Five great ways to promote wellbeing

Written by: Teresa Day | Published:
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This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week – May 8 to 14 – is a good excuse to focus on how you promote emotional wellbeing. Teresa Day discusses the Five Ways to Wellbeing Framework

The focus of Mental Health Awareness Week is on steps we can all take to look after our mental health. The good news is that there is a strong evidence-base for what works.

Building on the work of world experts in neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry, economics, genetics, social sciences, learning, development and systems analysis, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has produced its Five Ways to Wellbeing Framework – the mental health equivalent of the “five a day” dietary advice. These are:

  • Connect: Build connections with people around you.
  • Be active: Boost your energy and mood by doing something active.
  • Take notice: Be curious about the world and savour the moment.
  • Keep learning: Learn something new to boost your confidence and have fun.
  • Give: Do something nice for someone.

Adopting the Five Ways approach is readily achievable and has been shown to be effective in the workplace, so it is easy to see how busy and stressed school staff might really benefit. However, it could also work well as a whole-school approach, providing the opportunity to boost wellbeing for all.

The Children’s Society explored the Five Ways framework and found that it translated well when used with children and young people. They found strong evidence that four of the five recommendations work particularly well (be active, take notice, keep learning and connect) though the fifth (give) was more mixed.

They did, however, find evidence that an alternative recommendation, “creativity, imagination and play”, worked well for children.
Recently, Bridgewater Community Healthcare’s Health Improvement Team worked with local schools to devise different ways to introduce the Five Ways approach and the children came up with the GREAT acronym: Give, Relate, Exercise, Appreciate and Try something new.
There are many creative ways in which schools could use the framework to provide opportunities for staff, pupils and families to engage in supporting their mental wellbeing.

Give

Giving is really about kindness, not just money or material things. Children who have opportunities to learn things for fun have higher levels of wellbeing than those who don’t. So, for younger children, in whom “creativity, play and imagination” were shown to promote wellbeing, it can be good to offer activities that include “giving” in a broad sense. These might include making things for a charity or engaging in creative play that involves acts of kindness.

Some ideas: There are many opportunities for the whole school community to engage in ways to “give”: from simple, cost-free activities, such as “give a smile day”, to enabling children and young people to volunteer their time, both in school and out. They could support local charities, visit care homes, take part in fundraising days, ... or create a project from scratch.

Relate

This is about spending time with people, building in time for relationships and connection to others and sharing experiences, both everyday and special. It could be something as simple as children talking to their family or arranging a day out with a friend. More young people who “rarely or never” talk to their family about things that matter to them report lower levels of wellbeing (28 per cent) compared to those who do talk regularly to their family (seven per cent).

Some ideas: Offer activities in school such as peer-mentoring and circle time. Suggest the children come up with activities that will encourage them to talk in person (rather than via text or Snapchat!) and explain why that’s important. Meal-times around the table provide great opportunities to chat and share news about their day.

Exercise

Exercise is about being active, not (necessarily) about going to the gym! Walking the dog, taking the stairs instead of a lift or escalator, going for a cycle ride with a friend are all good ways of being active. Children and young people who do regular exercise have higher levels of mental wellbeing than those who don’t.

Some ideas: Provide a daily opportunity to be active, both indoors and outdoors. Building in ways to exercise and be physically active that children and young people enjoy increases the likelihood that they will do them daily and continue to do them beyond the scheduled time.

Appreciate

Taking the time to stop and notice things in our environment is surprisingly good for our wellbeing. Children and young people who notice and enjoy their surroundings on most days are significantly less likely to have low levels of wellbeing – of all the Five Ways, this seems to have the greatest impact. Practising mindfulness can also be a positive way to take notice and appreciate simple things.

Some ideas: Observe nature – set up a feeding station to watch birds or, in the spring, look out for them collecting materials for their nests. Set up an infra-red camera to capture the wildlife that visits the school grounds at night. Give opportunities for country walks, trips to the coast, planting and growing.

Try something new

Young people get a great sense of achievement when they have the chance to acquire new skills. Children who engage regularly in learning that is not school work, such as reading for fun, report better levels of wellbeing than those who don’t.

Some ideas: Provide opportunities to explore and learn about interests, hobbies and crafts such as cookery, knitting, crochet, sewing, photography and woodwork – a great chance for parents and families to be involved.

Conclusions

Adopting the Five Ways as a daily part of school life can help to cultivate an ethos that promotes wellbeing. Evidence suggests that small improvements in wellbeing can help to decrease some mental health problems and, importantly, help everyone to flourish.

  • Teresa Day is the manager of the children, young people and schools programme at the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, a charity that provides fully funded mental health training to schools. Visit www.cwmt.org.uk

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