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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.

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The Good Deed Directory – 40 ways we can help each other and ourselves

What do you think of when you hear the word volunteering? Going abroad to build a school in a deprived area? Helping out in a charity shop? These are important volunteering roles, but there are so many volunteering options out there, in numerous different fields, that take up different amounts of time. In the UK, it’s National Volunteering Week which aims to promote the diversity of volunteering. To coincide with this celebration of volunteering, this week’s blog post focuses on the multiple different ways we can help each other and improve our wellbeing, by launching the Good Deed Directory.

As we’ve learnt in previous blog posts, volunteering our time and being kind to others can aid our wellbeing in multiple ways. For example, we:

As this blog is called 15 minute wellbeing, you may be thinking that there’s only so much you can do in a short space of time. There’s actually loads of things you can do to help others and improve your wellbeing in the process.

These are all listed in the Good Deed Directory below, categorised by the time it takes to do them – a few seconds; one to five minutes; and 15 minutes. No matter how much time you have, you can help someone else and boost your wellbeing in the process.

Small acts of kindness can make a big difference to people’s lives (as well as our own). I hope this directory inspires and encourages you to do a good deed for someone else.

Good Deeds that take only seconds to do

  • Hold the door open for the person behind you, even if it means waiting a few seconds for them
  • Let someone go in front of you in a queue
  • Give way to another driver when the road is too narrow for two cars to pass
  • If there’s time left on your car parking ticket, offer it to someone entering the car park instead of throwing it away
  • Re-tweet, comment on, or share a friend’s post to help them grow their social media following. Even a simple ‘like’ can make a difference
  • If you’re not scared of creepy crawlies, safely and humanely remove a spider or bee (or other insect) off someone else
  • Offer someone your seat on the bus or train, whether they are pregnant, disabled, elderly or just look tired
  • Smile at everyone you pass
  • Once you’ve read a book, donate it to your local book sharing scheme. A list of train and tube stations where this operates can be found here. You can then enjoy a book that someone else has donated. You could even follow in the footsteps of actress Emma Watson and place books with handwritten notes in your local area
  • Give someone a compliment
  • Share an inspirational quote. If you found it inspiring, chances are someone else will too
  • Sign for a neighbour’s parcel when they are out
  • Tell someone if they have something in their teeth or on their face
  • If a loved one is out, record or download their favourite programme for them

Good Deeds you can do in one to five minutes

  • Help someone with a buggy on the stairs or getting on/off public transport
  • If a friend or colleague is going on holiday to a place you’ve been, give them some tips on things to do, see or places to eat
  • If someone is struggling with their shopping, help them carry it to their car
  • Do the washing up – or stack the dishwasher – after dinner
  • If a friend is looking for a job and you’ve got connections to a suitable company, why not recommend them?
  • Write a review of a good service you’ve received. New and small businesses will really appreciate any positive feedback you can provide
  • Help someone cross the road or off public transport
  • Show your appreciation for someone else by thanking them and explaining why you appreciate them
  • Ask a loved one about their day. Sharing experiences can help us connect and you may even learn something new, which can also help us feel good about ourselves
  • Help someone reach their destination in the quickest possible way by putting their route into a journey planner
  • Make a cup of tea or coffee for someone else
  • Praise a colleague. If someone has done a good job, let them (and others at work) know about it!
  • Sign a petition to help change something you care about. Visit change.org to find a petition or start your own

Good Deeds that can be done in 15 minutes (or longer if you wish)

