s about using this time to invest in our relationships with family andfriends and build stronger connections with them.

We can’t plan for train delays, so we will have to use what we have on us – our phones. Not to scroll through Instagram or Facebook, but to actually connect with others over a phone call. Even though the majority of us own a mobile phone, the number of phone calls we make on them is decreasing. In 2017, the amount of phone calls made decreased by 1.7% and it’s possible this has decreased since. Why is this? The immediacy of text and WhatsApp (and other messaging systems) is convenient and can give us instant gratification. However, it’s difficult to invest time in our relationships and get closer to our loved ones over messaging.

Why speaking on the phone is good for our wellbeing

Talking to someone over the phone can be beneficial for our relationships and our wellbeing. Communicating over the phone can help us build intimate relationships, feel closer to others and reduce feelings of loneliness, which is one of the biggest contributors to poor wellbeing. Compared to texting, phone calls are better for expressing emotion through tone of voice, which helps us understand each other better and can reduce conflict.

Many of us have a desire to connect with others more, due to UK-wide surveys indicating that men and women would rather spend more time with friends and family as opposed to spending their time at work. Even though transport delays may be affecting that, this can be alleviated somewhat by picking up the phone and having a conversation.

Today’s activity is thereforeto pick up your phone and have a conversation. Even if you don’t experience atransport delay (and hopefully you won’t) you can still call someone. As thisis 15 minute wellbeing – and many transport delays last for 15 minutes – tryand speak on the phone for this length of time, or longer if you wish. After yourphone call, why not take the time to reflect on your conversation and how itmade you feel? There are some questions on the worksheet to help you do this.

Click the link below todownload the worksheet. You can fill it in using the ‘fill and sign’ tool oralternatively print it off and fill it in by hand.

If you enjoyed speakingover the phone for a change, or feel that having a conversation with a friendor family member helped improve your wellbeing, please do get in contact andshare your story.

I sharewellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram inbetween weekly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms tokeep up to date.


Improve your wellbeing in just 15 minutes

Welcome to 15 minute wellbeing! This blog will draw on existing research into wellbeing and translate it into simple tasks and exercises that you can do in 15 minutes to improve your health and wellbeing.

Each activity will not cost any money to do, because why should we pay to feel good about ourselves? As we progress through the activities we will discover that we already have everything we need to improve our wellbeing.

Instead of telling you what to do or how to change your life, this blog simply provides you with different tasks to complete each week to help you feel better within yourself. The variety of activities means that you won’t get bored trying the same old thing. Instead, you’ll get to try lots of different things to figure out what works for you and your wellbeing.

The activities are grouped into seven themes:

  • Connection
  • Creativity
  • Giving
  • Learning
  • Mindfulness
  • Physical health
  • Reflection

Research has shown that all of these can improve wellbeing. You may recognise five of these – connection, giving, learning, mindfulness and physical health – from Five Ways to Wellbeing, a set of evidence-based actions to improve wellbeing.  Creativity and reflection have been included because there is an increasing amount of research into how engaging with creative activities and focusing inwardly can enhance our wellbeing and help us understand what works for us. I’ll provide snippets of this research in each blog post so you can get a good understanding of how each activity can improve your wellbeing.

I’ve chosen Time to Talk Day to launch 15 minute wellbeing. Time to Talk Day is a national day in the UK which aims to get more people talking about mental health. This blog cannot help alleviate mental illness, but it can provide ideas and options to improve wellbeing which contributes to good mental health. If you are concerned about your mental health, please speak to your local GP, local Mind https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/  Samaritans https://www.samaritans.org/  or Time to Change https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/mental-health-and-stigma/help-and-support

Theme 1: Connection

As it’s Time to Talk Day, this first activity will focus on connection and more specifically, sharing problems with others. Connection activities are all focused on encouraging more interactions with those around us, because strong social connections are essential to wellbeing. It’s not only the amount of social interactions we have that count, but the quality of them too – strong, positive social networks can help us feel like we belong and improve our wellbeing.

Developing relationships with others is something we usually do passively, without much effort – at school or work we spend a lot of the day with our classmates or colleagues which naturally results in friendships and relationships. However, as we get older we have less time to spend with our friends and family, which can result in fewer connections with others and increasing feelings of loneliness. Therefore, it’s important to invest in our relationships and make our connections more meaningful.    

One of the barriers to developing and maintaining positive relationships with others is sharing our problems, experiences and feelings with others. Today’s activity addresses this.

Why is connection important for our wellbeing?

Sharing problems with others and asking for their help can feel quite daunting. However, asking for support can help us feel better about ourselves and even help solve our problems. Today’s activity will help you identify the different people (or organisations) you can turn to when you experience different types of problems:

  • Practical ones, such as helping you lift something heavy
  • Answering difficult questions, such as homework or a tricky task at work
  • Emotional ones, such as mental health

Click the link below to download the worksheet. You can fill in the boxes using the ‘Fill & Sign’ tool.

I hope you find this activity useful and it gives you the confidence to seek help when you need it.

I will also be sharing wellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram in between weekly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms to keep up to date.