“Waste not thy well-being, for it is thy wealth." --Lailah Gifty Akita
Well-being matters. You may be saying to yourself, “How can I think about well-being when I have so many other things to worry about? I'll worry about my well-being later when I have time."
These are understandable thoughts, especially when we don’t all have the same idea about what exactly well-being includes. But taking steps to improve your well-being will actually help you be able to tackle all those challenges that we face in everyday life.
Well-being in simple terms relates to feeling good. And that includes positive emotions and moods, satisfaction and fulfillment with life, and positive functioning in the world. Researchers look at physical, emotional, economic, social, developmental, and psychological factors when they study well-being to figure out if it affects how we live.
And it turns out that well-being matters a lot. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), higher levels of well-being are associated with decreased disease risk, less illness, fewer injuries, a stronger immune system, higher work productivity, and increased length of life.
WAYS TO INCREASE YOUR WELL-BEING
Increasing your well-being does not mean that you have to close your eyes to the reality of what’s going on in the world. It does not mean you have to devote hours to this endeavor or read a stacks of self-help books to figure out how to do it. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money.
There are some simple steps you can take that will make a difference. The bonus here is that the steps support and build on each other. You will feel like moving if you have a good night’s rest. And then you will be more likely to remember to pause and breathe when you aren’t sluggish and sleep-deprived.
Here are a few ways to get started:
The value of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated. Sleep is one of those components of well-being that influences everything else. Research has shown that sleep affects our mood, energy, learning, memory, appetite, metabolism, immune system, and cardiovascular health. According to sleep scientist Matthew Walker, “sleep is your life-support system and Mother Nature's best effort yet at immortality.”
So what are the keys to getting a good night’s sleep?
First, look at your sleep environment and make sure it is dark, quiet and cool. The optimal temperature for good sleep is between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit but varies on people’s comfort level.
Next, keep the devices out of the bedroom. This is easier said than done, but it can make a big difference especially in terms of light exposure and distraction.
Lastly, focus less on trying to sleep and more on letting go. There is a counterproductive effect of worrying, as it leads to increased difficulty falling asleep. Having a wind-down period before sleep, doing simple stretches, and even keeping a notepad at the bedside to write down last-minute thoughts can help with relaxation at bedtime.
You have likely heard the saying that “sitting is the new smoking.” Our bodies need to move. Like sleep, movement helps our whole bodies—from our brains to our heart to our immune system and beyond. Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert once said, “We have a brain for one reason and one reason only – that’s to produce adaptable and complex movements. Movement is the only way we have affecting the world around us.”
Do this mean you need to start training for a marathon or go to the gym every day? Not at all. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need just 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. That could be five 30-minute sessions, or it could be even smaller chunks of time broken up throughout the week.
And as for the perfect activity? A mix of aerobic (cardiovascular) and muscle-strengthening activity is best. And truly, the best activity for any one person is the activity they are most likely to do.
Tend your mind
This last one is often the most challenging. Our minds are distraction-seeking machines, and these days there is never a shortage of stimulation to grab our attention. And that would be helpful, even lifesaving, if we were in threatening situations, say with large-toothed predators. Having periods of quiet with time for reflection is important for our well-being too. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have benefits for chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.
And good news, you don’t have to join a yoga studio (though you can if you want) or sign up for a week-long silent retreat (you can certainly do that too). Just pausing, taking a few mindful breaths, and being aware of thoughts coming and going is enough. That, in fact, is a fantastic start.
Over time, you may notice that you are just a little less reactive and perhaps can engage in situations a little more thoughtfully. According to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, “If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.”
A PLACE TO START
There are certainly other components to well-being, but starting with these areas provides a good foundation. Taking care of yourself means that you will have the strength, resiliency, and good health to engage with the world and achieve your goals.
“We create our future self by default or design.” --Nicole Cody
There is a lot in the world that we can't control, but taking steps to improve well-being is one action that is well-worth the effort.