Minimise screen time and maximise wellbeing

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“What have you been watching?” “I’ve just finished Peaky Blinders / Schitt’s Creek / The Queen’s Gambit (delete as appropriate) and need a new series to watch.”

Sound familiar? When thinking about this month’s post, the increasing use of our phones and rise in screen time during lockdown – almost 45 hours a week – were at the forefront of my mind. There are many ways we can interpret these figures but based on how many of us are feeling during this winter lockdown, it seems like a form of escapism. If we are limited in where we can go, it makes sense that we escape through the media available to us.

There are other ways of escapism that don’t involve sitting in front of the screen, we just need to be reminded of them. This month’s post is a reminder of how we can get our creative juices flowing in just 15 minutes, escape the mundaneness of lockdown and benefit our wellbeing.

Increased screen time, decreased mental health

Although our growing use of television, streaming and online media is understandable, it’s not always good for our wellbeing. Multiple studies have found links between screen time and/or sedentary behaviour with anxiety and depression.

Since the first lockdown started, researchers have been exploring the effects of screen time and our restricted lifestyles. Those who decreased the amount of time they spent in front of the TV were more likely to report very good or excellent mental health compared to those who increased their screen time. Another study found that even when controlling for a range of demographic factors (i.e. age, income) the more time sat watching television and films, the worse our mental health is likely to be.

Why get creative?

There are multiple benefits to being creative, such as improved:

  • Communication skills
  • Stress management
  • Connections with others
  • Emotional literacy
  • Health management
  • Self-confidence

Participating in creative activities can also lead us to approach situations in our lives in new, positive ways. Have you ever got into the creative ‘flow’? ‘Flow’ experiences are those that engage our whole bodies and result in us concentrating, ruminating less and not focusing on time passing us by. When we experience flow through being creative we tend to have higher self-esteem, value ourselves more and feel more useful – all of which contribute to our wellbeing.

It’s not often we can say we feel the same after bingeing the latest TV series. Here’s three ways you can get creative in just 15 minutes:

Stories in 5 words. As the days often feel like they roll into one at the moment, this creative activity also has the benefit of helping us keep track. Spend 15 minutes each day describing different things that happened with just 5 words. Five words are enough to convey a message, but tricky enough to make us really think about it. Here’s a few examples to help you get in the swing of it:

  • I baked chocolate chip cookies
  • The shed roof came off
  • The cat ate my dinner

Mindfulness colouring. The benefits of this are covered in depth in this previous post. Colouring can help us really get in the ‘flow’ and focusing on just one thing such as colouring can help us take a step back from emotional and stressful situations. Take 15 minutes away from the screen and get your colouring pencils out. Here’s a pattern you can print off and colour in. There are also multiple free designs available online.

Create something to show someone you’re thinking of them on Valentine’s Day. Although we shouldn’t wait for one day each year to tell someone what they mean to us, Valentine’s Day is a useful excuse to do so. It doesn’t have to be a romantic declaration – we all experience different types of love. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, why not use this opportunity to tell someone you appreciate them? Some creative ways to do this include:

  • Turn a photo or doodle into a greetings card
  • Create a simple origami and gift it

I’d love to hear how you get on with these creative activities and the effect they have on your wellbeing. Please do get in touch 15minutewellbeing@gmail.com or comment in the box below.

I deliver online wellbeing workshops, so if that’s something that would benefit you or your organisation, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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

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Real life stories: Life drawing

Creativity comes in many shapes and forms, much like the human body. Often we think of being creative as an individual pursuit, but it can be a social activity too. A couple of months ago, my friend Lizzie held a life drawing class in her home and invited a group of us along.

Life drawing involves drawing or painting a nude model posing in front of you, the artist. They typically strike a few different poses so the artist can capture different angles of the body. At Lizzie’s, the model did a few 10 minute poses, two 20 minute poses and one pose for half an hour, so we could draw her in differing amounts of detail.

Amongst my group of friends were a mixture of creative types and those who felt they ‘couldn’t draw’ or were ‘no good at drawing’ but everyone turned up. It was the first time we had all been together since Lizzie’s wedding so I was intrigued to find out everyone’s motivations for going and how they felt during and after the class. I also got the low down from Lizzie on why she held a life drawing class.

As we’ve covered in a previous blog post, some people find engaging in creative activities stressful, particularly the pressure to complete an artistic task to a set standard. If you feel this way, hopefully Sophie and Hannah’s answers below will give you some reassurance and confidence to give creative activities a go.

What motivated you to hold a life drawing class?

…you concentrate so much on doing one thing that your mind isn’t cluttered with anything else, so it’s very mindful.

