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What is wellbeing? (and why does it matter?)

What is wellbeing?

It is easy to think that good health means just the absence of disease, injury or pain. But is that really what we are all aiming for? Wellbeing takes things a few steps further. The New Economics Foundation describes wellbeing as “how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.”

So it’s more than just being healthy. It’s also more than having material wealth: “Some people believe that wealth is a fast track to happiness. Yet various international studies have shown that it is the quality of our personal relationships, not the size of our bank balances, which has the greatest effect on our state of wellbeing.” (Better Health Victoria). Wellbeing may be linked to the deep satisfaction we find in our social connections.

It might relate to a persons social, economic, psychological or medical state. The Black Dog Institute says “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.”

Why does it matter? 

“…perhaps few subjects are more crucial to understanding the world, and our place in it, than understanding what it means for human beings to flourish” – Happiness and Wellbeing Research

Wellbeing isn’t just about attaining some heightened happy state. It is also about keeping us resilient in the face of stressors. “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” says the Black Dog Institute.

How do we find wellbeing?

Wellbeing is found through having many helpful elements present in our lives. These may include (but not be limited to):

  • feeling relatively confident in yourself and have positive self-esteem
  • feeling and express a range of emotions
  • using our strengths
  • building and maintaining good relationships with others
  • feeling engaged with the world around you
  • finding pleasure in losing ourselves in things we find challenging and enjoyable (aka attaining ‘flow’)
  • contributing to a ‘greater’ cause in a way that creates meaning
  • connecting with feelings of gratitude, satisfaction and contentment
  • being stimulated ‘enough’ by challenges, new experiences and learning
  • living and work productively
  • coping with the stresses of daily life
  • adapting and managing in times of change and uncertainty

Wellbeing takes ongoing focus and care 

Wellbeing is not a static state where we achieve it once and for all and can then forget about it. Instead we may need to revisit the things in life that help us feel well, and do this again and again, especially in the face of challenges. One new definition is that wellbeing is the “balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced” (Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders 2012).

“Wellbeing is not a beach you go and lie on. It’s a sort of dynamic dance and there’s movement in that all the time and actually it’s the functuality of that movement which actually is true levels of wellbeing (Nic Marks, Radio 4, 7 January 2012)

Setting up some regular practices, or habits, and some social structures that embed our wellbeing activities might help.

For example:

  • making a regular catch up date with friends that help you feel engaged, confident, and free to express a range of emotions
  • finding paid or volunteer work where you can use your strengths and contribute to a greater cause
  • signing up for a new course or class where you can meet people and learn new skills
  • deciding to call key friends or family members for a chat on a regular basis rather than relying mostly on social media for contact
  • having some ‘go to’ activities or resources that you can use in times of stress
  • having some hobbies or activities that you can immerse yourself in and that are both challenging and enjoyable
  • doing volunteer work as a way to extend your social networks
  • working on your self image with a counsellor or coach
  • having a counsellor, therapeutic group or support group where you can deepen skills in relationships and express a range of emotions
  • practicing acknowledging and accepting stressors and challenges through journalling, meditation, or other forms of reflection and self acceptance
  • attending to any social, economic, psychological or medical issues in your life that may be reducing wellbeing, including getting help where needed

Of course the activities that help might look different for everyone, and we may draw on some of these resources more at some times than others.

How does revisiting the concept of wellbeing help in your situation? Which aspects of a flourishing life might you want to attend to going forward? 

 

[Note: text in bold /emphasis in text by this author, not the original sources].

Sources:

Black Dog Institute ‘What is Wellbeing?’ https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/wellness/general-wellbeing

Better Health Victoria https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/wellbeing

Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders (2012) ‘The challenge of defining wellbeing’ International Journal of Wellbeing http://www.internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/viewFile/89/238?origin=publicati

Edinburgh Napier University https://www.napier.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/research-environment/research-themes/wellbeing

Mind UK www.mind.org.uk 

New Economics Foundation (2012) Measuring Wellbeing: A guide for practitioners, London: New Economics Foundation.

Happiness and Well-Being: Integrating Research Across the Disciplines. Saint Louis University. Wellbeing Research FAQ http://www.happinessandwellbeing.org/wellbeing-research-faq

 

Image by leninscape on Pixabay

Create your own self-care jar!

