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Why you should commute when working from home

Like the movie sequel that no one wants to see, lockdown 2.0 has arrived in the UK and to varying extents around the world. We’ve been through a lockdown before, but with the changing weather and shorter days, many of us are feeling apprehensive.

The aim of 15 minute wellbeing is to help maintain and improve our wellbeing with simple activities that can be done in 15 minutes. Although lockdown can seem huge and overwhelming, there are small things we can do to help our wellbeing over the next month or so. This month’s post offers a small, practical change for those of us working from home or primarily based at home: commuting.

This isn’t about completing a round trip on the train, bus or in the car before you start your day working from home. ‘Commuting’ in this instance means getting out of the house for 15 minutes to prepare ourselves for the day ahead.

Home-based lives

Before the first national lockdown, hardly any of us were based exclusively at home. By April 2020, 43.1% of us were working from home all the time. This dipped a little (to 36.5%) as restrictions eased in June 2020, though with a new lockdown and the government encouraging us to work from home, it’s looking like for many of us, our lives will be completely home-based.

On the whole, it seems that the majority of people in the UK want to continue working from home after lockdown.  One of the biggest appeals of working from home is the lack of commute. On average, commuters in the UK spend 492 days of their lives travelling to and from work, spending £37,999 in the process. Not only that, those who commute by public transport are more likely to experience stress, anxiety and report lower life satisfaction.

The average commute in the UK is 65 minutes and 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.

It’s no wonder we prefer working from home, spending longer in bed and less time waiting around for the train or bus. So why is this post about re-introducing commuting into our lives?

Why commuting can be good for you

Although we may be glad to see the back of our traditional commute, the routine did enable us to mentally switch on before starting work and switch off at the end of the day. Throughout lockdown, why not try starting each day by leaving the house for a 15-minute commute?

Here’s how it can help our wellbeing:

  • It helps to maintain a work-life balance – whilst working from home during lockdown, we took fewer breaks as we felt under pressure to be constantly available. In (unpublished) research I conducted with one of the UK’s largest employers, and in this national survey, this lack of breaks was found to have a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing. It’s easier to give ourselves permission to leave the house before we start work compared to during the working day, so prioritise that morning commute.
  • It’s an opportunity for exercise – as we found out in last month’s post, exercise levels have fluctuated throughout lockdown, with many of us struggling to consistently exercise. Spending 15 minutes at the start of the day walking, running, skipping (or any other form of exercise) can ensure we get our bodies moving before other pressures of the day or the darker evenings get in the way.
  • It’s a chance to connect with nature and the outside world. There is a wealth of research on the benefits of being outdoors on our mental health. Connecting with nature can also significantly improve mood.
  • We can listen to music while we’re commuting. Music can calm us and uplift us – helpful if we haven’t had a great night’s sleep. Listening to music can boost our mood help us get in the right headspace before starting work. It’s worth noting that listening to music can disrupt our problem-solving skills, so it may be worth getting your musical fix before work.

There’s no workbook for this activity – just start each day by commuting for 15 minutes!

I’d love to hear how you get on with commuting and what effect it has on your wellbeing. Please do get in touch 15minutewellbeing@gmail.com or comment in the box below.

I 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.

4 wellbeing tips for a winter lockdown

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15 minute wellbeing is back! A lot has changed since the last blog post, with the global Covid-19 pandemic changing how many of us live and work. It’s World Mental Health Day on 10th October, so what better time to focus on our wellbeing and try making each day a little bit easier during these uncertain times?

Here’s a quick reminder of what 15 minute wellbeing is about. This blog translates existing research on wellbeing into simple activities 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 all the tools we need to improve our wellbeing. This blog doesn’t tell you what to do either – it offers different exercises for you to try 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:

If you’re a new reader (welcome and thank you for visiting!) or want to know more, click on the links above which give more information on the themes. Over the next few months, 15 minute wellbeing will cover these themes and how they can help us during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wellbeing during a global pandemic

Uncertainty and ever-changing situations can take their toll on our wellbeing. In the UK, the number of us experiencing high levels of anxiety has increased dramatically since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Anxiety, stress and fear are normal responses to uncertain situations and for many of us this will pass as we return to some sort of normality (whenever that may be). However, the longer the pandemic continues, the higher the risk to our wellbeing and mental health. It has been estimated that 20% of adults in England will need help with their mental health because of the pandemic.

