Kindness is the New Rock and Roll

I wish I’d come up with this aphorism, because it nicely sums up an important piece of wisdom (credit goes to the band that used it as the title of their last album, and a song on that)

We are in Mental Health Awareness Week – hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. The theme is kindness. They rightly say that: in times like these when the world feels upside down, Kindness is the way to turn things the right way round.

“We all know that being kind is the right thing to do but did you know that kindness is good for you? A little act of kindness can boost your mental health, reduce stress and it can cheer you up to think of someone else – not forgetting, of course, to be kind to yourself. It is a path to a society that better protects our mental health”

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

They point to research evidence for the positive impact of kindness on protecting and improving mental health. Their survey has shown that almost three quarters of UK adults say it’s important that we learn from the coronavirus pandemic to be more kind as a society. Also almost two-thirds of UK adults say that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health.

Psychologists have long shown that kindness to others (altruism) also has a positive effect on the giver (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003; Kurzban, et al., 2015; Wang, et al., 2020).

There is evidence that accessing states of caring and compassion have a profound healing effect on us (Gilbert, 2010) and there appears to be a evolutionary neuro-biological basis for this (Porges, 2011).

Based on ancient wisdom, a growing body of research suggests that kindness & compassion meditations activate these healing systems within us. These meditative practices can be effective as part of the treatment of a wide range of mental health conditions and promote physical and emotional wellbeing (Graser & Stangier, 2018; Hofmann, et al., 2011; Shonin, et al., 2015).

Here is a short introductory guided meditation to help cultivate this state of self healing. Please read the guidance below before you try it.

Please read the important guidance below before you begin
  • This guided meditation requires active engagement and participation, so while it can be calming, it does ask for some mental effort
  • A bit of perseverance is likely to pay off, with a bit of practice the positive effects of meditation increase
  • If you find it difficult to settle and follow along with the guidance, then you might need a bit more brain-training with a breath practice
  • By using the meditation, you are taking responsibility for your wellbeing. It is not a substitute for counselling or treatment. It is an educational and self-development resource
  • Meditative practices have been shown to offer powerful tools for mental health and wellbeing by helping to develop enhanced emotional and thinking skills. They are not a quick fix and require effort and practice
  • Meditation is not usually suggested as mental health first aid. It can be very helpful in managing difficult emotions, yet this skill takes time to build. I think when you’re feeling anxious or unsettled, there are lots of other helpful things you can to do first, for example here is a calming exercise which I have used with many people (link opens in dropbox where you can directly play the file or download it for offline use)
  • Of course if you are acutely unwell then please get appropriate support, make yourself safe, and come back to this practice when you are feeling stable enough to engage with it
  • I hope you find this meditation helpful, feel free to get in touch with any feedback

References

Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U., 2003. The nature of human altruism. Nature, Volume 425, pp. 785-791.

Gilbert, P., 2010. Compassion Focused Therapy. Hove: Routledge.

Graser, J. & Stangier, U., 2018. Compassion and Loving-Kindness Meditation: An Overview and Prospects for the Application in Clinical Samples. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 26(4), pp. 201-215.

Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P. & Hinton, D. E., 2011. Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: Potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 31, pp. 1126-1132.

Kurzban, R., Burton-Chellew, M. N. & West, S. A., 2015. The Evolution of Altruism in Humans. Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 66, pp. 575-599.

Porges, S. W., 2011. The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Shonin, E. et al., 2015. Buddhist-Derived Loving-Kindness and Compassion Meditation for the Treatment of Psychopathology: A Systematic Review. Mindfulness, Volume 6, pp. 1161-1180.

Wang, Y. et al., 2020. Altruistic behaviours relieve physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 117(2), pp. 950-958.

Breathe

During the current lockdown there is a lot of good advice out there. Our contribution here is just a small practical thing that you can do to help reduce stress and increase wellbeing. There is strong evidence that stress levels can have a significant impact on our immune functioning.

This is a short guided meditation. The visual element is just to add flavour, it is OK to close your eyes during the practice, if you like. At just under 8 minutes you can pop this on anytime you have a bit of time to spare.

Mindfulness isn’t the same as relaxation, but is a very good way of building wellbeing if practiced for a time. A very common misunderstanding is to expect to have an ‘empty mind’ or feel more relaxed (which may or may not happen). So if there is agitation or lots going through the mind, then there is no need to suppress anything, just observe what’s there.

