By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple things that you can do every single day to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing, based on quality research.
This is Episode 60 and this week I’m talking about wellbeing. I’ll be discussing what wellbeing is (and what it isn’t), why looking after your wellbeing is essential for your mental health, and how to manage and improve your wellbeing every day. So, let’s talk about mental health!
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This episode was originally released on 4 January, 2021.
Hello! Thanks for joining me and welcome to Episode 60, and more importantly… welcome to 2021! We made it! We made it through the wilderness; somehow, we made it through (mostly thanks to Zoom and sourdough).
It’s a brand new year and even though that doesn’t mean that things will somehow be magically better overnight and in many countries we’re seeing tough restrictions as COVID cases take off yet again, it at least means that 2020 is now officially a memory… so, hooray!
Having said that, everything in life is an opportunity to grow and to learn from the good and the bad so that we can be the very best version of ourselves possible… so if you think I’m going to just pretend that 2020 never happened then you could not be more wrong! I am going to be spending the next few episodes (at least) deconstructing some of the key lessons that our very own Year of Hell has to offer us (and yes, that was a Star Trek: Voyager reference, my favourite of all the Star Trek series if you’re interested)… and this week that conversation begins with a look at wellbeing, so let’s get talking…
A quick reminder before we go any further that I announced last week I am going to be launching a weekly Let’s Talk About Mental Health show on YouTube starting on January 21 — this show will be a completely different to the podcast (which will continue in the same format) and each week I’ll look at a wider range of topics about good mental health and wellbeing. If you haven’t already subscribed to my YouTube channel then head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you’ll find it on the front page, or if you’re on Instagram you can find me @ltamentalhealth and the link in my profile will take you where you need to go to subscribe. You can also watch the teaser video and subscribe here:
Now, on with this week’s episode about wellbeing!
Last week in Episode 59 I talked about change and transformation, it’s definitely something we’ve all been challenged to deal with (whether we like it or not) thanks to the massive effects that 2020 had on every single one of us (and by the way, I did a whole episode on change back in Episode 52, so check that out if you haven’t already). I bring this up at the start of an episode about wellbeing because the reality is that we’re going to continue experiencing change on a global level this year as well as for each of us individually, and so the challenge for we each face is to take the time to really understand the choices we’re making every day for our mind, body and spirit, and then choosing to make informed and healthy decisions based on quality evidence in order to improve our overall wellbeing — physical, mental, spiritual, social, emotional and financial. And that, whether we like or not, will very likely involve even more change.
Change can be frightening, especially since we’re hardwired to seek comfort and safety, but it can also bring you to new places and serve to completely change your overall wellbeing for the better (even if the journey to get there is a rough one).
When my whole life started falling apart in late 2011 and I descended into severe depression and anxiety, I would have given anything at the time to make it all stop and just go back to the way things were. But they didn’t and they couldn’t, because for me it’s clear in hindsight that things just could not go on the way they were. Looking back at everything I’ve experienced over the past nine years, I don’t think I would change any of it because without that stuff — the good, the bad and the ugly — I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I wouldn’t have been forced to confront and deal with a whole bunch of stuff that I’d been carrying around and ignoring for far too many years that was doing serious damage to my wellbeing. Now, I’m certainly not saying that you should go out and get yourself a mental illness too, or that it’s a great thing to have (because the reality is that it’s shitty to experience), but even horrible circumstances can lead to positive outcomes with time; life is a matter of how you choose to look at things (which I discussed in Episode 31: Mindset and in Episode 50: Choice).
All of this stuff ties directly into the idea of wellbeing because it’s about being able to embrace where you are today — in terms of the good and the bad — and then making small changes every day that steer you in the direction of wellbeing (which helps to lead you towards that goal that we are all ideally working towards: being the best version of yourself possible).
What is ‘wellbeing’?
At its most basic, ‘wellbeing’ means being well. To quote The Black Dog Institute:
“In positive psychology, wellbeing is a heightened state that’s beyond just feeling happy or having good health. It’s a condition of flourishing, where we thrive in many aspects of our lives.”Source: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/wellbeing/
Leading on from that is this piece from Better Health Victoria:
“Wellbeing is not just the absence of disease or illness. It’s a complex combination of a person’s physical, mental, emotional and social health factors. Wellbeing is strongly linked to happiness and life satisfaction. In short, wellbeing could be described as how you feel about yourself and your life.”Source: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/wellbeing
A lot of different things can affect your wellbeing, and I’m going to share a list of just a few of those from the same article I just mentioned;
- [Having a] happy intimate relationship with a partner
- [Having] close friends
- Enjoyable and fulfilling career
- Enough money
- Regular exercise
- Nutritional diet
- Enough sleep
- Spiritual or religious beliefs
- Fun hobbies and leisure pursuits
- Healthy self-esteem [which I talked about in Episode 43]
- Optimistic outlook [which I talked about in Episode 47]
- Realistic and achievable goals
- Sense of purpose and meaning [which I talked about in Episode 20 and in Episode 58]
- A sense of belonging
- The ability to adapt to change [which I talked about in Episode 52]
- Living in a fair and democratic society.