It’s more important than ever that we help ourselves and each other to stay mentally well. 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 MindSamaritans or Time to Change.

Maintaining and improving our wellbeing during lockdown

Usually on 15 minute wellbeing, each post centres around one activity to try out. However, as this is the first post in a while, here are four things for us all to try to support our wellbeing over the next two weeks. Each activity can be done in 15 minutes, so why not try each of them at least once over the next fortnight and see how you feel?

  1. Make plans with others

Many of us who felt (and may continue to feel) anxious during lockdown also reported feeling lonely a lot of the time. It’s important to stay connected with others as best we can to alleviate these feelings of anxiety.

You may be thinking “How can I make plans with others when social restrictions are in place?” If there is one thing that has accelerated during lockdown, it’s the use of digital technology to virtually connect with our friends, families and colleagues.  Many of us young and old are now able to have video calls and connect with each other without having to leave the safety of our homes. For those of us who can’t or don’t like using video calls, a regular telephone call is just as effective.

Think of 5 things you’d like to do with someone else – it could be 5 activities to do with the same person or different activities with different people. The aim is to have fun spending time connecting with others. You may or may not be able to do these in person, depending on the local restrictions in place in your area so consider how you can do each activity in person and virtually/over the phone. The worksheet at the end of this post has a few ideas if you need inspiration.

Healthy body, healthy mind

Juvenal (abridged)

2. Keep exercising!

Lockdown has impacted our exercise habits, with some of us finding it gives us more time to exercise, whereas social distancing has prevented many sports teams from training together and competing. In England, exercise levels have fluctuated over the course of the pandemic. In May, they peaked with 35% of adults doing at least 30 minutes of activity 5 times a week. By September 29% of adults reported exercising regularly.

Physical activity has numerous benefits for our wellbeing including: distracting us from our negative thoughts, improving our quality of life and improving our mood. If the changing weather makes it feel too cold for you to exercise outside, there are thousands of free videos available online to get you moving, many of which are 15 minutes long. As the saying goes, “Healthy body, healthy mind” so see what difference 15 minutes of physical activity does for your wellbeing. You can use the worksheet at the end of this post to reflect on how you feel after exercising.

3. Reading

To combat feelings of stress, why not try reading or listening to an audiobook for 15 minutes? In an international survey of 18,000 people, 58% of respondents rated reading as the most restful activity they did. Those that read were also more likely to be optimistic and have a sense of purpose – both key to wellbeing.

Many local libraries have re-opened across the UK – check your local council website for information on opening times – and stock books and audiobooks. Some offer contactless reserve and collect services. If you’re unable to get to a library, e-loans may be available. Alternatively, there are lots of free access articles and stories available online.

You can use the worksheet to reflect on what effects (if any) 15 minutes of reading has on your wellbeing.

This will bring out the best and worst in people

said by many

4. Give 15 minutes of your time

A phrase that has been often repeated over the last few months (as well as “You’re still on mute!”) is “This will bring out the best and worst in people.” One of the best things it has brought out is people’s willingness to volunteer to help others. Within one week of the Royal Voluntary Service appealing for volunteers to help vulnerable people during lockdown, 750,000 people signed up to deliver medication and shopping; transport equipment; and check-in and chat with those who needed help.

Giving just 15 minutes of our time can make a huge difference to someone else and improve our own wellbeing. If you’re unsure what you can do in 15 minutes, the worksheet below has plenty of ideas to inspire you.

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

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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Want to switch off? Get in the water

This blog talks a lot about mindfulness, but many of us find it difficult to switch off and get into a mindful state. If you are struggling to fit mindfulness into your day, try getting into water.

When we get away from voices, visual distractions, background noise, multi-tasking, smart phones and quiet our minds, our minds shift. Being around water simplifies the sounds we hear and the things we see. This allows our brain time to focus and think because it is no longer being bombarded with lots of information at once.