Attending to the basics of self care can bring stability, joy and connectedness into our lives.

Have you noticed that things in jars are very popular right now?

Kale smoothies in a jar, milkshakes in a jar, salads in a jar; EVERYTHING seems cooler when it’s in a jar!

So running with the theme, here is a handy little self care ritual that you can do in under an hour, that creates a resource for you to (literally) dip into when you’re feeling low, and of course features a funky jar. The good news is, if you’re not into fads like these, you can use a treasure chest, jewellery box, makeup bag or whatever else you have laying around that can create a contained space.

When we’re feeling our worst we often forget what makes us feel better. 

What you will need:

  • 1 mason jar (any size that appeals but it doesn’t need to be large)
  • printing paper & access to a printer
  • scissors
  • the self-care toolkit list provided below
  • OPTIONAL: Acrylic paint, sharpie or paint pens to decorate your jar OR collage items and wide clear packing tape
  • OPTIONAL: kitchen string or raffia

Instructions:

  1. Download your Self-care toolkit list HERE. Save it to your computer or memory stick.
  2. Print out sheets you just downloaded (using black and white, single sided printing).
  3. Cut out each rectangle along the black lines without reading them in detail (as best you can). Mix them up on the table in front of you.
  4. Take some deep breaths and gently think back to the times you most need solace or comfort, that are still an issue for you in your life and likely to come up again – when are they? (You might like to write this down). This is what this jar will be focused on.
  5. Now pay attention to the pieces of paper. Begin looking at each of the pieces of paper you have cut out. Sort them into two piles ‘relevant to me’ / ‘not relevant to me’ – Determine this by figuring out which ones ‘speak to you’. Discard the not-relevant ones (pop into the recycling bin or compost).
  6. Look through them, and if a key behaviour or message that you think is also useful for your self care is missing, feel free write out a new one on a small rectangle of blank paper and add this to the pile.
  7. With the ones you are keeping, you might like to decorate with a symbol or drawing on the blank side
  8. Place each of these into the jar and as you do so imagine that you are wishing your future self love and care for the times when things feel difficult. You might like to fold each one in half or leave them as is.
  9. If you would like to decorate the jar with a word or an image, a doodle or a small collage please do. Perhaps tie a ribbon or some string around the jar and add some beads or dried flowers.
  10. Finally, put the lid on the jar and think or say a few words of intention or prayer to mark the end of this gentle self care ritual. Know that this resource of carefully thought-out reminders is here for you when you next need it.

Once you have your jar set up you can use it in a number of ways:

Place it somewhere visible so you are reminded that it is there, and anytime you find yourself feeling much better after doing something you might like to add that to the jar. Similarly if you find a comforting thought or new script (message inside your head about yourself or your situation) you might like to add that to your jar.

When you feel stressed / lonely/ blue / worn out go to the jar and see if you can find just ONE thing to do and ONE thing to think that might make yourself feel better that day. You can do this by reading them or by picking a ‘lucky dip’ from the jar with your eyes closed.

You can stick the strip of paper you choose to your computer screen or inside your journal if you need a physical reminder of the self care action you plan to take.

When you’re feeling well, you can use the jar to help plan self care actions for future such as vacation time or to check in on how you’ve been going the last month on self care (upend the jar and have a rifle through and see which ones you’ve remembered about and which ones you’ve maybe forgotten about). You could do some planning for the month ahead and see what kind of self care you’d like to focus on.

If you notice that you have already been doing a number of these things – CELEBRATE! Give yourself credit for all the great practical things you’ve been doing to care for yourself. Notice how far you’ve come.

Remember, there is no one right way to do self care, and no one right way to use this tool. You are unique and your path is unique, so take what helps you, and don’t be afraid to customise the process so that its helpful for your unique context.

Good luck! Email me to let me know if this has been helpful or if there are additional self care actions you’d like to see added to the list.

 

Please note: this tool is not intended to assist with a mental health crisis or intended as medical advice. It is a tool for ongoing self care and wellbeing. If you are feeling unwell please consult your doctor about physical and mental health. You may be able to access a Mental Health Plan under medicare through which you can access free or discounted sessions with a psychologist. For crisis support call Lifeline. Anyone across Australia experiencing a personal crisis or thinking about suicide can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 – a confidential telephone crisis support service available 24/7 from a landline, payphone or mobile.

