Hot off the press! Our latest newsletter with updates from the director, our wonderful new administrator, our Hope, Think! and Learn strands, and from our partner in Horley. We have many exciting things planned for this term, read our latest news here
Hot off the press! Our latest newsletter with updates from the director, our Hope, Think! and Learn strands, and from our partner in Horley. We have many exciting things planned for this term, read our latest news here
Emotional wellbeing simply means to be ‘well on the inside’.
How many of us consider how ‘well we are on the inside’? During this pandemic this is something we have been considering more than ever as we have had more time at home than ever before and arguably more time to reflect on our lives.
We spend a lot of time focusing on our physical health – by eating well, exercising, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. All of these things are so important and are essential for emotional health as well. Good mood food, a good night’s sleep and regular exercise are vital.
But what else can we do for our own emotional wellbeing which we can also promote to the children and young people in our care?
Here are our top tips for improving emotional wellbeing
Evidence suggests that there are 5 steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing, kind of like eating 5 fruits or vegetables every day for our diet – but more of a diet for our souls.
1. Get Connected
Good relationships are important to your mental wellbeing. There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world.
During the lockdown season of social isolation this has been a tough one to achieve as it has been difficult to physically ‘see’ our loved ones, keep in contact with our usual support networks or reach out for support. You might well be like me and be truly ‘zoomed out’.
But we can be creative…
- when the weather is good, meeting someone outside for a walk can do wonders for your emotional wellbeing
- if you live with family or friends, try arranging some quality time with them by switching off the television and playing a board game or sitting at the table to eat dinner together with screens off
- how about ‘going old school’ and writing letters or cards to post to someone you care about?
- or maybe just give someone a ring instead of sending a quick text –ask them how they are and really listen to their answer
2. Be Physically Active
Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness but evidence also shows it can improve your mental wellbeing. Being active raises your self-esteem by helping you to set goals and achieve them. It also causes chemical changes in your brain which can positively help to change your mood.
As someone who actively found ways to avoid PE in school because I hated team sports so much, I was surprised as an adult to discover that I actually quite like the way I feel after exercise. There are so many fun and different ways to stay physically active now that I firmly believe there must be one form of exercise for every person that is enjoyable.
- go for a walk or run
- dance around your room to your favourite music
- do a dance class, workout or stretching video on YouTube
- ride your bike
- take up a team sport such as football, netball, hockey
- go swimming
- jump on a trampoline
- create a fitness circuit in your garden using everyday items
Whatever you do, try and find something you enjoy! Have fun with it and make it an everyday part of your life!
3. Learn New Skills
Research shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by boosting your self-confidence and self-esteem, helping you to build a sense of purpose and helping you to connect with others.
This is something lots of people embraced during the first lockdown last spring. How many of us made banana bread for the first time, took up an art project or took on home DIY? The third lockdown has been trickier; the days are shorter and the resilience we showed last year has slowed as people grow weary of being stuck at home. However, learning new skills is a really important thing for improving wellbeing.
What new skill would you love to develop?
I have recently been delivering our cocoon self-esteem group virtually for young women at Merstham Park School and learning a new skill is one of the key focuses of session 4. This time I set each of them the challenge of trying something new during the week. My challenge was to learn to French plait – which I am still learning! I have also recently been learning to cook from scratch rather than relying on ready-made packets of food – my most recent culinary experiment was homemade Chicken Chow Mein which was actually quite tasty.
Could you cook a new dish? Get to know a new person? Read a new book? It doesn’t have to be challenging – just new!
4. Give to Others
Giving to others can improve your mental wellbeing by creating positive feelings and a sense of reward, giving you a feeling or purpose and self-worth and helping you connect with other people.
Giving to others could include random acts of kindness towards others – maybe helping to tidy up at home, making a family member a cup of tea, asking friends and family how they are and really listening to their answer or maybe asking a neighbour if they need a hand with anything (socially distanced help of course). In the future, it may soon be possible to volunteer in the local community again!
When I was younger I used to work for a sandwich shop on a Saturday and every week one of my tasks would be to deliver two sausage rolls and two jacket potatoes to an elderly housebound couple up the road from the shop. One week I discovered that sadly the husband had died.
At this point I had grown really fond of the wife who I chatted to each week and decided to visit mid-week to see how she was doing. These visits became a regular weekly occurrence even after I had left my job at the sandwich shop and I’m sure they meant far more to me than they did to Anna. I discovered so much about her life – how she had moved to my home town during World War 2 after meeting her husband in Belgium, how he was a soldier and how when they had first met she didn’t speak a word of English. She married him after just a few weeks and moved to England and they were married until he died aged 90. Anna died a few years ago at the age of 94 but our weekly visits brought me so much joy.
You might not have an ‘Anna’ who you can visit but is there something you could do to give to others? You might be surprised at the joy and laughter it brings you!
