Are YOU OK? Fitting your own oxygen mask is also essential

Are YOU OK? Fitting your own oxygen mask is also essential

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Today in workplaces, homes and schools across Australia, people are asking each other, ‘are you ok?’ as part of the annual RU OK? Day.

While many of us will jump at reaching out to others to check on whether they are OK, it is important to reflect on your own wellness. This is especially essential considering the additional social isolation challenges COVID-19 is presenting.

As Kath Kosch (Founder of the Kindness Foundation) says “similar to plane safety procedures, it is important to fit your own mask on first, before helping others.”

Below, I share a number of science-backed behavioural and mindset strategies to help you take care of your own wellbeing.

Tip #1 Stop and reflect

Schedule time to reflect on your own wellbeing. Bringing your awareness to what you are experiencing and how you are feeling is important. Research suggests those who are self-aware often experience better mental health outcomes, better decision making, enhanced self-confidence and improved job-related wellbeing.

You can stop and reflect through journaling, yoga and meditation classes, engaging in a mindless task. Even just sitting in a quiet room, closing your eyes, focusing your attention on your breath and allowing yourself to think about your feelings, beliefs and sensations can improve your self-awareness.

Take time to consider your thoughts, but also your unhealthy coping behaviours. Are you covering your inner-tense emotions with a smile (what researchers term surface acting), or avoiding situations all together (avoidance coping) by consuming excessive alcohol, food, or avoiding certain situations or people?

Tip #2 Be kind to yourself

Take time to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Realise you are human. You will struggle mentally at times, make mistakes, need breaks and/or time to grieve. Being kind to yourself and accepting your emotional state is associated with mental health benefits such as greater happiness, life satisfaction, fewer emotional difficulties and less anxiety.

If you are struggling with your work-identity or home-identity, remember we have at least 700 identities that contribute to our sense of self. Focus on the identities that make you most proud or give you the most fulfilment (i.e. are you a parent, a son, daughter, photographer, or even mad football fan etc.?)

Tip #3 Reframe your thoughts

Think positive about future outcomes. When we are going through tough times, we tend to think things will be permanent (consequences will last forever), pervasive (consequences will affect all areas of life) and personal (the belief we are at fault).

Studies have shown that children and adults who reframe their thinking to be more optimistic about situations (I will get through this, the consequences will not last forever, this will not impact all aspects of my life, and this is not my fault) experience better personal and professional outcomes and recover quicker from hardship. If you can picture yourself getting through a crisis and adopting a growth mindset, you are more likely to experience growth from that event (termed “Post Traumatic Growth”).

Tip #4 Be vulnerable

A big part of R U OK Day is starting a conversation. Share your uncomfortable thoughts and experiences with others. Vulnerability not only helps you get things off your chest, vulnerability can inspire others to share their own uncomfortable thoughts and experiences.

People connect more when discussing vulnerabilities. Vulnerability breeds a sense of belonging and trust and can inspire collective action.

Tip #5 Focus on quality relationships

Help people feel seen. Making people feel “seen” even via a 40 second-positive, caring
interaction can reduce feelings of loneliness and create quality connections for yourself and for others. Positive social support makes us feel less lonely and is tied to greater psychological and physical wellness.’

We are 30 times more likely to laugh when interacting with others; making us feel happier by releasing the happiness hormone in our brain (dopamine) and strengthening our bonds with people.

Reap the benefits of a quality relationship by performing a small favour for someone, disclose something about yourself, show a genuine interest in the other person, or look for surprising commonalities between you and the other person.

Tip #6 Be kind to others

Perform an act of kindness. Kindness can help improve feelings of happiness and reduce stress and improve emotional wellbeing.

Saying thank you or expressing gratitude may be one way to do this. Many studies have found expressing gratitude benefits you and others. It can improve your happiness, reduce anxiety and depression and even positively impact your sleep and immune response (see the full rundown of benefits here)

Tip #7 Re-evaluate your routine

Check in on your routine. Researchers have found that people who engage in routines experience a higher sense of purpose in life. You may want to focus on spending more time engaging in activities that currently provide you with meaning and happiness, or establish new habits.

You may also want to leverage an accountability partner or commitment referee whereby you share your goals with others who hold you accountable. As part of your routine, remember to also focus on your physical wellbeing. Sleep (7-9 hours per
night), eat well and exercise

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