Updated: May 3
It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that the recommended strategies for improving wellbeing and reducing negative states like stress and anxiety are often similar. The basics of a happier life are quite straight-forward, so here are 5 simple evidence-based strategies to incorporate into your daily routine. Admittedly, it’s never quite as easy as that is it, because life tends to get in the way of our best intentions. The main thing I want you to remember is that improving wellbeing is an ongoing process. You can’t tick things off a list and be ‘done’, you have to take consistent action every day! In addition, understand that even if you do these things every day, you aren’t necessarily going to feel happy every day – and that’s normal. Accepting life’s ups and downs is important to achieving contentment (see point 4 on being more stoic).
1. Social contact
Positive social relationships are key predictors of happiness and wellbeing. This includes partners, friends and families, but also brief conversations with strangers. Try and talk to at least one person every day, face-to-face, on the phone, or on a video call. Make sure these people make you laugh and are on your side. If you can include some form of altruism in this social contact, all the better: giving can be of huge value to both the giver and receiver.
While the physical benefits of exercise are well-known, moving your body is also incredibly beneficial for your psychological wellbeing. Exercise releases endorphins, one of the family of ‘happy hormones’, improving mood and reducing stress. Any form of movement or exercise is good for us but as this is a website dedicated to dance psychology I am of course going to recommend dance – my own research has shown that dancing can provide emotional release, opportunities for self-expression, and may enable us to experience a flow state. This is where we are lost in the moment, completely focused on what we are doing and free from self-consciousness and distractions. It’s a wonderful feeling that takes us out of ourselves and makes us forget about our problems. Often when we come out of a flow state, our problems don’t seem quite so bad.
3. Get outside
Being in nature is great for wellbeing – whether it’s ‘forest bathing’ where we can breathe in phytoncides that reduce heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels, or enjoying the calming effects of being near water. Being outdoors also exposes us to natural light which is of critical importance in stabilising our circadian rhythm (which governs sleep, another key component of mental health) and boosting Vitamin D, which can improve mood, sleep, and ward off depression (particularly seasonal affective disorder). Early morning exposure to daylight in particular can help us to feel more energised.
4. Go with the flow
I’m cheating here as this is a two-parter: firstly, find a way you can experience a flow state. I’ve suggested dance as a flow activity above but there are lots of others you can try – yoga, painting, reading, gardening, doing crosswords… The main point is that you are actively engaged in what you’re doing. Passively staring at the TV doesn’t count!
The second part of going with the flow is about channelling your inner Stoic: accept that there are many things you cannot control. There is so much uncertainty in life, so try to problem-solve the things that are under your control, and let go of the things that aren’t. This is a difficult one to do if you are a lifelong control-freak or perfectionist, but understand that ruminating over things that you cannot change only makes you feel worse.
5. Practice gratitude
Noticing the good in our lives makes us feel better: a daily gratitude practice can have long-term benefits including improved mood, self-esteem, and optimism. Writing 3 things that you’re grateful for each day and why is a great way to practice gratitude. It can be big things – being grateful for your health, your family, a particular project or performance, etc., - or small – like the lovely sunset tonight or that you felt good in your outfit choice today. Try doing this in the morning to start your day off on a positive note, or in the evening to help you process the day.
If you have enjoyed this article and would benefit from some guidance to help, book in for a coaching session with me!
A version of this article originally appeared on One Dance UK's website here.