Let me just revisit that ‘money’ one for a moment, because I talk about this subject constantly in Let’s Talk About Mental Health: money is a means to an end, not a reason for living. In the same article I just mentioned, there’s a great quote that sums this up:
“Money is linked to wellbeing because having enough money improves living conditions… Many people believe that wealth is a fast track to happiness, [but] it’s not true. Various international studies have shown that it’s the quality of our personal relationships, not the size of our bank balance, which has the greatest effect on our state of wellbeing. Believing that money is the key to happiness can also harm a person’s wellbeing. For example, a person who chooses to work a lot… misses out on time with family, friends and leisure activities. The added stress of long working hours may also reduce a person’s life satisfaction. Research shows that people who chase ‘extrinsic’ goals like money and fame are more anxious, depressed and dissatisfied than people who value ‘intrinsic’ goals like close relationships with loved ones.”Source: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/wellbeing
OK… so following on from that, let’s talk about what wellbeing is not.
Wellbeing is not about doing things that have no basis in actual fact and calling it ‘wellbeing’ or ‘self-help’. There’s an entire industry that has sprung up around wellbeing and if you want my opinion on it then here it is: a lot of the self-help advice out there is very shaky in terms of any actual evidence, as well as often being overly-complicated or expensive. Some of it is harmless, but on the flip-side some of it is actually harmful, and so it can take a lot of work to sift through all the noise in order to make healthy, informed decisions that are in the best interests of your overall wellbeing (and I’ll be sharing a few ideas later in this episode to get you started later, so do stick around until the end).
Let me give you an example of questionable wellbeing advice. If you run a search online for the word ‘wellbeing’ you’ll discover that once you hit the second page of results you begin to see a whole bunch of stuff from non-scientific sources. For example, I saw ads for several businesses promoting their ice bath systems as a tool for improving mental health and this is where it gets interesting; run a search on the term ‘ice bath and mental health’ and what you’ll find is heaps of non-scientific results all claiming that an ice bath will improve your mental health, whereas in the limited scientifically-based results I found on the first few pages (one from Healthline and one from Psychology Today; so all articles on those are written by people who are actually qualified to talk about this stuff), they both indicate that while some research suggests that cold showers might be useful in relieving the severity of symptoms associated with anxiety or depression, we’re talking mild cold shows for a short period of time — not ice baths. (If you’re interested, the links for those two articles are in the transcript: https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/cold-shower-for-anxiety#how-it-works and https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/inner-source/201407/cold-splash-hydrotherapy-depression-and-anxiety).
Now let’s be honest here, who bothers going past the few pages of results from Googlematic? Usually you’ll find something that peaks your interest within the first couple of pages and you’re done… and that’s what is most concerning about a lot of the so-called ‘wellbeing’ stuff out there (and let’s not even talk about certain Hollywood celebrities who have decided they are wellness gurus). I’m not saying that you need to have a degree to talk about this stuff, but there is a fine line between healthy and responsible advice and unhealthy advice… so when we talk about ‘wellbeing’, what I’m not referring to is the kind of do-it-yourself advice that sees you swallowing questionable supplements or taking ‘miracle weight loss cures’ that just result in you spending six days straight on the toilet, or worse yet the kind of homemade remedies that involve steaming your personal areas. These things are ridiculous and some of them can be dangerous.
Healthy wellbeing activities involve looking at your overall health and wellbeing (physical, mental, spiritual, social, emotional and financial) and identifying things that you can do to improve each area that are safe, practical and grounded in actual science, rather than being recommended by Dr No-name of the Facebook School of Medicine. On that note, let me say that I think I’ve been pretty polite about the whole wild-conspiracy-theories-and-magic-cures thing on social media up until now, but in 2021 the gloves are off and I will be getting really, really blunt about this stuff and calling it out for what it is: complete and utter bullshit. This year on Let’s Talk About Mental Health you’ll be hearing me talk a lot more about the need for actual science in all things and I won’t be entertaining arguments about stupid shit like the Earth being flat — it’s not, it’s round… so either shut up or build a time machine and go back to 1453. I know that’s really blunt and if that’s too blunt for some people then fine, perhaps this isn’t the show for you!
