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.

The wellbeing breather: pause to make better use of your time

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When was the last time you got through your to-do list? Yesterday? Last month? Sometime before Covid? With lockdown came this mystical idea of us having extra time on our hands to do more and be more productive: finally write that novel; upcycle that old piece of furniture; or even just do that extra bit of reading to get ahead on the big project at work. For many of us, that hasn’t been the case and the pressures on us have intensified.

We all need a break, but time is going so fast and there’s so much to do. It feels like we don’t have the time. But we do, we just need to allow ourselves a few minutes to take stock of our thoughts and feelings and focus on our wellbeing. A short time out can help us reset, refocus and make better use of our time. This month’s post offers a short, simple, mindfulness technique that can help us increase our efficiency: The wellbeing breather.

How mindfulness can support our wellbeing

Mindfulness-based interventions can be effective in reducing stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, pain and improving quality of life. Mindfulness has been shown to improve wellbeing by addressing cognitive and emotional reactivity and reducing repetitive negative thinking. That is, mindfulness can help us clear our minds, make more rational decisions and feel better about ourselves.

When things feel like they are piling up on top of us, mindfulness can help us regulate ourselves better and feel more positive. If we are aware of what is taking place in the here and now, we are more likely to make choices and behave in ways that meet our needs, interests and values. Therefore, being mindful of what’s going on for us in the moment can improve our wellbeing.

The wellbeing breather

Mindfulness can help us see the present moment clearly and starts with taking notice of our bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings. That’s what this month’s activity is all about, taking notice of what we are thinking and feeling and channelling our energy, so we have the headspace to focus on what we really need to.

The wellbeing breather is a variation of the Transitional Pause, developed by the Mindfulness Centre of Excellence. Over the last three years since I first tried this activity, I have really benefitted from taking a short time out to acknowledge how I am feeling and set a small, manageable goal for the rest of the day.

The purpose of the wellbeing breather is to help us park any overwhelming thoughts and focus on the next task at hand. A key feature of this mindful activity is to silently name our thoughts so we can increase our awareness of them, which is beneficial for our wellbeing. It can help with:

  • Overcoming anxiety about difficult tasks or meetings
  • Setting aside negative thoughts that are intruding on our day
  • Channelling our energy to get things done more efficiently

Here’s how to do the wellbeing breather. If it’s easier, you can listen to this audio recording to guide you through the exercise.

  • You can do this activity sitting or standing. If you are sitting, make sure you are seated comfortably with a straight back and your head, neck and shoulders feeling as if they are neatly stacked on top of each other. You want to be comfortable but attentive. If you are standing, plant your feet firmly on the ground so you feel balanced and grounded. Keep your back straight and position your head, neck and shoulders so they feel neatly aligned.
  • Soften your gaze, or if you feel comfortable, close your eyes.
  • Acknowledge how you are feeling right now. What’s happened in the last 24 hours? What positive things have happened? What’s bothering you? If it’s something that happened more than a day ago, that’s ok. It’s important to acknowledge our positive and negative experiences.
  • Has anything happened in the last 24 hours that has played on your mind? If so, take a moment to silently name it. Now you’ve named it, recognise how it made you feel. Try and name the thoughts and emotions you experienced. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Let’s move on to the here and now. Take some time to notice your body. Start with your feet on the floor. Notice the feeling of the floor on your toes, balls of your feet and heels. Notice other parts of your body that are touching each other or objects in the room. Where are your hands resting? How do they feel? If you can feel any tension in your body, draw your awareness to it.
  • If your focus turns to your thoughts, that’s ok. Acknowledge it and return to focusing on your body.
  • Turn your attention to your breathing. As you breathe in through your nose, notice the air entering your nostrils and filling your lungs. As you breathe out, feel the movement through your body and the air leaving your mouth. Continue to focus on your breathing. If you become aware of your thoughts, that’s ok. Acknowledge your thoughts and then turn your focus back to your breathing.
  • Let’s start thinking about what’s happening next in our day and the day ahead. How are you feeling about what’s coming up? Whether it’s positive, negative or mixed feelings, take a moment to silently name them. Take one deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • What is one thing you hope to achieve today? It may be something specific like to complete a task, or it may be something broader like acceptance or patience. Silently name it and make a pledge to yourself to work towards it. Take another deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Open your eyes or refocus your gaze. Centre yourself back in the room and take one last deep breath to ready yourself for the rest of the day.

The workbook for the wellbeing breather encourages you to reflect on how you feel after completing it. Why not take a few minutes to consider how you feel immediately after the exercise, then take a few minutes later in the day to reflect on the impact it had on the rest of your day. This, plus the activity should take no longer than 15 minutes.

I’d love to hear how you get on with the wellbeing breather 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.

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Shape your thoughts

When people talk about mindfulness, does it conjure up ideas of sitting with your eyes closed, trying to clear your mind? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Mindfulness can be practised standing up, brushing your teeth and even while eating your dinner. This week’s activity shows that you can practise mindfulness wherever you are, so you can easily fit it into your day.

It’s been a while since I posted about mindfulness, so let’s have a quick recap. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing and accepting, rather than judging, our thoughts, feelings and sensations that occur in the present moment. In other words, it’s all about focusing on the here and now – not getting lost in our thoughts and feelings, which can sometimes be detrimental to our wellbeing.

There are multiple benefits to practising mindfulness, including:

Furthermore, the more we practise mindfulness, the longer the positive effects on our wellbeing last.

If mindfulness is good for us, why do we struggle to fit it into our lives? Only 8% of adults in the United States use meditation, however this covers mindfulness as well as other types of meditation. This suggests even fewer people practise mindfulness regularly. Despite the lack of mindfulness in our lives, it appears we could benefit from it, as 47% of the time, our minds wander, and this is linked with unhappiness.

A world of shapes

With this in mind, this week’s activity is a simple way to introduce mindfulness – through shapes. Yes, shapes.

Typically, we learn about shapes when we’re children, but as adults, even if we know the names of many shapes, we often don’t notice how they make up almost every aspect of our world. The world itself is a sphere, the screen you’re reading this on is a rectangle, the bag you carry may be a mixture of cylinders and squares…the list goes on.

Noticing the shapes around you

This week’s activity is to spend 15 minutes noticing all the different shapes around you. You can do this wherever you are, if you are standing, sitting or moving. The aim of this is to help clear your mind by focusing on the environment around you and hopefully evoke a sense of calm. I find this activity particularly useful when I’m feeling anxious, as it slows down my racing thoughts.

As you notice the different shapes around you, remember to think in 2D and 3D (i.e. squares and cubes) and name them either aloud or in your head. If you don’t know the name of a shape, just describe what you see. For example, leaves aren’t typically a geometric shape. You could describe some leaves as oval, with the edges meeting in a pointy tip, with ridges across the leaf making curved, rectangular-like shapes.

When looking for shapes, why not try noticing:

  • What’s above you
  • What’s below you
  • Anything you are holding
  • What you are sitting or walking on
  • The details on something right in front of you. For example, I was sitting on the bus and noticed this stop sign button consisted of circles, crosses, an oval, a cube and a sort of curved cuboid

You can do this week’s activity without a worksheet, but if you’re struggling with how to start, I’ve created a worksheet with specific questions about a picture with different shapes. You can click the link below to download the worksheet.

If you’d like to share your pictures of all the shapes you’ve noticed, or share how you found this mindful activity, please do get in touch 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. This week, I will also be posting pictures and videos to help encourage you to notice the different shapes around you.