Meditation is not first aid for anxiety. It can be very helpful in managing anxiety (and other difficult emotions) yet this skill takes time to build. I think when you’re feeling anxious or unsettled, there are lots of other helpful things you can to do, for example here is a calming exercise which I have used with many people (link opens in dropbox where you can directly play the file or download it for offline use).

5 Ways to Wellbeing during self-isolation

Like most people, I would imagine that the students and staff at the University of Cumbria are adapting to a new way of living thanks to the pandemic of COVID-19 aka the Corona Virus. In particular, getting used to self-isolating and social distancing. The very first point I want to make is that in a world of misinformation, in this rapidly changing world; it is important to get accurate and up-to-date factual information. So wherever you are in the world, a good starting point is the World Health Organization (WHO) who have a Corona Virus specific website. WHO have specific guidance on how to stay safe. If you are in the UK, the government have a website for people to find accurate and more local advice and information. Assuming you have read the guidance, and your are self-isolating or using social distancing, here are some 5 Ways to Wellbeing ideas for you to try or to help you think of your own techniques.

  1. Connect with people

Connecting with people when in self-isolation might sound contradictory, but it isn’t. There are a number of digital apps such as Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp that can enable you to video conference to your friends, family, colleagues, etc. Make time to have some daily contact with the ones you love and care about. Sometimes it might be worth planning ahead, and setting a specific time of day to connect with those that are closest to you. If you are coping well, think about those who you know with particular set of vulnerabilities such as those who live on their own, those who have long-term physical or mental health difficulties, or those who are much older and may feel physically and psychologically distant from others.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Also keep connected with the outside world where you can. Keep up-to-date with the news, but remember to only look at reliable news sources, and also remember to take a break from just reading about COIVD-19. Reading blogs, or listening to podcasts can also be a way of connecting to the outside world. Remember if you are a student or member of staff, you can connect anonymously to others out there via the Big White Wall, which is an online mental health and wellbeing community, that is there to support you 24/7.

If you are with others in the same household and it is safe to do so, why not switch off the telly, and play games for a change? It could be board games, card games, or other types of games. Stuck for inspiration? Try these “parlour games“.

2. Be physically active

At the time of this blog being published, the UK government is still encouraging people to take up some form of physical exercise each day. A minimum of 20 minutes per day is advisable, but if you can do more, then go for it. Simple yoga could be a start, and you can even do it from your chair. If you are little more adventurous, there are plenty of apps out there including the “30 Day Plank Challenge”, look for it on your usual app store. The NHS also has a 10 minute home cardio workout available online and it doesn’t require you to have any gym equipment. One of the University’s lecturers, Mark Christie has even got some fun exercises for you to try out.

Paper O-lym-pics

If you can, give friends, family, peers words of encouragement to keep active, as it can be very challenging to keep motivated and physically active. Being physically active also helps with your mental health and wellbeing too.

Other options of getting exercise into your daily routine when stuck at home or halls is to spring clean. Now is a really good opportunity to get those nooks and crannies cleaned that often get neglected. Depending on your type of accommodation, you could aim to do one room, every other day. Sort out anything that is broken or no longer used. Anything that is still good working order, or reusable that you no longer need, you could either sell or give away once it is safe to do so. If you have a garden, may be do some weeding, or mow the lawn. All of these will help burn off a few calories, and help get some exercise into your day.

3. Keep learning

Obviously, if you are current student at the University of Cumbria, you’ll need to keep on track of your programme of study. Keep an eye on Student Global emails, and any other correspondence from your tutors which may come directly to your student email account, or via Blackboard, or via official University social media accounts. Don’t forget that My.Cumbria has lots of really useful resources on there including reading and note-taking, managing your studies, dissertations, being critical etc. My.Cumbria does get regularly updated, so do keep checking on the pages from time to time. There is a page specifically on studying at home during COVID-19.

All staff and students at the University of Cumbria also have free access to LinkedIn Learning, which is a great resource with short (as little as a few minutes) and long (several hours) online courses on a vast range of subjects, such as improving your Microsoft Office skills, presentation skills, procrastination, interview tips and advice, etc. There are also some fun courses available on LinkedIn Learning such as how to play the guitar, piano/keyboard, improving your photographic skills, learning to use music production software, etc.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You will still need to get your studies and home-life balance right. Take a break from your studies now and then. So why not consider taking up a new hobby or one that you have put on the back-burner? For a start you could try yoga etc (see above). Now could be a good time to try a new recipe, if you are stuck for ideas you could try the BBC who have a great website just for recipes, that include the option to search for recipes based on what ingredients you have (and given how some foodstuffs are hard to get hold of at the moment, this is a great opportunity for you to rummage to the back of your cupboard for things that get seldomly used).