Anyway, so now that my rant is over (for now at least!), let’s discuss…
Why looking after your wellbeing is essential for your mental health
And to illustrate why, let me share this paragraph from the Black Dog Institute:
“A strong sense of wellbeing contributes to good mental health. It also helps to protect us from feelings of hopelessness and depression, acting as a ‘guardian’ of our mental health… The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises [their] own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to [their[ community.’ Wellbeing is about making a life where we can contribute to a greater society and can have a more fulfilling existence with meaningful and supportive relationships. Wellbeing gives us a way to discover and explore our strengths. Wellbeing helps us live… to our full potential.”Source: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/wellbeing/
And quite frankly I don’t think I could have said it any better myself, so rather than focusing any more on the ‘why’ I’m going to get straight into the how-to part of this week’s episode…
How to manage and improve your wellbeing every day
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: for you, as an individual the whole thing about wellbeing is being willing to do what needs to be done in order to be well — in your mind, body and spirit — and that often requires real change. The idea of change can be daunting for a lot of people, and it’s one of the reasons why many of us find ourselves unable to achieve the resolutions we make for the new year, if we make them (and by the way, if that’s happened to you already: it’s OK; I’m going to be talking about a more day-by-day approach to your overall wellbeing here today and hopefully that will help to get you into a place where you’re able to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve… as well as overall well-being).
I think the simplest way to start is to take a common-sense approach towards your overall wellbeing. Now, I see that as being this approach:
I know that is really blunt but let’s not pretend that eating junk food every day or snorting horse tranquillisers is going to do anything other than mess you up from the inside out. Yes, I know I’ve said all things in moderation in past episodes and I stick to that idea, but there’s also some stuff which is just bad for you and if you choose to do that, you’re making an unhealthy choice and doing damage to yourself. Period. End of sentence.
So that leads into the next point (and hopefully these further points will be less lecture-y… sorry about that!). And the next point is to make healthy choices each day that are aligned to all six areas of your wellbeing — physical, mental, spiritual, social, emotional and financial. All of these areas need your attention and they are interwoven with one another, which means you cannot ignore one or more of them without experiencing some kind of negative impact. My advice here is to spend some time reflecting on your current situation in each of these six areas so that you can identify what is working well (in order to do more of that) and what is not working so well (so you can either stop it, try something different, or find ways to address it). So, back in Episode 49 (Finding Balance), I talked about these six areas and I’m just going to quickly revisit the six definitions so that we’re clear on what I’m talking about.
- Physical wellbeing: what you do with your body and what you put into it
- Mental wellbeing: what you put into your mind and what you do with your thoughts (i.e. We all have thoughts that pop up out of nowhere, but do you buy into them and then turn them into feelings, words or actions, or do you learn to just observe them and let them go?)
- Spiritual wellbeing: how you live a life that feels purposeful and meaningful, and how you connect with something more than just yourself (which has nothing to do with religious beliefs; you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual)
- Social wellbeing: your ability to create and maintain meaningful relationships with other people as well as how you adapt in social situations
- Emotional wellbeing: how you manage your words, actions and feelings, how you deal with external events (including other people), and how you cope with challenges and setbacks
- Financial wellbeing: your ability to support yourself (such as paying your bills) and potentially also being able to achieve financial goals that are aligned with your priorities
Remember that ‘emotional health’ means you’re able to deal with and manage negative emotions like anger, fear and sadness; it’s a component of mental health, however ‘mental health’ is much broader in scope whereas ‘emotional health’ is specifically about how you manage your emotions and what you do with them. So once you’ve spent some time reflecting on your current situation and you’re clear on what is working well and what’s not working so well (so that you’ve got some idea of what you might need to focus on), identify specific things you can and will do in each area, and commit to doing at least one thing for every one of the six areas each day.
In terms of identifying what you can do, there are lots of different things that you could possibly look at; I’m going to give you a framework to think about which is to help you be aware that the building blocks of creating wellbeing come from PERMA. What the hell does that mean?! Well, PERMA is a model that was put forward by Martin Seligman, who is considered one of the pioneers of positive psychology (which is all about finding out what makes us flourish as human beings), and PERMA states that five main factors contribute to our wellbeing (and I’m going to quote these from the Black Dog Institute article I mentioned earlier):
- Positive emotion: Feelings of pleasure, happiness, satisfaction, comfort. We can take responsibility for our feelings, cultivating happiness and gratitude.
- Engagement: Living an engaged life, being absorbed and connected to activities to the point where we lose track of time and effort (flow).
- Relationships: Connections to other people and relationships give us support, meaning and purpose in life. Positive relationships have been found to have enormous influence on our wellbeing.
- Meaning: Being part of and working towards something that’s much larger than yourself rather than purely pursuing material wealth, [such as]… [being involved in] a charity, leading your local soccer team, [etc.]… Spiritual people have been found to have more meaningful lives, because they believe in something greater than themselves.
- Accomplishment: Pursuing success, achievement and mastery of things for their own sake can build self-esteem… and a sense of accomplishment.