5. Pay Attention to the Present Moment
Paying more attention to the present moment includes paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you.
It can be really easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much and in a world that is often chaotic and out of our control it is good to stop, reflect and bring things into focus. Some people call this awareness, ‘mindfulness’ others call it ‘prayer, meditation or contemplation’. Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
You can do this while doing a normal every day activity like washing up. As you wash up, consider the bubbles in the water – how do they feel? What does the washing up liquid smell like? How do you feel washing up? Is the water warm or cold?
As you allow your mind to focus and gently rest, consider if there is anything you would like to wash away – maybe an argument with a family member, tension from a day of home learning, the bad news you heard today on the radio?
Consider this as you wash your dishes one by one. How does it feel to rinse them under running water? To let your day wash away?
After you have finished washing up, consider drying and putting your dishes away – how does it feel to have a clean and tidy kitchen space? To bring a sense of control and organisation to the world’s chaos?
Something as simple as washing the dishes, putting them away and creating a tidy space can have a remarkable effect on bringing quiet, rest and reflection to our day if we let it.
There are loads of great resources out there which help to calm the mind and be more present. Apps such as headspace and Calm have lots of useful content. Another great tool to inspire being more mindful in your day is colouring in – I am not very good at sitting still and resting so I have taken up colouring in as it stops me running around doing jobs and allows my mind to rest but keeps my hands busy! For some, mindfulness will bring up negative spiritual connotations but John Mark Comer writes in his book ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’;
The whole world is talking about this right now. You can’t go three feet in a bookstore or peruse TED.com without hearing all the buzz around mindfulness. And mindfulness is simply silence and solitude for a secular society. It’s the same thing, just missing the best part – Jesus… But followers of Jesus have been doing this for thousands of years; we just called it prayer or meditation or contemplation. We have two millennia of tradition and wisdom and best practices to draw from.
Whatever word you are comfortable using, it is important for our mental health and wellbeing to slow down, to rest, reflect, focus and spend time paying attention to your thoughts and the world around you. If you are more comfortable spending time in Christian meditation then there is also a brilliant Christian meditation app called, taketime. ‘Taketime’ is a series of relaxing, guided meditations based on the tradition of St Ignatius. I also thoroughly recommend the Lectio 365 app created by 24/7 prayer for guided prayer sessions [www.24-7prayer.com/dailydevotional].
Over the last few months the SparkFish team have been thinking a lot in our staff meetings about hope during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve recently been reading a pretty hefty book, ‘Paul: A Biography’ by Tom Wright and he reflects on the topic of hope, writing,
If I say that Saul of Tarsus was brought up in a world of hope, many readers misunderstand me. “Hope” and “optimism” are not the same thing. The optimist looks at the world and feels good about the way it’s going. Things are looking up! Everything is going to be all right! But hope, at least as conceived within the Jewish and then the early Christian world, was quite different. Hope could be, and often was, a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark. It depended not on a feeling about the way things were or the way they were moving, but on faith, faith in the One God. This God had made the world. This God had called Israel to be his people. The scriptures, not least the Psalms, had made it clear that this God could be trusted to sort things out in the end, to be true to his promises, to vindicate his people at last, even if it had to be on the other side of terrible suffering.
He goes on to write,
‘Hope’ in this sense is not a feeling. It is a virtue. You have to practice it, like a difficult piece on the violin or a tricky shot at tennis. You practice the virtue of hope through worship and prayer, through invoking the One God, through reading and re-imagining the scriptural story, and through consciously holding the unknown future within the unshakeable divine promises.
‘Hope is not a feeling, it is a virtue. You have to practice it…’
I’m not very good at practising things. I’m terribly lazy and it takes me a long time to create new habits. But how amazing is this concept that we can develop hope in a world that seems dark? We can practice it and pray for it and share it with those around us. And we can teach others how to practice it and develop it.
At SparkFish we seek to bring hope to children and young people during times of change and challenge. Adolescence itself is a time of change and challenge. But it is even more challenging during the current season when it seems things are changing by the minute.
‘Hope… is a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark.’
I think we can all agree that the world seems dark at the minute, even with the successful vaccine rates and things beginning to open up again, it can be hard to feel optimistic when life is not normal. However, hope is a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seems dark. We can choose to hope. We can practice it when we don’t feel hopeful and we can believe in the God who made the world, who called us to be his people, who has shown he is true to his promises and who can be trusted to make everything right in the end.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. [Isaiah 40:28-31]
As Christians, we have hope and at SparkFish we want to share this with the world – it is not always appropriate to share our faith directly with the young people we work with– but we can be people of hope. We can support schools with the students who need support the most, and create safe places where young people can be themselves, pause, reflect and practise hope for themselves.
The God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. [2 Corinthians 1:3-5]
Watch our Church Update video below to find out what has been going on this term: