The Mind: Meaningful Activity and Stress Management
“All of humanity’s problems stem from people’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
― Blaise Pascal, Pensées
What do you do during the hours that you are awake? This seems like a simple question – but it is a question we don’t often ask ourselves. Put another way: Why would you feel good if you are not doing things that feel nourishing, enjoyable, that give you a sense of purpose, or where you are learning and mastering new skills? One of the most effective treatments for depression – Behavioural Activation Treatment – is predicated on this behavioural model of depression – the fact that engaging in enjoyable or productive activities leads to a sense of wellbeing and improved mood – thus further encouraging the behaviour. This is the origin of the phrase motion before emotion. If we wait around for motivation we may be waiting a very long time. So when we are feeling demotivated we take small steps toward building meaningful and enjoyable activity into our lives.
Doing – Not Thinking.
The world of happiness research has provided some fascinating results over the years. The one that has always struck me as most powerful is this: We know that there are differences in thinking styles between happy and unhappy people (and between depressed and non-depressed people). Happy people tend to dwell and over-think less. There is evidence that when unhappy people are distracted by engaging activity their thinking styles and behaviour become just like happy people. That is to say that unhappy people – when they are occupied – are indistinguishable from happy people.
Having a lot of idle time to ourselves (which is even more likely in the context of national lockdown) is probably, from an evolutionary point of view, an unnatural state and gives us an opportunity to ruminate. Rumination, or negative self-focused attention, is strongly related to depression and anxiety and to the persistence of symptoms and is a key causative factor in multiple common mental disorders. Attentional focus on other behaviour – such as meditation or meaningful activity – brings the attention away from rumination and may alleviate the corrosive effect. Psychologist Stephen Ilardi conceptualises engaging and enjoyable activity as “anti-ruminative activity”.
People vary as much with respect to what activities they find interesting and enjoyable just about as much as they vary in any other way. At Betterspace we know that people need a wide variety of different activities to find the things that work for them. This is consistent with the research on happiness which has identified person-activity fit as one of the moderating influences on whether a particular wellbeing activity influences a person’s happiness
TopTip: Take a moment to consider what are the activities that align with your Values, give you a sense of Learning or Mastery, give you Connection, and give you Enjoyment.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
― William James
No matter how resilient and happy you are, this period of uncertainty and disruption will inevitably throw up significant stress – some of which we will be prepared for and some of which will blind-side us.
Stress means anything that pushes us out of balance. We are evolved for short periods of stress but we are routinely exposed to long periods of stress and adversity. Short term stress is adaptive. You can’t get smarter, more skilled, or stronger without some pain – as anyone who has ever been to the gym or learnt to play an instrument will tell you. The harmful effects are consequent upon both the psychological attitude to short term stress, and the chronic health effects of long term stress.
One of the vital life skills that helps us navigate an often difficult and uncertain world is the development of ways to countervail the corrosive effects of stress. There are scores of different schools of thought on how one best does this. At Betterspace we use a range of strategies – from cognitive therapies, mindfulness and other third-wave therapies, and positive psychology, as well as problem-specific (e.g. financial stress) strategies. It is probably most correct to say that each person will respond to – and find most useful – a different tool or set of tools. And different tools will be most useful to us at different stages of our lives – or in response to a different set of problems. We all benefit from developing new ways to think, behave, relate to others, and rest and recuperate. At Betterspace we have spent the past three years curating the best available resources – both free and paid – for managing stress and thriving especially for times when we feel overwhelmed.
Top Tip: Everyone is different and needs different things at different times. Find what works for you at this particular time.
Last week we addressed the biological functions that support the brain and wellbeing Exercise and Sleep. This week, we explored the benefits of nourishing the mind through Meaningful Activity and Stress Management. In the final instalment of The Origin of the Six Pillars of Wellbeing, we will discuss the need for social sustenance through Social Interaction and Altruism.
BetterSpace is the employee wellbeing platform putting control where it belongs: in the hands of the individual employee. Our groundbreaking solution has been developed with medical and domain expertise and is aligned to our Six Pillars of Wellbeing. BetterSpace empowers your workforce to understand and fulfill their mental health needs.
This approach has achieved engagement rates of 94%, compared to the average usage rate of 2-18% for Employee Assistance Programmes and 10-40% for points solutions.
Want to know more? Schedule a product demonstration with us today.
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