  • Call someone you haven’t spoken to for a while. If you have an elderly relative why not pick up the phone to them?
  • Pick up litter in your local area. Improving our local environment can help increase our wellbeing. Although I’m not suggesting we all run 300km along the river Thames, take a look at this ‘plogging’ group (picking up rubbish while jogging) who collected 44 bags of landfill waste
  • Help a friend with a problem. This could be a sibling struggling with their homework
  • Make a small gift. This could be a little drawing or a tasty little snack. Knowing that you put your thought and time into it will mean a lot to the recipient
  • Help tidy a room in a friend’s house or tidy part of your workplace. Tidy your bedroom so your parents don’t nag you! After all, decluttering a room can also result in a decluttered mind
  • Offer to check something over for someone. This could be a speech they’ve written for a wedding or an email they are not confident sending.
  • If you’re handy, why not fix something? Perhaps change a light bulb or frame a picture.
  • Organise part of a trip. If you’re going away somewhere soon, why not find a great restaurant to eat at or an activity you and your travel companion(s) can do?
  • If you’re great at doing hair, nails or make up, why not offer to do one of these for a friend before a night out?
  • Donate any unwanted clothes, jewellery or homeware to charity so others can benefit from it. As Marie Kondo says, pass the joy onto someone else
  • If you are able to, donate blood. Find your local blood donation session here
  • Attend a local charity fete or fundraising event. Often, showing your support by just being there is enough
  • Go to the shops or complete a chore for someone who is unwell

If you have any ideas about other activities we can do by giving 15 minutes of our time, please get in touch so they can be shared with everyone. It would be great to keep building the Good Deed Directory so any contributions would be greatly appreciated. Also, if you’ve benefitted from a good deed recently (either giving or receiving), please do share your story so others can be inspired to do the same.

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.

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Clearing out your closet can clear your mind

Sometimes it feels like we’re surrounded by stuff, with nowhere to put anything. How much of this stuff do we actually need? Have we used or worn it all in the last year? If the answer to these questions is ‘not all of it’ then all these things may be cluttering your life unnecessarily.

Clutter can contribute to feelings of stress and not being able to achieve our goals. Mess around the house can make us feel stressed as we may perceive it as another task that we haven’t been able to complete. This adds to the feeling that there isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish our goals, which can make us feel even more stressed. In this third post during National Stress Awareness Month, we will be exploring the benefits of tidying up, getting rid of things we don’t really need and donating them to charity.

You may have heard of the ‘KonMari’ method popularised by the TV show ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’. This method encourages us to get rid of items which no longer ‘spark joy’ in us. This is similar to the quote by William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Focusing on the items that make us happy and removing those that are no longer of use to us can result in a transformation of not only our homes, but also our emotional wellbeing.

Is Marie Kondo onto something? She could well be. Living in a messy, cluttered house can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. If we feel like we live in a cluttered home, we are more likely to feel stressed, as shown by increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).

Why we are reluctant to declutter our homes

Although clutter and mess can cause frustration and have a detrimental effect on our wellbeing, many of us do nothing about it. Why is that? Tidying up and throwing things away is an unpleasant, often time-consuming activity for many of us to do, so we avoid it and spend that time procrastinating instead. For those of us who avoid throwing things away, or even hoard objects, we may keep hold of things because we believe that:

  • We just need more time to sort things out
  • We don’t have too much stuff, we just need more storage space
  • We need to keep them for the future, ‘just in case’
  • If we throw things away, we may harm the environment

If you are concerned that you may have a problem with hoarding, the Clutter Image Rating may be useful. Also, speak to your GP or a mental health practitioner for advice and support.

We can also become overly attached to our personal items, which makes it hard to get rid of them, resulting in a build-up of objects in our homes and lives. We then add to this ever increasing amount of objects because we believe we actually need the things we want, which is rarely the case. Do we want three different types of black ankle boots? Yes. Do we need three different types of black ankle boots? Almost definitely not.

How getting rid of clutter can improve our wellbeing

In comparison, if we feel like we live in a home that is tidy and in order, we feel less stressed. When decluttering we use our problem solving skills, giving us a sense of mastery and control, which helps us feel better about ourselves and increases our belief in our ability to achieve our goals.

