PERMAnent Wellbeing in Times of Uncertainty / 2

At a time of unpredictability and change, RNCM Lecturer in Musician’s Health and Wellbeing Sara Ascenso explores how to maintain our mental health and wellbeing.

We are continuing with our wellbeing series looking at how the PERMA model of wellbeing can help us during these challenging times. This model was developed by psychologist Martin Seligman and suggests five ingredients for wellbeing: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

Today we focus on Positive Emotions. Some common positive emotions include joy, gratitude, serenity, love, amusement, inspiration, and awe.

Wellbeing research has highlighted the tremendous impact of positive emotions across a range of life outcomes such as our physical health, immunity, longevity, psychological stability and cognitive performance (for example, our capacity to think clearly and solve problems). Positive emotions also help us bounce back quicker after challenging times.

Many of us are experiencing a variety of negative emotions, triggered by the loss, uncertainty and constraints associated to the pandemic. Our days may seem like emotional roller coasters at times. Negative emotions are an important part of human experience and it’s good to allow ourselves time to notice and express them. Crucial for our general wellbeing however, will be how we balance our negative emotional experiences with the positive ones, making sure positivity greatly outnumbers negativity. There is some influence of genetics in our capacity to experience positive emotions, but all of us can purposefully cultivate them daily. Here are a few suggestions for the next few weeks.

Prioritise self-care

Our self-care routines have a big impact on our emotional wellbeing. In these exceptional circumstances it is important to make sure we prioritise them.

This includes eating healthy meals, staying hydrated, exercising regularly and getting good rest. Disrupted sleep is a common response we might experience. Avoiding screens before sleeping, reducing caffeine intake and creating a restful environment can be helpful. Talking about the pandemic may become an essential part of how we cope. However, to optimise our sleep it can be useful to avoid doing this too close to bedtime.

Take it one day at a time

Focusing on the present moment is another way to help increase our positive emotions. When we notice that worry about the future and uncertainty start to dominate, it’s worth taking a mindful pause and practice focusing on one day at a time. We focus on taking care of what needs to get done today. Sometimes we can use an even smaller timeframe: what do I need to do in the next hour?

As we slow down, we can also make sure we appreciate our moments of joy and contentment, no matter how small. When we are noticing and savouring the present moments without rushing, we are giving our brain a chance to process them better, boosting our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters and helping elevate our mood.

Practise gratitude

A large number of fascinating studies have been highlighting how the regular practice of appreciating the goodness in our lives can be a tremendous game changer when it comes to improving our wellbeing.

We can experience gratitude for big and small things and people have found different ways to practise it effectively, such as keeping a simple gratitude diary (what am I grateful for today?), writing regular thank-you letters or emails, or setting time to sit in quiet reflection.

Balance news consumption

As the COVID-19 situation is developing so quickly, sometimes it may feel like we need to be constantly following the news. What we hear will often trigger negative emotions. It is very important to stay updated and understand the risk, but enduring an excessive exposure to this topic can be damaging.

The World Health Organization recommends limiting our engagement with information about the pandemic. We can do this through setting a specific time for updates, just once or twice a day; seeking news only from trusted sources; turning off automatic notifications on our phone and even taking a break from the news and social media for a day, if needed.

Care for others

We will look closer at connection with others in a couple of weeks on our post about the Relationships element of PERMA. Nurturing our relationships and intentionally showing kindness during this phase will be another very significant source of positive emotions for all involved.

John Habron, RNCM Head of Music Education

After thinking about some ways to enhance our experience of positive emotions these days, we wanted to find out more about how our RNCM community is staying well. We had a chat with John Habron, Head of Music Education, who shared some of his current PERMA strategies.

‘Exercise helps me mentally and physically, for example I tend to sleep better if I have exercised. I’ve made sure to continue moving during this time (usually a short run) and am just grateful that the current restrictions allow for daily exercise.

‘There’s a lot of anxiety around the pandemic and I’ve been affected by this, especially as I have older, vulnerable relatives. Sometimes the news can be quite dramatic, as well as tragic. So, I’ve been rationing myself and tuning in only infrequently. I find listening to radio instead of watching TV sometimes helps, as images can be disturbing.

One of John’s photos of his garden in bloom

‘We’re very lucky to have a garden and we’ve been spending time there, or going for walks nearby. I’ve found myself paying more attention to the birdsong, the insect life, and the wildflowers blossoming. Just taking the time to notice the natural world can help me feel connected to something bigger than myself and appreciate what life has to offer.

‘We’ve also been able to help by supporting a local NHS worker. It felt good to be doing something small towards a national effort. Reaching out and helping others always gives me a sense of meaning and purpose.

‘Staying connected is so important. My parents had their 50th anniversary a week ago, but had to cancel their party. Nevertheless, we managed to get the family together online. It made a huge difference to us all. I’ve also been using social media to stay connected with friends and family, and have enjoyed some of the postings showing the many ways people are staying positive.’

To find out know more about positive emotions research, check out the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory here.

Feel free to share about your own PERMA strategies: [email protected]. We would love to hear from you!

Please remember that there is always help available. If you would like to receive support by a member of the RNCM counselling team, please contact [email protected].

16 April 2020