Wellbeing, it’s elemental. Part 3: Earth

Whilst the education world has raged about the efficacy of grades, we’ve been trying to keep things chilled whilst the middle students and the youngest await their what were Centre Assessment grades for A Level and GCSE. Many of my fellow teachers have their internal barometer switched permanently to outrage. I am a  mother who feels the best approach for my own children is not to get sucked into this vortex of destruction and to be ready to support them on to the next stage whatever happens. And so I am keeping myself grounded in the shady parts of the garden.

There has been ample evidence that gardening is good for you. Obviously fresh air and homegrown produce – be it food or flowers is beneficial to your health, along with the green gym aspects of gardening as a hobby. Certainly cutting the hedge by hand and mowing our small patch of lawn with a push mower is a great workout. Nurturing seedlings, keeping vigilant to an attack of pests and dealing swiftly with it, planning ahead by ordering bulbs, taking failures on the chin and knowing next time things will be different is all good for your mental health. But did you know that even putting your hands in the soil can increase serotonin levels?

Contact with soil and a specific soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, triggers the release of serotonin in our brain according to research, a natural anti-depressant way of strengthening the immune system.

So, what are you waiting for? Find a shady patch to nurture and feel the benefits.

Snowdrops

It’s blowing a hoolie. I’ve spent all afternoon watching the eldest teen taking part in a cycle race under dour skies. But there’s a log fire crackling and signs of life in the garden. I don’t usually pick snowdrops but I planted a few in the green last year especially for cutting after the twinkly lights and Christmas bunting have been packed away until November.

Charming, aren’t they?

Wellbeing on a budget

My son and his friends are heading back to university. It’s fair to say some of them have not quite got on top of establishing a routine during their first term. There’s been a lot of socialising, making new friends, trying new activities and coping with the inevitable Freshers’ flu. After a long relaxing summer and the much freer approach to attendance at lectures, seminars and tutorials, it’s hard. Even the fairly strict training schedule of a competitive cyclist can go awry if illness and socialising are to the fore in the early weeks at university.

 

It started me thinking about how to maintain wellbeing and feel productive when money is tight. It’s relatively easy if you have the money to indulge in some retail therapy, plan a weekend away, have a spa day, buy some paint and redecorate a room in your flat or house, go to the cinema or splash out on some special food. When you have to count every penny you need to be a bit more creative.

Here  are my top tips for keeping healthy in the full sense of the word when you have no spare cash.

The comments in bold are for my son.

1. Sleep well
Pulling the odd all-nighter and having a late night out with your friends every now and then is a given fir students, but not getting enough sleep affects chemicals in the brain which can make us feel low and anxious. So, make sure you get as many good nights’ sleep as possible to feel refreshed and recharged – you’ll wake up with a more positive attitude ready to take on the day ahead.

Note to son – getting up early is also a good idea.

2. Stay active
Regular activity and exercise is not only good for your waistline and physical health, but also for your mental health and wellbeing. When you exercise you’ll see an immediate boost in your overall mood because your body releases chemicals (endorphins) and these endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body. And you don’t need to run marathons to be active, even a brisk walk around the local park will help!

10/10 for this if you are a member of the Swansea University Road Cycling Team

3. Help others
Whether it’s volunteering in the community, raising money for a good cause or a simple random act of kindness, helping others can make us feel good and improve our self-esteem, whilst reducing stress and negative feelings.

You know it makes sense and you’re a charming and responsible member of society.

4. Socialise with others
Long periods of being alone and isolated aren’t healthy, so interact with people regularly and grow your friendship network. Chat with others on your course, introduce yourself to fellow residents at your accommodation, join clubs and societies, get involved with any events at your university/college, accommodation or student’s union, volunteer in the community and embrace any work opportunities.

This needs no further work. You’re doing just fine!

5. Enjoy yourself
University isn’t just about studying and deadlines. It’s important to have fun, laugh as much as possible and enjoy yourself. Whether it’s playing a team sport, watching the latest movie at the cinema, catching up with friends over dinner or getting lost in a novel, be sure to make time for doing the things that make you happy.

Another one you’ve cracked already.

6. Maintain a balanced diet
Reaching for the convenience foods and sugary snacks might be an easy option as a student but they’re not the healthiest. These sugary foods are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream which may cause an initial ‘high’ or surge of energy, but it will soon wear off as the body increases its insulin production, leaving you feeling tired and low. However, a balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by eating a well-balanced diet containing adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water.

I know it’s a hassle and you’ve made a start by bulk cooking healthy stuff at home and taking it back for the freezer in your student digs but there’s work to be done here.

7. Stay hydrated
Similar to your diet, you should maintain a health intake of fluids. Avoid drinks high in caffeine, or at least drink them in moderation, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, particularly if you are drinking alcohol. If you don’t drink enough water, you’ll become dehydrated which can cause headaches and make you feel tired and dizzy.

Drinking loads of water is second nature to you. Top of the class.

8. Establish a routine
Remember when you had a timetable of lessons, regular training sessions, regular mealtimes and got up at pretty much the same time every day? You got loads done and still had time to socialise, hold down a part-time job and binge watch episodes of Sherlock or Game of Thrones, didn’t you? Now you get to establish your own weekly timetable.

Just do it.

9. Grow some herbs
Nurturing a windowsill full of green stuff you can use to spice up your cooking is beneficial on all levels – improving your environment, looking after something living, improving your cooking…..even if that’s buying a few potted herbs from the supermarket.

Trust me on this one – I know what I’m talking about.

Following these simple tips will help to improve your health and well-being whilst at university. However, if you do experience any problems throughout your studies, no matter how big or small they may be, you should always speak to someone and seek advice.

To everything there is a season…

Apples courtesy of Habitat Aid.

I’m back to school at the end of this week after a summer when, as ever, I completed about half of the tasks on my list. Note the use of the word ‘completed’. The garden is in better shape than it was at the beginning of July, some decorating has been finished, books have been read and chutney made with produce as it comes into season. It’s a bumper year for. Apples. They’ve been falling from the trees for weeks. I spent a happy half hour in Grandad’s London garden sorting the good from the bad with the aid of a ‘sorter’ fashioned from an old brush handle and a plank of wood. (You can never retire from engineering!)

This year we have a phased back to school and work routine. Next week one of the bright young things returns to school, the middle one returns a few days later (after a week of work experience) and the eldest starts at University after that. Ample opportunity to indulge the family stationery fetish! I’m sure all teachers have one.

One of the great joys of life is the pleasure you can take from the changing seasons – not just the way nature, the garden, the weather, the light changes but all those rituals associated with different times of year. I have a sizeable bulb order arriving within the next few weeks. That will take up a few evenings after school in the new term. There is apple chutney to make, quince jelly to create, the chimney to be swept, logs to order, a Christmas cake to prep in October. The list goes on.

Whilst I’ll miss the not so lazy days of summer there are pleasures aplenty to come in every season. They give a shape and familiarity to the year which energises the body and quietens the soul. Modern society can leave us cocooned from seasonality. Centrally heated houses can feel the same all year round, you can put fresh strawberries on a pavlova in February and keep your Christmas lights up all year round. That’s not for me.

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