4. Give to others

With your new hobby or extra skill, now is the chance to give to others (where it is safe for you to do so – e.g. potentially those in the same household as you, or wait after the isolation phase has passed). Could you write a poem for a loved one? Or make a cake for your housemates? Can you revise or work on a topic with your peers on your course via Zoom or Skype or similar digital platforms? Are you able to give your time to someone you know is struggling with self-isolation by talking to them on the phone? May be you could consider being a volunteer for an organisation once this epidemic has passsed. There are lots of charities and those in need, that are always looking for volunteers, this could be walking the dogs at a local animal shelter, working at the local foodbank, mowing the lawn for a local elderly neighbour, etc.

5. Pay attention

Although it is good to keep up-to-date with the news about COVID-19, it is worth investing in the time to switch off from the news, and switch off from social media. Mindfulness can be very helpful for you right now. Paying attention to how you are feeling and learning to relax during self-isolation and social distancing can be a good skill to have. There are a number of mindfullness apps available, Headspace if probably the most well known, but there are others (search you normal app based store). The NHS has some useful information on mindfulness that can be found here.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Final thoughts

Remember that the COVID-19 is a pandemic, but it will come to an end. Life will eventually come back to some sort of normality. Use the tags on this blog to explore other parts of Live Well @ Cumbria. Keep following the updates from reliable sources. Stay safe, stay well. Remember to keep a look out for each other. Take care.

If you have any further suggestions do let us know.

Take Notice – 1 of your “5 Ways to Wellbeing”

Life can easily rush by, and we can miss moments that can make us happy or happier. Taking time to focus on the here and now, can aid with your 5 Ways to Wellbeing.

When we feel low, we often get into a spiral thinking pattern known as rumination, where we often focus on the past. Thoughts that often start with, “If only…“, and focus on lots of regret and disappointment, they include “I should have…“, “I could have…“. Conversely, when we ruminate when we are feeling stressed or anxious, we often fear about future events that haven’t even taken place, thoughts often start with “What if…“. The more we ruminate, the more it impacts on our ability to think straight.

  1. Think of a real problem
  2. Think of a solution
  3. Act upon the solution
  4. Problem fixed

When we ruminate, we repeat and don’t get to an end point

  • Think of a problem
  • Worry about the problem
  • Think about the problem some more
  • Worry about the problem some more
  • Repeat on and on and on and on and on and…. you get the idea.

The more we ruminate, the more habitual it becomes. When negative rumination gets a grip, it can lead to unhelpful behaviours such as self-isolation, heavy drinking, self-harm, comfort eating, etc.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What can be done about rumination?

  • Try to be more aware of your thoughts processes
    • “I don’t need to go over these thoughts right over and over again right now, I can think about my options when I am in a more positive mood”
    • “I can’t stop my thoughts but I can choose not have ruminations right now”
  • Do something that will take your attention away from your thoughts
    • “What can I do now that will make me feel better?”
    • “Is there someone I can talk to to help me problem solve?”
    • “Instead of focusing on the negatives, is there something else that I can take notice of?”

Taking notice can be in many forms. It can include meditation, mindfulness, and there are plenty of apps that can help you with that. ORCHA is an organisation that reviews health based apps including ones for mindfulness, on the basis of how effective they are. To see some of the apps they recommend, click here. If you are a campus based student at the University of Cumbria, there are mindfulness sessions available at various times of the year, some of which are free to attend.

Of course, at this time of year, there are so many little, but beautiful moments to cherish and take note of. The UK being a temperate climate, makes Autumn a particular good time to take notice. Take a look around outside, and focus on the changes.

This heightened awareness of what is going on around us, can enhance your self-understanding. Taking more notice in our lives doesn’t make our problems go away, but helps us to tune into what is important in our lives, or to give a break from rumination.

Read more about how you can “Take Notice” here

Be Active – 1 of your “5 Ways to Wellbeing”

As mentioned in a previous post, there are 5 ways to wellbeing that you can adopt into your daily or weekly life, that will help you maintain, or improve your physical and mental wellbeing. One of the 5 ways, is to Be Active. Now this doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon, or be pumping 50kg of iron. It can be gentle exercise such as going for a brisk walk, or trying out yoga. Not only is exercise good for your physical health, but it can also help to maintain positive mental health.