Lizzie

Lizzie: I’ve found it really calming when I’ve done it previously and good for managing stress and wellbeing, basically because you concentrate so much on doing one thing that your mind isn’t cluttered with anything else, so it’s very mindful. And I was really keen to share those benefits in the hope others get the same experience, as well as take an opportunity to see my friends of course in the comfort of home.

What motivated you to go to the life drawing class?

Sophie: I wanted to try something new, experience something I’d never done before and test myself by doing something that wouldn’t typically be ‘my thing’.

Hannah: To be honest, my main motivation for attending the class was that it was a chance to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I was intrigued by life drawing but given my lack of artistic ability I expected that this would almost be the side event of my evening.  

Lizzie: Perhaps less a question for me since it was at my house (!) but normally I go in order to combine switching off in a peaceful environment as well as catching up with good friends. I used to study art but once I stopped it academically I hardly did it anymore, when actually it’s so enjoyable when you do!

How did you feel beforehand?

I noticed feeling some anxiety about my own ability, or lack thereof.

Hannah

Sophie: I actually felt a little anxious before we got started. I think the prospect of doing something so different combined with the feeling of not being good enough really played on my mind.

Hannah: I had quite a busy day prior to the class and so hadn’t thought much about it. When I arrived the host began telling me about some of the other people attending who were ‘serious artists’ and I did begin to wonder what I had let myself in for. I noticed feeling some anxiety about my own ability, or lack thereof. However, Lizzie was a great host, as always, and having time to mingle, eat and drink beforehand helped to set a relaxed vibe.

Lizzie: A tad frantic getting everything ready and leaving work with a mass still there to do!

How did you feel during the life drawing?

Being able to sit, and simply be in the moment, with no other thoughts cluttering up my mind gave me a feeling of real freedom.

Sophie

Sophie: I felt incredibly relaxed during the life drawing which was not what I expected! Being able to sit, and simply be in the moment, with no other thoughts cluttering up my mind gave me a feeling of real freedom. I felt detached from my usual worries.

Hannah: Initially I noticed myself being quite self-critical which got in the way of me being able to enjoy the experience. Having a life model means that if you get it ‘wrong’ you could end up offending someone to their face. I found it really helpful having the artist there to give some hints and tips to improve my drawing. After this I really began to enjoy the experience and found that I was able to really focus on the activity, forgetting the things that had been on my mind that day. I was surprised at how quickly the time went and how much I ended up enjoying it.

Lizzie: In flow! Calm and concentrating.

How did you feel after the life drawing?

After having a busy day, this was a great activity to help me feel relaxed.

Hannah

Sophie: Afterwards I felt a sense of achievement. Not only had I tackled something I’d never done before but I realised I found it both easier and much more fulfilling than I had expected!

Hannah: After having a busy day, this was a great activity to help me feel relaxed. So much so that I nearly fell asleep on my train home. It has made me interested in doing more drawing as a way of relaxing.

Lizzie: I felt like I’d had some rest and recuperation for my brain, and fed my soul a bit of creativity. I was also super happy that everyone seemed to enjoy it.

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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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Making Mehndi for your mental wellbeing

This week is Creativity and Wellbeing Week, celebrating creativity in all its forms and how getting those creative juices flowing can really benefit our health and wellbeing. There are events going on all over the UK this week, so if you’d like to get involved, click here for what’s on near you. If you can’t make it to any of the events, then not to worry, as this week’s blog features a new activity for you to try to help enhance your wellbeing.

Doing something creative each day can help us feel more positive. The positive effects of engaging in a creative activity can last for over 24 hours. That is, if we do something creative on a Thursday, we are likely to still experience the positive effects on our mood on the Friday. Research has shown that those of us who do something creative each day rate our social relationships as more rewarding and supportive.

Even if we don’t manage to get creative every day, regularly engaging in a creative activity can help us feel better within ourselves and positively impact other areas of our lives such as:

There are so many ways to be creative – we covered rhyming poetry in a previous post – and this week’s activity involves the three D’s – drawing, doodling and designing. Inspired by last week’s Eid celebrations and friends’ wedding celebrations, we are going to create our own Mehndi (henna) designs.

What is Mehndi?

Mehndi is an ancient form of body art. Specifically, it’s the application of henna as a temporary tattoo. The art of Mehndi has reportedly been around for over 5,000 years, dating back to Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians would paint henna on mummies before they were buried and Cleopatra used henna to decorate her body.

Today, Mehndi is commonly featured in wedding celebrations in South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East (and in expatriate communities from these regions). A ceremony, called ‘The Night of the Henna’ involves applying henna to the hands and feet of the bride-to-be as well as other members of the wedding party. Ornate, complex patterns are said to symbolise joy in getting married and a desire for luck.

