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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Image subject to copyright

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.

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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.