Five Ways to Wellbeing at a time of social distancing

Looking after yourself and others during the coronavirus crisis.

Twelve years ago, NEF reviewed more than 400 scientific papers to identify key things that contribute to our wellbeing. Echoing the familiar five a day’ message for fruit and veg, we came up with a simple set of postcards aimed at helping individuals to understand and incorporate wellbeing into their everyday lives. Now, at a time when people are having to stay home and social distance, some are turning to Five Ways to Wellbeing’ as a way of coping during the coronavirus crisis.

When talking about this it’s important to recognise that wellbeing is only possible after basic needs are met. Wider structural changes need to happen to ensure people’s incomes, homes and lives are secure during this time. Until this happens, many won’t be able to even begin to think about things like Five Ways to Wellbeing’. During this health and economic emergency, the government must ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met. NEF colleagues have set out policies to achieve that.

While my husband’s shifts in the NHS change constantly, my nine-year-old daughter Arietta and I follow the lockdown guidance. Like many across the country I’m trying to juggle work and parenting, with a far greater respect for the undervalued and overlooked work of our childcare and education professionals. A week in and we’ve found ourselves having some good bits and some not so good. I’m also acutely aware of how frightening the outside world could seem to my daughter. With the lockdown impacting our daily lives, it’s not possible to completely shield her from what is happening so it feels even more important to focus on what we can do to take care of ourselves and others.

I’ve been looking for a way to give structure to our days beyond the school timetables we’ve been sent. The Five Ways framework has helped us to talk about the things that matter to us under each of the headings, and we’ve set ourselves the challenge of doing at least one of each of these every day. Here are some of the ways we’ve interpreted the guidelines for the current crisis. 

1. Connect

Connect with the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.

This is particularly important and challenging during this crisis. The guidance is clear that self-isolating means that we must only socialise face-to-face with those that we are living with. Online platforms have sprung up to enable us to see friends and family. We’ve also been writing postcards (real and virtual) and sticking messages in our window to say hi to our friends and neighbours even if we can’t speak to them.

2. Be active

Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

The current guidance says that everyone (in groups of no more than two from the same household) is able to go out each day for a walk, cycle or run. A host of free online group workouts are available, from dance classes to yoga. This exercise will work for some, but being active is not only about working out’ and there’s a huge range of different physical capabilities due to health conditions, age and ability. Finding a way to be active that suits you and can be sustained is critical. We have joined the online PE class and are trying to have a short bike ride together each day in a local green space.

3. Be curious

Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

This is often taken to be mindfulness and if that works for you that’s great. In current circumstances it’s hard not to worry about the future, of our home, our family, our community, our workplace. We’ve found taking some time each day to talk about how we are feeling has been helpful, and noticing the feeling of fresh air and sunshine on our faces while we are out for our daily bike ride. We are trying to plant some seeds so we can tend to them and watch them grow each day.

4. Keep learning

Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. As well as being fun, learning new things will make you more confident.

Learning something new or improving a skill you already have is a way of shutting out the outside world for a bit and giving you a sense of achievement. My daughter and I have talked about the things we both enjoy doing and what we can teach each other. Right now she’s keen to learn how to sew, so we are giving that a try. My daughter is also teaching me new things – at the moment it’s how to dance. This isn’t about grades or qualifications but setting ourselves a challenge and attempting to master it.

5. Give

Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.

There are ways that you can help others while still following the guidelines. Like thousands of people across the country we have joined our local mutual aid group to help provide support to people in our community who are self-isolating. Giving blood is more important than ever and still possible to do during the lockdown. Virtual support can also be provided, through shopping online for local food banks (if you can afford it). We’ve written thank you notes and painted rainbows to stick in our window – the latter a message of hope started by children and taking hold around the world.

As we rebuild after this crisis, our government should learn from places that have been leading the way in building wellbeing into their policymaking. New Zealand introduced a Wellbeing Budget last year, ensuring that all spending decisions will be made on the basis of a project’s contribution to the wellbeing of the population. Ultimately we need to think of wellbeing as a collective, not an individual, endeavour. As Annie Quick wroteWe need to make sure that the scale of the solutions meet the scale of the problem. Wellbeing can play a crucial part. But to do so, it needs a clear analysis of power and how to build it to create a wellbeing economy.”

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