When we are in or around water, our minds move from the active state to the default state and different brain regions are activated. Cortisol – the stress hormone – goes down, our heart rate reduces and we relax.

Water features in our everyday lives – when we shower, have a bath, go for a swim, or paddle in the sea or a lake. When we engage in these activities, our focus switches from all the distractions around us to the experience of being in the water.

For example, when we get in the shower, our brains engage with our environment in a different way – what many people may refer to as ‘switching off.’ When in this relaxed frame of mind, we are subconsciously able to find the answers to problems or have new ideas.

Immerse yourself

Today’s activity is simple – get in the water for 15 minutes (or longer if you wish) to clear your head and gain a new perspective. You could go for a swim (either in a swimming pool, lake or sea), take a bath or have a long shower. After you’ve immersed yourself in water, answer the questions on the worksheet to reflect on how you felt whilst in the water and 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.

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

Walk your way to wellbeing

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“If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity like walking, it would be regarded as a ‘wonder drug’ or a ‘miracle cure’”.

England’s Chief Medical Officer (2010)

Is going for a stroll really a miracle cure for poor health and wellbeing? GPs in the Shetland Islands in Scotland seem to think so. They have started prescribing rambling and beach walks to help treat mental ill health, stress and other health conditions.

In aid of National Walking Month this May, today’s post and activity explores how going for a walk can have multiple benefits for our wellbeing.

The physical health benefits of walking

Brisk walking has the most benefits for our physical health. To tell if you are walking briskly, you should:

  • Feel your heart beating a bit faster
  • Feel a bit warmer
  • Be breathing a little faster
  • Still be able to talk and feel comfortable

If Richard’s real-life story in last week’s post wasn’t convincing enough to get you to start running, walking can be just as beneficial. Although it takes longer, walking a mile burns approximately the same amount of calories as running one.

Physical activity such as walking briskly can improve the quality of sleep we get due to feeling more tired at the end of the day. Regular brisk walking can lower our blood pressure and help us feel less stressed and regularly walking at any speed can help manage our weight.

How walking can benefit our mental wellbeing

Those who walk regularly experience an improved self-image, reduced symptoms of anxiety and improved mood. Spending time in natural environments and being outdoors can also have a positive effect on our mental health. Brief walks in natural rather than urban environments can significantly improve mood.

Going for a walk with someone else can help us connect with them or joining a walking group can help us meet new people and make friends. Participating in group walks can help overcome social isolation and improve mental health.

‘Walking is the nearest activity to perfect exercise.’

Morris & Hardman (1997)

For many of us, walking is one of the easiest ways to increase the amount of physical activity we do, because:

  • It’s free – there’s no need to join a gym or pay club membership fees
  • We can go for a walk anytime and anyplace that suits us
  • Walking is a low impact exercise, which means the risk of injuries and accidents is low
  • There’s no need to just focus on walking, we can enjoy our natural surroundings or chat to the person we’re walking with or people we encounter on our walk
  • No training is required, just get up and go!

As well as being easy to do, we can incorporate other wellbeing themes besides physical health and connection into our walks. For example:

  • Mindfulness – going for a mindful walk, smelling the flowers or feeling the texture of the leaves we pass on our way
  • Creativity – if you’re a budding photographer, going for a walk can provide you with new scenes and moments to capture
  • Learning – you may walk somewhere with an interesting history, or spot something that captures your interest. Walks can be used to spark our curiosity and learn more.
  • Reflection – walking can help us reflect on events that have happened recently, or process experiences

This week’s activity is – you guessed it – to go for a walk. Though there’s more to it than that. Remember when you were a kid and you used to walk along walls, jump in puddles and clamber over rocks? On your walk, try harnessing that exploratory nature and go off the beaten track. If you come across a tree trunk, why not climb it? If you see a pile of leaves, kick your way through them. Really embrace your surroundings (but please make sure you are safe while you do it).

My friends and I walking on Hampstead Heath, making our way off the main path into the wilderness

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 enjoyed walking off the beaten track, 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 tokeep up to date.