One of the positives of tidying up is that we can see the difference we have made straight away. When our things are out of place, this can cause us to feel anxious. Putting things in order can relieve anxiety relatively quickly. Additionally, decluttering can involve three of the key wellbeing themes we’ve covered in 15 minute wellbeing:

  • Physical health – tidying is a type of exercise, which can improve our mental and physical health
  • Mindfulness – concentrating on just decluttering a space can keep us in the here and now, which in itself can help reduce stress
  • Giving – giving our unwanted items to charity can not only pass on joy to others, but also increase our self-worth

This week’s activity is a seemingly simple one – declutter a space in your home. It may sound daunting –and it’s ok to feel that way – but in line with all the other activities, you only need to spend 15 minutes tidying a space. Pick a small, manageable space such as a bedside drawer or the pile of bits and bobs on the stairs. Take a picture of how it looks before decluttering, then take another when you have finished.This will help you see what a difference just 15 minutes of tidying up can make.

Once you’ve finished tidying, bag up those items you don’t need and donate them to your local charity shop. Giving to others can further enhance our wellbeing by giving us asense of self-worth and purpose.

Click the link below to download the worksheet. You can fill it in using the ‘fill and sign’ tool or alternatively print it off and fill it in by hand.

If tidying up had a positive impact on your stress levels or wellbeing, please do get in touch and share your story.

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

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Give a little, gain a lot

Giving is often associated with gifts or lavish acts that cost a lot of time and money. Although it is nice to give and receive presents, this is rarely the route to long term happiness and positive wellbeing. Research conducted around the world has shown that materialism is linked with low life satisfaction. The giving we are talking about today isn’t about gifting material goods, but gifting our time to support others.

Theme 3: Giving

The next theme that can improve our wellbeing is giving. The type of giving we are focusing on is prosocial behaviours such as volunteering, sharing and cooperating to benefit others. This could range from offering our seat to someone on the train or comforting a friend who is going through a tough time: giving to others does not need to involve spending lots of time or money. Altruistic behaviour such as helping others and sharing can lead to feeling more positive and increased self-worth. Giving back to others and reciprocating kindness can improve wellbeing for people of all ages.

Why giving is good for our wellbeing

When we give to others, the reward areas in our brains are stimulated, which makes us feel good about ourselves. Helping others and sharing can give us a sense of self-worth and purpose. Not only that, giving and sharing can result in developing new, stronger relationships throughout life which are also essential to wellbeing.

In a national survey, 80% of people in the UK said they felt good after being kind, with 87% feeling that being kind to others has a positive effect on their own health. Helping other people can give us a sense of euphoria or a ‘helper’s high’ which can reduce stress and improve our wellbeing. If you’ve seen the episode of ‘Friends’ where Joey and Phoebe argue about whether there is such a thing as a selfless good deed, it looks as if Joey may be right – helping others helps us feel good.

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Small acts of kindness can make a big difference

Whether it’s volunteering or a small act of kindness to someone else, giving is linked with positive wellbeing. Those who are kind to others – including those who commit small acts of kindness – report benefits such as:

Being kind to others does not need to be time consuming: one study asked participants to commit five random acts of kindness each week over six weeks. These acts included visiting a sick relative, helping someone with a problem and donating blood. Wellbeing improved amongst those who carried out these random acts of kindness compared to those who didn’t. Other research has shown that committing just one act of kindness a week over six weeks led to increased wellbeing, compared to those who did not help others.

When giving our time to others, it is important to look after ourselves. If we overly focus on helping others without considering our own needs, we can put ourselves at risk of burnout, feeling guilty and even depression. Therefore it is important not to take on too much and spread ourselves too thinly –spending just 15 minutes of our time giving is enough to not only help others, but benefit us too.

Today’s activity asks you to give 15 minutes of your time to someone or something else. The worksheet provides you with some ideas on how you can give your time, be it helping someone else or your local community. These are just suggestions so if you’d like to give 15 minutes of your time doing something else to help others, then do. There is also space on the worksheet to reflect on how it went and how you felt afterwards.

Click the link below to download the worksheet. You can fill it in using the ‘fill and sign’ tool or alternatively print it off and fill it in by hand.

If you have any ideas about other activities we can do by giving 15 minutes of our time, please get in touch so they can be shared with everyone. It would be great to create a ’15minute giving’ database so any contributions would be greatly appreciated.

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