 

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Year in Review – Prompt #5 Kind gestures

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.
Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….
—–

Kind gestures

If you’d like to join me again this week reflecting on the year we have had, take some time to reflect on kind gestures that stood out for you this year. I designed this week’s exercise with the idea of overcoming negativity bias (the way our minds can focus on the things that went wrong rather than the things that went right), and as a way to gently reconnect with feelings of gratitude and connection to others.

Q. What were the times this year that someone made a kind gesture to you that you really appreciated? Look for the warm glow around the memory that tells you that it was special and you felt lucky to receive their kindness.

For each one you can remember receiving, pause for a moment and write a few sentences capturing what the gesture was, who did it, how it made you feel, and why it was especially meaningful for you at that time. See if you can describe the moment in some detail, it may help with remembering the feelings that went with it.

See if you can come up with 10. This might mean you have to dig around a bit to remember them, or it might come easily.

  • Did someone unexpectedly buy you a coffee?
  • Did someone make you dinner?
  • Did someone give you honest feedback from a place of love?
  • Did someone lend you an outfit for a big night?
  • Did someone help you move house?
  • Did someone send a heartfelt message at a tough time?
  • Did someone listen when you really needed it?
  • Did someone include you or invite you somewhere?
  • Did someone forgive you?
  • Did someone give you kind words about something you did?
  • Did someone go with you when you had something hard to do?
  • Did someone share some of their optimism and encouragement with you?
  • Did someone show patience and loyalty?
  • Did someone surprise you with a kind gesture big or small?

The kind gestures really can be big or small! Please try not to judge yourself or the memories you come up with. Nothing is ‘too small’ or ‘silly’ for the purposes of this reflection. This is an exercise in honouring our emotional landscape and the things that matter to us, even if they don’t make sense to our rational minds. Even if they might not have ‘meant much’ to someone else, they meant something to you and that is important.
Once you’ve remembered and described the 10 acts of kindness, see what you can observe about the values that are important to you, the people who are important to you, or even what you might feel inspired to do more for others going forward.

If you’d like to share one of the moments that sticks in your mind with us feel free to do so in comment below (perhaps keeping the other people’s identity’s private, eg ‘a good friend said….’, ‘a stranger at the supermarket did…’, ‘a person at work offered to…’).

How does it make you feel to remember these kind gestures?

What does it make you think about?


If you would like to work on your vision for 2019 and start to implement a project close to your heart please get in touch. I am available for coaching and my rates are listed on the coaching link above.

Year in Review – Prompt #4 Giving

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.

Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….
—–
Giving
Around this time of year lots of people exchange gifts. Gift giving traditions can be fraught and tied up with issues with overconsumption, debt and more. But they are also deeply connected to reciprocity, social ties and acts of care.
Lets think gently and with curiosity about the act of giving. Grab a journal and a cup of tea and explore this one with me.
Journaling and reflection prompts (spend 5 minutes on each):
Beyond formal gift giving, what did you give this year with no expectation of payment or return?
What time did you donate to someone’s project or cause?
What random gifts did you give to those you love?
What funds did you give to charity?
What objects did you give freely to new homes?
Which of your gifts and talents did you share with others?
What small acts of kindness did you try to foster through the year?
Now looking across your answers above, spend 15 minutes with these questions:
What feelings arose in relation to giving this year? What themes can you see?
What was easy to give?
What was harder to give?
What felt great to give?
What would you like to give more of next year?
And if something comes to mind that you’d like to share in comments below feel free to do so!

 

PS If you live in Australia a great giving opportunity this time of year is Share the Dignity‘s “It’s in the Bag” campaign. It’s easy – simply find a handbag in good condition that you are no longer using and fill it with toiletries and personal care items such as deodorant, face wash, pads and tampons, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Include a brief affirming note or Christmas card, and then drop off at a Bunnings store before or on Sunday the 2nd December.

