The terms ‘wellness’ and ‘self care’ are so overused, it’s become hard to know whether they refer to selling scented candles, going to expensive spas – or actually looking after your mental health.
They’ve been commercialised – a topic explored on HuffPost’s new podcast, Chronic. At its core, ‘wellness’ should be an exercise in revealing how we’re coping with life’s toughest challenges. And during a pandemic, this feels particularly relevant.
We all strive to be ‘well’ – to be happy – but do we know how to get there?
To cut through the noise and get advice on what happiness actually means – as well as how to achieve it – we spoke to three experts in happiness to see how they’ve managed to cope throughout the pandemic.
They spend their days asking others how they’re feeling – so we decided to ask: how are you feeling?
‘I’ve tried to see some of the silver linings’
Tayyab Rashid is a clinical psychologist and project lead at the International Positive Psychology Association
“During lockdown, I felt dislocated. I’m a clinical psychologist at my university-based clinic and a father, partner, and cricket-fan at home. Lockdown leaked these roles in unfamiliar spaces.
“While I co-create solutions with my clients, at times I wished someone would ask, ‘how are you doing?’. My job is therapeutic, but also makes me weary. Every therapist needs support. Having dealt with some tough situations, I wanted to remind myself I can be, and need to be, vulnerable and let others take care of me. Being vulnerable is being human, especially during a pandemic.
“The thing I do is reduce my social media. There’s a time for us to be with others, and there’s also time for us to be away from others. I’ve taken this opportunity to be with myself. And I think that’s a lost art: to be with ourselves just doing nothing. It’s not easy, because life is so filled with stuff. Of course, I’m interested in what’s happening in the world. I don’t want to feel inundated, but informed: that is very important for my mental health.
“I’ve also tried to see some of the silver linings. This is a tragic situation, but we are in this together. The media will tell me how many people have died, but I have to reframe without sugar coating. I see what people have done as a result of the virus. I listen to my clients and ask them what positive things have happened in their lives. That increases my ability to catch those experiences and helps me feel positive emotions.
“It is, of course, difficult: a daily dose of gossip and interaction is missing. But there are acts of kindness we can do, and when we’re kind to others, we’re kind to ourselves. I always need to make sure I have the capacity to be kind before I can help others.”
‘If we expect to feel happy all the time, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment’
Vanessa King is head of psychology at Action for Happiness
“Lockdown was a strange time. I’d been experiencing Covid-type symptoms in the two weeks preceding and had to take the difficult decision not to fly up to Scotland to attend the funeral of a dear friend. It was heart-wrenching not to be there, but it was important to not risk spreading the virus if I had it. So I was already in self-isolation alone when lockdown began! When I felt better, my boyfriend moved in here for lockdown rather than two of us being on our own.
“I’m feeling stoic, now. We got through it before and this time, we’re more aware of what we need to do to keep ourselves well. I’m not usually one of life’s long term planners, but because of lockdown, I’m setting some intentions to take care of my own wellbeing – like getting out in daylight to exercise, even in the cold and rain, and developing my curry cooking skills! Also, finding ways to keep in touch with friends and family who I haven’t seen all year, checking in on others, and creating boundaries between work and home.
“It’s about managing expectations – and our own expectations. If we expect to feel happy all the time, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment: the pursuit of happiness becomes a sort of unhappiness. Life has ups and downs.
“So don’t feel bad if you feel bad. We can actually create a lot of unhappiness for ourselves in terms of rumination, catastrophisation, thinking we’re not good enough, and lack of self respect. There are times it’s right to be angry if we’ve an injustice. It’s right to be angry if we’ve lost someone, it’s normal. There are going to be times when we struggle or times when we’re sad or times when we’re angry, that is part of the rich experience of life.”
‘Don’t hope for happiness to just hit you one day’
Akanksha Parashar is a trainer at the Art of Living and founder of the Mindful Journalling Workshop
“I feel much calmer at this point in the pandemic because I’ve adopted practices that are good for my happiness and wellbeing. But it wasn’t the same in the early months of the lockdown.
“I lost my source of income, we had no help with chores at home, and someone very close was going through a mental health issue. I couldn’t go for run, see my friends, or visit my meditation studio. I was stressed, got angry easily, and I felt anxious and miserable. I was researching and studying about happiness, and also volunteering as a trainer with The Art of Living. I’ve been a meditator for seven years, but this was a time I needed to meditate more than ever. I took part in online silence retreats and solidified my meditation. I began feeling calm.
“But the thoughts in my head still bothered me. One day, I wrote them all down. I thought it was the safest way to take it all out. And to my surprise, it felt really good. I felt mentally decluttered and my mind was at peace.
“The combination of meditation and journalling – I felt l had hit a goldmine. I didn’t stop there. I was taking a Science Of Happiness course online, so I started putting stuff I learned there into practice, too – like doing random acts of kindness, experiencing awe by observing plants in my balcony more mindfully, enhancing social connection by calling friends and and family frequently and striking meaningful conversations with them. I started feeling so much better.
“I’m still work in progress. But I’m definitely more self-aware. I guess that’s the trick – instead of mindlessly wanting to feel happy all the time, create a lifestyle that prioritises positivity. Instead of hoping for happiness to hit you one day, include practices in your life to de-stress, feel positive emotions and bring more meaning in your life.”