While planning my schedule for the conference, I noticed a clear drive towards the topic of well-being. I believe the trigger for my sudden interest is that I had recently experienced some stress during the first months at my new job. And I know what you are thinking, that I probably had tons of pressure from work. Well, let me tell you it was quite the opposite, I had a supportive team and there was never anyone pushing me or giving me hard deadlines. I was putting the pressure and stress on myself. For that reason, I thought it would be good to learn a bit more about how to relax and take care of myself. And let’s face it, in the end, it helps me be a better employee and coworker.
Having said that, you now understand that I am by no means a guru on well-being, and I do not pretend to lecture anyone on the topic. In fact, I am guilty of most of the crimes described in the talks I saw. My intention here is to summarize some of my learnings at Web Summit and to compile a practical list of things you and I can try to foster our well-being.
Well-being — a holistic view.
We immediately associate health with our bodies, and that is because most of the focus in the last decades has been on our physical fitness and health, rather than that of our minds. Though it may appear that we have understood the importance of exercise since the beginning of time, it was only in the 70s when it became widespread knowledge. Similarly, there is now a trend where society is becoming aware of the importance of our mental well-being.
A recurrent concern at Web Summit revolved around mental health. We are starting to see the negative impact technology has on our mental health. Digital devices are the biggest cause of distraction and provide an incessant load of information that can get out of our control. A clear example of it is that 50% of people cannot sit and do nothing for a mere 2 minutes. This is described as a cognitive crisis in society, in which distractions keep increasing while our attention span keeps decreasing. On top of that, we are experiencing an increase in stress levels that keep our minds in a constant state of “fight or flight” — a primitive instinct to defend ourselves from danger. However, in our modern daily lives, this instinct makes us become too focused and make bad, less empathetic decisions. Other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and burnout are on the rise too. We are in the middle of an emotional crisis, where humans — though more connected than ever — are feeling lonelier.
Cherishing our well-being is paramount, and we need to look at it as a whole. We will need mental resilience and emotional intelligence to deal with our present crises and with major changes the next 20-30 years may bring. Mindfulness — the ability to “be aware of our awareness” — can help us with that. Being mindful strengthens the networks in our brain to be kinder, more empathic and to react faster in emotional situations. We need to acknowledge that mind and body are inextricably intertwined. One can positively (or negatively) affect the other, and only by taking care of both can we truly take care of our well-being.
Now, what can we do?
1. Identify our distractions, it is important to recognize what is causing our distractions before we can start doing anything about it. Mine is definitely the smartphone, for other people it might be their email or social media.
2. Increase the friction between us and our distractions. For example:
- Keep the smartphone away from the bedroom at night.
- Check emails and work chat only at certain times of the day.
- If (like me) you check your phone first thing in the morning, keep it on airplane mode until you leave home. Enjoying that first half an hour makes a difference.
- Keep the phone away during meetings.
3. Start the day with an intention. Tell yourself what you want to achieve today, and this does not mean a to-do task for the day, nor a major achievement. It can be a one-sentence statement. As simple and easy as: “Today I will… enjoy time with my family”.
4. Take breaks at work. Here at Insta Digital, we have keppijumppa sessions in the afternoons to stretch and we have morning or afternoon coffee with our colleagues. Maybe soon we should introduce meditation sessions together as well, why not?
5. End the day by being grateful. Before going to bed, think of the things you are thankful for. It may sound cheesy to some, but it is a good way of relaxing the mind before going to bed. Sometimes we are caught up in our daily hassle and negativity, and it is good to remind ourselves of the positive things in our lives to end the day on a peaceful note.
6. We know how to start and end our day, now how about grasping those moments in between? When you are having a conversation, keep the smartphone away and try to give your full attention to those you are talking to. If you are commuting to work, take a moment to look at something nice around you. Since I moved to Finland, I find myself looking in awe at the frozen sights in winter, feeling like I’ve been sucked into a movie.
7. Remember how mind and body are connected? Then, of course, some form of physical exercise must be on this list. We all have heard of the positive impact and shot of endorphins our brains get when exercising. The benefits are not limited to lifting weights at the gym; everyone can find a sport or physical activity that they enjoy doing. As for me, I love dancing (doing nothing to break the Latin stereotype…) and I encourage others to try it too. I also cycle to work and do yoga. Whatever you decide to take on, the ultimate goal is to make you happy.
8. Unwind and relax. The aim here is to clear the mind from our whirling thoughts and focus on one thing only. Naturally, the how varies from person to person. For some, exercising does the trick; for others it is knitting, dancing, or singing. Meditation has been gaining popularity these days; there are apps which help beginners to meditate. Personally, I like coloring (yes, that thing we used to do as children. I still do it). Also, I am currently giving meditation a try. You should explore what works for you.
This is the beginning of a never-ending journey to strenghten my well-being, and I hope you find some of these tips helpful as well.
How about you? What are you doing to take care of your well-being today?
In case you would like to check more, here are some of the talks I listened to: