Five steps to better emotional well-being

Graeme Gillespie describes the five steps you can take to help you better manage your emotional well-being

Everyone facing the challenge of living with cardiomyopathy has to deal with the diagnosis, the uncertainty which follows, and the physical and emotional ups and downs of life. Trying to understand and manage cardiomyopathy while also getting on with the rest of life’s challenges can be hugely demanding. The majority of people with cardiomyopathy who responded to Cardiomyopathy UK’s online survey last year reported that the disease affects their mental health and emotional well-being at least some of the time. So too did it affect their family, friends and carers.

So what evidence is there about boosting our personal well-being?

The New Economics Foundation was tasked with reviewing the key factors associated with people’s well-being. It identified five factors, which it called the five ways to well-being (opens new window), summarised as:

  • Connect with people around you – family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Invest time in them. Building connections will support and enrich you every day.
  • Be active. Step outside. Go for a walk or run. Cycle, play a game or dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Discover a physical activity you enjoy and suits your level of mobility and fitness.
  • Take notice. Catch sight of the beautiful. Be aware of the world around you and savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Appreciate what matters to you.
  • Keep learning. Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for a course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food.
  • Give. Do something nice for a friend or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out as well as in.

Life can throw many challenges and painful struggles our way. But the five ways do highlight the evidence that, of all the many things which affect our personal well-being, the things we do or the ways we think can have the greatest impact.

Being active

The link between well-being and being active is probably something everyone knows about. But being active can be tricky if our physical health is affected by cardiomyopathy. Working out the right level of activity, neither too little nor too much, can be difficult. Your cardiologist, specialist nurse or GP should be able to advise in general terms on the types of activity which are right for you. But also look out for the way you talk to yourself about being active. Physical health problems which reduce exercise tolerance can cause huge frustration and these can be turned inwards into self-attacking thoughts.

  • Are you beating yourself up about how little you’re doing, how slow or weak you are or have become?
  • Are you dispirited by your previous relationship with activity or exercise? (‘I used to be able to do….now I can only do…..what’s the point?’ )
  • Are you encouraging and kind to yourself?

Being kind to yourself

If anything in life is a struggle, it’s always best to talk to yourself about it as you would to your own best friend rather than like a neighbour from hell.

A consistent finding in the field of positive psychology is that people feel better when they give something to others. It doesn’t seem to matter too much what we give, but the emphasis seems to be on genuine acts of kindness or help, rather than on giving money or material goods. Giving can help you connect more fully with people, as well as enhancing other people’s well-being. Taking notice refers to being truly aware of the present moment. Often our busy minds flit about from one thought to another and we become lost in rumination or worry. Our emotions can become like unhelpful mental guides, pulling us into thoughts about sad or difficult events from the past or anxieties about the future. That can lead to a vicious circle, dragging us into a downward spiral of sad or angry, irritable thoughts, and even stronger, more difficult emotions. When this happens, it is hard for us to notice what is around us in the present. We can lose touch with our surroundings, our family and friends, and even our own actions. Life can pass us by.

Recognising your thoughts

Our well-being seems to improve when we become more aware of our external and internal world. Not only do we start to be more attentive but by noticing and being mindful of our own thoughts, we are better able to step back from them. By recognising thoughts as just thoughts we can become less entangled with their content.

And our thoughts are often inaccurate, biased or irrational. So try to take time to notice what is happening in the moment. Mindfulness meditation may sound a bit new age but has been proven to be beneficial to well-being. Free Mindfulness has some downloadable meditation exercises which may help. Learning something also seems to be good for our well-being. It doesn’t seem to matter too much what we learn. It could be rediscovering something you used to be interested in. It can give us a sense of achievement, boosting our self-esteem.

Feeling connected

Connecting reminds us that we are social animals and that time spent with partners, family, friends, and colleagues is vital to our well- being. It seems that both the depth and breadth of our social relationships are important. Health problems like cardiomyopathy can lead to fatigue and low mood, which often have a knock-on effect on our relationships and tend to increase social avoidance and isolation. Spending time with friends and family, even in small doses, can help to reverse these effects.

Read more about how values can be a helpful guide to living a more fulfilled life. By linking goals in these five areas to the things that really matter to you, you can build a virtuous circle of positive actions and positive feelings. And you can even help your friends and family in the process.

Graeme Gillespie is a consultant clinical psychologist at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust.

This information is taken from an article in our magazine 'My Life'. You can read the full copy online or sign up to receive the magazine.

©Cardiomyopathy UK. 2017.