The University of Cumbria has a number of initiatives to help you get more active or to stay active. One such initiative is UoC Active, which has been developed in response to a government strategy called an “Active Nation”. At the University there are two main sports centres, one at the Fusehill St campus, and one at the Lancaster campus. There is a small centre at the Ambleside campus. They offer a range of sports, exercise classes, and other leisure activities. Lancaster and Fusehill St campuses have a selection of classes, that at the time of this blog posting, includes, Yoga, Boot Camp, Step n Tone, Zumba, Box Fit, and Latino Dance (not all classes are available on both campuses, check the website for details). If you join the Lancaster campus sports centre, you automatically get to use the facilities at the Salt Ayre Leisure Centre owned by Lancaster City Council, and it has a swimming pool.

On campus, there are several security coded bike shelters to keep your bicycle safer, and are available to staff and students, who use their own bicycle or one of the hired bicycles. Reception also keep spare locks and a pump in case you need to borrow one. If you are bringing your own bicycle from home to University, we strongly recommend that you take out bicycle insurance, and get your bicycle security tagged (most local police stations can help out with this), just in case someone tries to nick your beloved bicycle.

Ashton Memorial in Williamson’s Park, Lancaster

If cycling or gym membership isn’t your thing, there are other ways to increase your activity, these include walking with friends in the many local parks that are close to campus, if you are in London there are some very big parks to visit such as Hyde or Greenwich Park, Lancaster Campus has the Williamson’s Park, Ambleside has Rothay Park, and both the Carlisle campuses are close to Rickerby Park. Visit your local tourist information centre for more information on local walks and leisure activities. If you are at one of the the North-West campuses, then you won’t be too far from the seaside, and a walk along the beach can be a very enjoyable day out. Even if you are in London, then a day trip to Brighton Beach can be achievable.

Roanhead in the Furness Peninisula. Long sandy beaches, sand dunes, and amazing views.

If you enjoy walking, and like dogs, you could volunteer at your local animal shelter. Animal shelters are often in need of volunteer dog walkers to help exercise dogs whilst they are waiting for their forever home. Use a search engine on the internet to find animal shelters near you, and give them a call.

5 Ways to Wellbeing

Keeping well, or improving your wellbeing can sometimes be a challenge, but there is a simple, yet effective framework that you can follow. It is known as the 5 Ways to Wellbeing.

Back in 2008 the UK government commissioned research into Mental Capital and Wellbeing. The findings from the research can be found here, where you can also find the executive summary. From the research, guidance was created, that has become known as the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. The 5 Ways are below:

  • Connect – connect with the people around you. It could be family, friends, colleagues, peers, neighbours. It can take place at your place of study, workplace, or local neighbourhood. Increasing your connectivity (in real, not necessarily through social media) has been shown to improve your mental health. Isolation is a significant risk factor for developing poor mental wellbeing. Get in touch with the Student Union here, as they have lots of societies, sports teams, clubs, and volunteering opportunities that can help you connect with others like you.
  • Be active – Even simple forms of exercise has been shown to improve mental health. A walk in the local park, going for a bicycle ride, doing some gardening can make you feel better about yourself. The University of Cumbria’s campuses are all close to local parks, go out and get to know them if you are studying there. Or if you have access to transport, then the campuses are all close to National Parks, or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that you could go and explore. The University also has Green Minds, a project to encourage staff and students to do some basic gardening, which is great for being active, but also for connecting with others. If you are reading this blog, and not a staff or student member of the University of Cumbria, may be see what is going on at your work or place of study.
  • Take notice – gardening is another great way to do this (see the Green Minds comment above). But why not go to a museum, art gallery, theatre, or cinema.
  • Keep learning – of course, if you are a student, then hopefully you will be learning all the time, but also try something new or rediscover an old interest. We often don’t make time to learn something new, but it can really something that you can do in your own time. As a student at the University of Cumbria, you will have access to LinkedIn Learning, and there are lots of online courses to choose from.
  • Give – do something nice for someone else, a friend, partner, or a stranger. I often encourage students to consider volunteering at the local animal shelter, helps with all 5 ways to wellbeing, taking a dog for a walk can be a new skill, it can increase activity, and help take notice.

Introducing the 5 Ways to Wellbeing in your life, and be beneficial to you. We’ll be posting more on this in the future. Give it a try and see what a difference it can make.