So take some time to reflect, do some research and come up with different ideas of what might work for you in terms of things you can do every day for your overall wellbeing (physical, mental, spiritual, social, emotional and financial), then make a plan and put it into action every day. Mix things up and try new ideas to keep from becoming bored or complacent, and if one idea doesn’t work for you then try something else. The most important things to consider here are: cover all six areas, do something every day, and keep going!
Speaking of, remember that all things require time, effort and perseverance. Your wellbeing will not necessarily improve overnight and it’s not a race to get to ‘wellbeing land’ (in fact, you’ll often find you have good days and bad days, and that’s totally natural!). The thing is that wellbeing doesn’t just happen; it takes work every single day and it’s something you need to work on consciously for the rest of your life. In the words of the 17th century writer Thomas Fuller, “All things are difficult before they are easy.” The good news is that it’s never too late to make a change for the better, and you can make a series of small changes over time and see great results… but it does require effort (in addition to time and perseverance). Making a change one day doesn’t mean you’ll see the result the next day or the next week… but you will gradually see incremental improvements that add up over time to create enormous change.
If you’re looking for specific ideas of what you can possibly do to address the different areas of your wellbeing and you’re feeling a bit stuck for what might be a potential option for you, check out Episode 49 (Finding Balance) and if you either jump ahead to the ‘how to’ section or go and read the transcript (at www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes), you’ll find a section in the transcript (or in the actual episode itself) which is some ideas for creating balance in your physical health, mental health, yada yada yada… so, jump on and have a look at those, there’s some really good ideas in there in terms of things that you could potentially explore but this really is about you finding what works for you (and I know I say that a lot but there are eight billion of us on this planet and we all have our own unique preferences and… you know, what works for me is not necessarily what’s going to work for you. So do a bit of research; have a look at that transcript or listen to the episode (if you haven’t already) and do a bit of searching online, come up with some options and creative things that you can do to address all of those six areas.
If you’d like some extra help with this, I’ve created a free PDF document (no email or sign-up required) for you that you can use to do a monthly self-assessment, create a self-management plan and then do an end-of-month reflection to consider what worked and what you might need to focus on in the following month. You can find it in the transcript for this week’s episode (at the top and in the how-to section at the bottom); head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes (which is where you’ll find audio links and full transcripts for all past episodes of the podcast) and if you scroll down that list to Episode 60 you’ll see the ‘click here’ link for the transcript. Follow the instructions to download the free PDF, then each month you can do a simple bit of planning using the template and then use it as a guide to help you work on your wellbeing every day. If you do use it, send me a message on social media or drop me an email and let me know how you find it!
Download the free PDF tool here (no email or sign-up required):
You are free to use and share this document without alteration; if sharing please credit Let’s Talk About Mental Health and/or Jeremy Godwin. Thank you.
And finally, remember that you are the one in the driver’s seat. This stuff is all about you and what you choose to do; nobody can do it for you. Yes other people can support you and guide you and give you encouragement, but you have to do the work. If you make a mistake that’s okay, but choose to keep going and don’t let it derail you or take you off-course; your wellbeing is far too important.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to wellbeing and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: making a conscious decision to focus on improving all areas of your wellbeing — physical, mental, spiritual, social, emotional and financial — is a decision to make your health a priority every single day. The choices you make will have a direct effect on your ability to flourish and feel positively about yourself and the world around you, and when you’re feeling positive you’re more likely to find greater satisfaction in life… all of which helps you to become the best version of yourself possible. It begins with just one small decision: the decision to make healthy choices and let go of unhealthy ones. So… what decision will you make?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is a simple-yet-powerful one by Sai Baba, and it is:
“Health is Wealth. Look after it.”Sai Baba
Next week I’ll be talking about happiness. I’ve spoken many times in this podcast about the pursuit of happiness and why it’s more of a by-product of your overall wellbeing rather than a specific goal to try and achieve, and so I felt it would be good to follow on from this week’s topic by looking at it in more detail. So next week I’ll be talking about what happiness is and what it isn’t, why having a healthy attitude towards the pursuit of happiness is essential for good mental health, and how to find greater happiness every day.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released in the morning of Monday 11 January in the Asia-Pacific region including Australia; the evening of Sunday 10 January in the UK, Ireland, Europe, Africa and the Middle East; and the afternoon of Sunday 10 January in the US, Canada, Central America and South America.
Head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for past episodes (including audio links and full transcripts) and while you’re there join the Let’s Talk About Mental Health mailing list to have exclusive updates land in your inbox — those of you on my email list find out about new stuff at least a week before anybody else, so if you like this show then sign up at the website: letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.
You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth, and discover additional content on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health YouTube channel (click here) — if you haven’t already subscribed to the YouTube channel please do as there will be a lot of extra content coming to that platform very soon.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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