Year in Review – Prompt #3 Self-care

Let’s review the year that was and celebrate what we did!
Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.
Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….
—–
Self-care

This week let’s celebrate self-care. Grab a blank journal and a cup of tea or glass of water and get started. the whole process will take 30-60 minutes depending on how fast you write.
Consider your ‘MEEPS’. What are MEEPS?
They are the:
MENTAL
EMOTIONAL
ENVIRONMENTAL
PHYSICAL
SOCIAL
factors that help you keep healthy and well.
M – How you cared for your mind
What did you read or listen to or discuss that stimulated your mind? What ideas really excited you this year? What topics did you learn more about? What healthy new thought patterns did you cultivate?
E – How you cared for your emotions
What difficult emotions did you make room for and feel? What emotions did you notice having more or less of this year? What emotions were hard to feel or express? Which ones were easy? What emotional support did you give yourself? How did you nurture yourself when you had strong emotions that were hard to handle?
E – How you cared for your environment
What changes did you make in your workplace or home? What new or familiar places did you go to because they feel good? What did you do to make your home feel more organised, light, welcoming or fun? What caring actions did you take for our planet, the broader environment, or community?
P – How you cared for your body
What did you do to care for your physical body this year? What small or big acts of prevention, repair or kindness did you do for your body? What healthy habits did you establish or continue? What small gestures brought pleasure, ease or comfort?
S – How you cared for your social connections
What social contact did you make this year to give yourself support, inspiration and connection? What people in your life contributed to your sense of wellbeing? What kids of social activities felt especially nourishing?
Pause, breathe and celebrate all these things and more that you’ve done for your wellbeing this year.
#selfcare #yearinreview #reflections #newyear

Poverty and mental health

Health professionals often work with the individual, treating mental health challenges such as depression as a ‘brain illness’ which has emerged as a result of disturbed chemistry within the body. As therapists and counsellors we often work with depression as a ‘mind illness’; working with the individual’s thoughts and stories about their situation and themselves, as well as providing space to access and process their emotions.

But is this the whole story?

Does poverty contribute to mental ill-health by causing the erosion of resources that help people stay well?

This research, shared on the National Elf Service website ( a place for discussions about health research) supports that idea. The following excerpts are from the article written here by Andy Bell, Deputy Chief Executive at the UK based Centre for Mental Health about the research: the design of the research, the findings and the implications for practice.


How might low income and income inequality contribute to depression? 

“At the national level, the authors cite policies which limit access to health care, education and public transport alongside pollution and a lack of healthy food as causes of poorer physical health, which in turn increases the risk of depression.

At the local level they explore two concepts. The first is ‘social comparison’, by which people with fewer resources feel ‘social defeat or status anxiety’ as a result. The second sees inequality as eroding ‘social capital’: by reducing social interaction, trust and cooperation, “promoting social isolation, alienation and loneliness” and undermining ‘perceptions of fairness’. These factors may be especially pronounced in adolescence and be exacerbated by “other group identities, for example ethnicity or gender”.

For an individual, the authors cite the ‘psychological stress’ stemming from the other two levels as the ‘final mechanism’ by which inequality increases a person’s risk of depression.” – Andy Bell

The study apparently warns that, as income inequality widens worldwide, so “we should expect worse mental health globally in the years ahead” and that the burden will likely fall hardest on those who “already bear a disproportionate burden of mental health problems”.


So what does that mean for us working in the health and allied health fields for mental health?

My thoughts are that politics and policies matter to our work – beyond just issues of funding for mental health services and similar issues. If we wish to reduce and prevent mental illness it is important that we engage not just in the detail of working with individual clients, but also engage in the broader research and discussion about social determinants of health and mental health stressors at the population level.

It also reminds me that when we design programs for people struggling with mental health we need to be very mindful of the issues of access that poverty can bring to make sure we are not inadvertently excluding those who might most need the services.

What do you think? How does this change how you think about mental health (if at all)?

If this interests you and you’d like to read more please do check out the summary and discussion article by Andy Bell here or the original research paper itself:
Patel V, Burns JK, Dhingra M, Tarver L, Kohrt BA, Lund C. (2018) Income inequality and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the association and a scoping review of mechanisms. World Psychiatry. 2018 Feb;17(1):76-89. doi: 10.1002/wps.20492.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

If this article raises strong feelings of distress for you personally and you are based in Australia don’t forget that there are many great help lines available. Thousands of people access these daily and there is absolutely no shame in doing so if you need to talk with someone.

