Early February saw Children’s Mental Health Week. As part of the week, I was invited into Jewish Free School (JFS) to offer some tips for students (and teachers) for looking after their own well-being. In this piece I have provided a summary of what we discussed.
- Don’t believe your thoughts
Thoughts are not facts. Just because we have a thought, it does not make it true and we don’t need to believe it. Research shows we have, on average, over 70,000 thoughts per day, 95% of which are recurring thoughts we have again and again. Often these thoughts are self-critical; “I’m no good at this”, “she doesn’t like me,” and so on.
We have a choice: we can choose to accept the thought (and probably feel bad about ourselves), or we can take a step back and say to ourselves: “There’s another negative thought that I don’t need to believe.” Then, like a cloud in the sky, we can imagine the thought floating away.
Exercise is a must. When we exercise we release endorphins which make us feel good and reduce any stress and anxiety we may be feeling. It also helps us to think more clearly and to sleep better at night.
This does not mean you have to play a competitive sport or run a marathon, but could be something as simple as a 20-minute walk. I find playing football and yoga to be really beneficial for my well-being. Whatever you choose your exercise to be, I strongly encourage you to do it, and to do it regularly.
- The Law of Attraction: Look for the positive
Put simply, the ‘Law of Attraction’ states that we will attract into our lives whatever we focus on. Whatever we give our energy and attention to will come back to us. So, if we focus on the good things in our lives, we will automatically attract more good things into our lives. We will, at the very least, notice more good things in our lives (even if our lives remain the same).
Therefore, we should all think carefully about
- the people we spend time with,
- the books we read,
- the tv we watch,
- the music we listen to
- the information we choose to expose yourself to
- the computer games we play
Are these things supporting our well-being, or are they making us feel worse? And, if they make us feel worse, might we want to make a change?
- Be Grateful
Deliberately taking time to think about the things in our lives that we are grateful for is a really powerful exercise for enhancing our well-being.
Studies have shown that young people who regularly take time to think about the things they are grateful for feel happier, do better in school, and have improved relationships with friends and family.
For example, we may wish to keep a gratitude journal; and write down each morning 3 things we are grateful for. We will soon begin to notice more and more things that we feel grateful for.
- Spend time in nature…and leave your phone at home!
Because most of us live in an urban environment, we forget that we, too, are part of nature and are intimately connected to it. As we all know, we rely on trees and plants for oxygen so that we can breathe. We, in turn, breathe out carbon dioxide which trees and plants use to help them grow. We are part of nature.
Spending time in nature, and taking time to really appreciate its beauty, wonder and awe, has not only been proven to be hugely calming and relaxing, it also helps us to see that we are part of something bigger than ourselves; something that we can connect to.
When I walk in nature, I like to pay attention to the sounds of the birds, the colours of the flowers and the fresh air smell.
It is even better if we can do this without the distractions of devices which can take our attention away from the beauty of nature.
The breath is amazing! We can use our breathing to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
When we feel stressed, we often get caught in our thoughts. By focusing on our breath, we take our attention away from our thinking and instead into our bodies. This activates the parasympathetic part of our nervous system which helps us to recover from stress (rest and digest).
There are many different breathing techniques we can use. If I am feeling stressed, I might imagine inhaling healing white light, and exhaling (for a few more seconds than the inhale) black smoke with all my stress in it.
- Accept Your Feelings
We should notice our feelings, but not be afraid of them. We can try to accept them for what they are. Sometimes we will feel happy, sometimes we will feel sad and that’s ok. Human beings were not designed to be happy all the time.
Our natural reaction to difficult emotions can be to try to hide from them or to try to get rid of them. However, studies have shown that accepting our difficult feelings, rather than trying to push them away, is the most reliable way to regaining and maintaining peace of mind. There is a saying that “What we resist, persists.”
Our feelings are always changing so next time you’re feeling low, notice the feeling and know that it will pass.
- Do things you enjoy and spend time with people you like
It is important we do things that give us pleasure. For each of us that may mean different things; doing a sport, playing a musical instrument, painting, dancing. Even playing computer games can be good if it is done in moderation.
The important thing is that it is something for you; something that will bring more joy to your life. It is especially important to find time for things we enjoy when we are going through stressful times, such as revising for exams.
It is very important to surround yourself with people who make you feel good. It costs very little but is extremely beneficial.
- Have compassion (for yourself and others)
Being compassionate means treating ourselves and others with kindness. We are all human. We all make mistakes. We all do silly things sometimes. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself gently when you are hurt or feeling low.
Notice when you negatively judge yourself and choose to adopt a kinder approach. Imagine what you might say to someone you love if they were judging themselves negatively and you were trying to help them feel better. Then, say those words to yourself.
Sometimes it can help by imagining that inside you there is an ‘inner child’ that is perhaps only 5 or 6 years old, and it is this inner child that you are talking to and helping to take care of.
When we have more compassion for ourselves, we will naturally start to have more compassion for others too, as we recognise that we are all human and feel vulnerable and sensitive sometimes.
- Help others
When we help others, we are not only doing good for them, we are also making ourselves happier and healthier too. This is not just about giving money, but includes giving our time, care, skills, thought or attention.
Helping others helps to increase our life satisfaction. It can give us a sense of meaning and helps us connect with people.
Kindness is also contagious: when we experience someone doing something kind for us, it inspires us to do acts of kindness for others. Therefore, by helping others we are building a more compassionate society.
Scientists have reported on a phenomenon called “helper’s high”: when we help others we releases endorphins which, in turn, improves our mood and boosts our self-esteem. As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’
There are many things that we can do to improve our well-being. I hope that you and your families will find some of the tips above helpful in your own life journey.
Zac Newman is the founder and director of Newman Tuition, an award-winning network of qualified tutors, recommended by The Good Schools Guide. He is a qualified teacher, mindfulness coach and public speaker with a background in NLP, psychotherapy and counselling. He is passionate about supporting people to improve their well-being. He is a founding trustee of Hamakom, a mindfulness and meditation charity. He is the father of two gorgeous boys and husband to a loving wife.