Mehndi is also used to celebrate special occasions such as engagements, pregnancy, giving birth, Diwali, Eid and many other celebrations. Designs may range from floral, lacy and paisley patterns to dots, stripes and geometric designs.

How can Mehndi benefit my wellbeing?

Although the research on Mendhi and wellbeing appears to be extremely limited, drawing and doodling – which feature in the Mehndi design process – have been shown to improve wellbeing. For example:

Additionally, concentrating on a creative design task can help us achieve ‘flow’. Flow experiences are those that engage our whole bodies and result in us concentrating, ruminating less and not focusing on time passing us by. When we experience flow (through being creative) we tend to have higher self-esteem, value ourselves more and feel more useful – all of which contribute to our wellbeing.

Make your own Mehndi

Today’s activity is to make your own Mehndi. You can include whatever doodles, drawings or patterns you like in your design, the main thing is that you enjoy it. If you’re stuck for inspiration, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest have thousands of ideas.

The worksheet has the outline of a hand for you to draw your design onto. However, if you want to design your Mehndi on a different body part i.e. a foot, feel free to use a blank piece of paper. Click the link below to download the worksheet. For this week’s activity, you will need to print it off and fill it in by hand.

If you enjoy creating a Mehndi design, or feel that the process of designing a Mehndi has helped improve your wellbeing, please do get in contact and share your design and/or your story!

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. As this week’s post is about Mehndi, I will also be sharing examples of designs over the next week.

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8 ways mindfulness colouring can help you beat stress

You may have got one in your work secret Santa. A (not so close) relative may have bought you one for your birthday because “you were always into art at school”. You may have the Doctor Who one to tide you over until the next series starts. Whatever the reason,adult colouring books are very popular and it’s likely that most of us own one.

Whether you’re a fan of colouring in or are dubious about it, these books can help us cope with stress and improve our wellbeing. In the final post of National Stress Awareness Month, here’s 8 reasons to keep colouring or pick up those colouring pencils for the first time.

  • 1. Colouring in reduces stress and anxiety

Creative activities can be used to help us cope better with mental health problems and alleviate psychological distress. More specifically, colouring tasks have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress and improve mood, all good for our wellbeing.

  • 2. It’s a mindful activity, which is beneficial for our wellbeing.

Colouring in can put us in a meditative state and help us become more mindful. As we learnt in a previous blog post, mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety and even pain. Just focusing on one thing that is happening in the here and now – i.e. colouring in part of a picture – can help us take a step back from stressful and emotional situations.

  • 3. Mindfulness colouring books can reduce symptoms of depression

If you’re suffering with a low mood, colouring may be able to help. Research has shown that after a week of daily colouring in, participants showed significant reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Those who completed logic puzzles over the same time period did not show these reductions, suggesting that colouring in for a short period on a daily basis can improve our mental health.

  • 4. Colouring can improve our problem solving skills

Deciding which colours we want to use in each part of an image relies on our creative, right side of the brain and logical, left side of the brain working together. Creative activities such as colouring provide good opportunities to practice our problem solving skills as they often involve thinking differently. Continued practice can also help us become more resilient in the face of stress.

  • 5. It gives us a sense of control

When we feel stressed, we often feel like certain aspects of our lives are out of our control. Engaging with colouring in books can help us regain that sense of control, because we are the ones choosing the colours. When given the choice of how to colour in an image versus being instructed to copy the colours of a pre-coloured image, participants were more likely to persevere with the task and show reduced levels of anxiety.

  • 6. Colours can affect our wellbeing

Different colours can affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviour in multiple ways. Choosing the colours we want to use in a colouring task can address our subconscious psychological needs and improve our wellbeing.

  • 7. Different themed books can help us engage with our interests

It’s important to do something we enjoy every day. As well as making us happier, doing something fun can improve our skills, enhance our creativity and increase our ability to learn. Due to the popularity of adult colouring books, we can combine the benefits of colouring with our own interests. There are colouring books for every interest – Ryan Gosling (my personal favourite), cats and Game of Thrones, among many, many others.

  • 8. With all this in mind, why don’t you give this week’s activity a go?

I’ve designed a pattern for you to colour in, reduce stress and improve your wellbeing. Spend 15 minutes colouring it in and see how you feel. If you’re able to, spend 15 minutes each day on it until you’ve completed colouring it in to enhance the benefits to your wellbeing.

Click the link below to download the worksheet. It’s recommended for this exercise that you print it off so you can colour it in! If you don’t have a printer, you could draw your own design and colour it in.

If colouring in has helped improve your wellbeing, please do get in contact and share your story!

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. I’d love to post your colouring online, so get in contact and share your work 🙂