Year in Review – Prompt #2 Peaks and troughs

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was.
Here is the second Year in Review prompt….
—–
Peaks and troughs
Take an hour and some pen and paper (or laptop and coffee) and consider the following prompts:
– What were the highlights of this year in terms of events or peak experiences? The things that felt most fun, energising, connecting, satisfying etc. Take 10 minutes and and make this a list or write a few sentences about each if you like.
– What were the hardest moments of this year in terms of events or experiences? The things that felt sad, disappointing, frustrating etc. Take 10 minutes and and make this a list or write a few sentences about each if you like.
Try to give each of these lists the same amount of time, use a timer if you like.
Take a few deep breaths and sit with any feelings that arise, knowing that whatever you have experienced you have made it through to the here and now, showing strength, flexibility and perseverance. Reread the highlights list before you move on to the next part.
Now take 10 minutes for each of these questions:
1. Looking at these two lists, what do they tell you about what you care about; that is what you hold dear, what is important to you, what you value?
2. Looking at these two lists, what do they tell you about your strengths and resources as a person? What personal qualities, support networks and resources helped you navigate all these experiences?
2. Based on that information, what are some things you would like to include in your life next year? What strengths and resources will you draw on to make that happen?
—–
That’s it!
Enjoy.
And remember to be kind to yourself as you reflect and write – accept and be kind to yourself about whatever you experienced, whatever you did or didn’t do, whatever you felt, whatever you were drawn to.

Child abuse and neglect in Australia 

Recent research conducted by the University of South Australia’s Centre for Child Protection shows the staggeringly high number of children being reported to child protection authorities in Australia, and of those being reported 90 per cent have multiple reports being made about “incredibly concerning” abuse and neglect.

Professor Arney said authorities needed to respond to the child protection epidemic as a health crisis.

“That includes working out how we can reallocate resources to meet the extent of the need and how we can identify the earliest opportunities for intervening in family life,” she said.

“At the moment we are waiting until the problem gets so bad that the only recourse we have is the statutory child protection system.”

Read this article by ABC News for more details of the findings.


So why do I mention this?

This is of course incredibly relevant to therapy, insomuch as preventing child abuse and neglect can help to prevent a lot of potential future distress that people might need to treat with therapy. While it can be unpopular to make comment on policy and politics when we work in the helping professions, there is also the view that the structures of society itself do contribute greatly to the wellbeing of individuals, and as such are highly relevant to the work of therapist and other support and health workers.


 

I personally wonder whether the incredibly low Newstart Allowance in Australia (social security payment for those out of work) is contributing to unnecessary household hardship and stress, and contributing to entrenched disadvantage. See here for some discussion about Newstart.

Research in the UK has revealed that here is a strong association between family poverty and a child’s chance of suffering child abuse or neglect. Adverse events in childhood, including abuse and neglect, are associated with a negative effect on adult economic circumstances. See here for this research into the link between poverty and child abuse.

What do you think? What things do you think might help reduce the rate of abuse and neglect for children in this country?

If this article raises strong feelings of distress for you personally and you are based in Australia don’t forget that there are many help lines available. Thousands of people access these daily and there is absolutely no shame in doing so if you need to talk with someone. Ini addition, the Blue Knot Foundation has a Helpline 1300 657 380 as well as online resources and workshops specifically for adult survivors of child abuse and neglect.

 

Year in Review – Prompt #1 Books

Through the last two months of 2018 I’m sharing some end of year reflection prompts to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling good about yourself, your journey, the year that was and the year that’s coming up.

Here is the first Year in Review reflection and journaling prompt….
—–
What books/ articles/ blogs did you read this year?
Take an hour this week to sit down with pen and paper (or laptop and coffee) and jot down all the books you can remember that you read this year.
1. What themes interested you most?
2. What kinds of characters inspired you?
3. What kinds of feelings/ experiences were you looking for in your reading?
Write for 10 minutes about each of these questions (or another question that feels like it needs answering).
4. Wrap up: what have you learnt about yourself and your year based on what you read? Write freehand for 10 minutes on this, without editing or judgement. Put whatever comes to mind.
5. Wish for next year: What would you like to read more of next year? Write for 5 minutes about this, let it be impulsive, free and creative, steer clear of guilt or shoulds.

That’s it!

Enjoy.

And remember to be kind to yourself as you reflect and write – accept and be kind to yourself about whatever you read, whatever you felt, whatever you were drawn to.