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Is it time to re-claim your wellbeing?

Perhaps you’ve being going into your place of work a bit more, but are still essentially working from home and the days still feel very ‘same-y’.

Perhaps you’ve been seeing friends and family, but are not quite getting the full joy out of this yet, or even feeling a bit overwhelmed at times and retreating back home.

Perhaps you’ve been going to ‘non-essential’ shops or leisure venues again, but are just not quite ‘feeling’ them, or enjoying them like you did previously.

Perhaps you’re simply doing the things you have always done, but are finding yourself lacking motivation or feeling confused. 

What on earth is going on? Life is ‘opening up’ again, and there are more notes of optimism out there. Perhaps you did everything you were supposed to do during the ‘lockdowns’ – from baking banana bread to going on a daily walk. You have come through the worst of the pandemic having experienced some higher and lower points, but essentially still going and looking forward to getting back to ‘normal’. You’ve done so well … so why are you now feeling an almost perpetual state of what can only be described as ‘meh’, and not really moving forward yet?

Firstly, don’t worry. This is a normal reaction to having experienced the grief, movement restrictions and social isolation of a global pandemic. A really crucial first step to re-claiming your wellbeing is actually just to recognise this sort of ‘languishing’ state in yourself so that you can do something about it! … And now you’ve done this, let’s have a closer look at wellbeing in a changing world, and what you can do to re-claim yours!

Re-defining wellbeing?

Wellbeing is an extremely difficult concept to define, and is often confused and conflated with other terms such as mental health and happiness. For some, wellbeing is a subjective ‘feeling’ of physical, mental and/or social ‘wellness’, while for others it’s to do with having the resources to meet the challenges in life and thus maintain a ‘balanced’ state. For others still, wellbeing is to do with being comfortable and content. A definition of wellbeing we like is that it’s a state of ‘flourishing’ that arises from a healthy mind. Flourishing is perhaps what is missing for many people at the moment; they are ‘okay’ or ‘fine’ but their vitality and joie de vivre seems to have been lost.

Given the difficulties surrounding the concept of wellbeing it’s perhaps unsurprising that people don’t always know what enhances theirs, let alone during such an unusual time! How many times have we sought something that we think will make feel good – that dream job, item of clothing, or even a piece of cake – but the pleasure is so fleeting, if we even notice it at all and aren’t distracted by, or setting our sights on, other things. Psychologists have used the concept of ‘hedonic treadmill’ to capture this tendency. Interestingly, research shows that people repeatedly return to a ‘baseline level’ of wellbeing, no matter how happy something makes them; even lottery winners have been found to return to their ‘set point’ within a year of the event! What is encouraging from this research, though, is that a person’s baseline level isn’t innate and can be altered through mind training. 

Some important questions arise in view of this research on wellbeing: Has the pandemic lowered people’s ‘baseline level’ for happiness due to repeated and prolonged exposure to stressful situations? Have the events of the past year altered our views about what matters in life and therefore the things that make us feel good? And how do we re-claim our wellbeing in this changing world we find ourselves?

Re-claiming your wellbeing… 

Whilst this might all sound complex, the good news is that relatively simple things can make a big difference to reclaiming our wellbeing. Over the course of the pandemic so many choices moved beyond our control. Decisions about who we can see, what we can do and or where we can go are made at a national level. This can leave us feeling powerless – like we’re sat in the passenger seat of a car that someone else is driving, and having no control over the destination. 

A key step in re-claiming our wellbeing is to get back behind the metaphorical wheel – to ask ourselves, what do I have control over? Where do I want my destination to be, and how will I get there? There are some really simple ways that we can do this: 

  • Reclaim: CONTROL: Make a list of all the things you have happening in your life right now. Then take a pen, and draw a line through the ones that you have no control over. Look at what is left – these are things that you do have control over, and can therefore reclaim. If they’re problems, how could you address them? If they’re positive things, how can you invest more in them?
  • Reclaim: ROUTINE: Often our routines just evolve around ‘need to do’ things. Why not try starting from scratch, and decide what you want to build into each day. You might think about: how much rest do you want to get? What and when would you like to eat? How can you build in more of the things that you enjoy? Are there any things that used to be part of your routine that you don’t want any more?
  • Reclaim: MOTIVATION: Make a collage (in paper or digitally), covered with pictures that motivate you. This could be places you love or want to visit one day, people who inspire you, colours or scenes that uplift you etc.

The world has changed and we have changed … and now it’s time to make changes to re-claim our wellbeing. The WGU Health and Wellbeing Team have got a summer of blogs and videos coming up exploring how we can re-claim wellbeing! Stay up to date with this by following us on Facebook @glyndwrhealth and Twitter @glyndwrhealth. 

About the authors

Dr Sharon Wheeler and Rachel Byron

Dr Sharon Wheeler and Rachel Byron

Dr Sharon Wheeler leads both the BSc(Hons) Public Health and Wellbeing and MSc Health, Mental Health and Wellbeing programmes at WGU; she’s a keen DIY-er and loves an early morning walk. Rachel Byron is a lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing at WGU, runs a social enterprise promoting wellbeing through creativity, and loves walking with her two enthusiastic spaniels.

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