PERMAnent Wellbeing in Times of Uncertainty / 4

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 our wellbeing series looking at how the RNCM community has been keeping well and focusing on a wellbeing model developed by psychologist Martin Seligman, suggesting five ingredients for wellbeing: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

All Saints Brass

Today we zoom in on what has been highlighted as the most vital of all PERMA components and the one through which all others are amplified: Relationships.

We are social beings and have an innate need for connection. Some of us are more introverted than others, but we all need to experience connectedness and a sense of belonging in order to be well. A recent review of studies from the past 10 years found over 18,000 articles published on social relationships and health alone. Positive relationships have been linked with reduced mental illness, physical health, lower mortality risk, health-promoting behaviours, resilience, cognitive functioning and even longevity.


While physical distancing is critically important for our health at the moment, and a balanced time of solitude can be a positive experience, nurturing relationships through this phase is one of the most powerful tools to maintain our wellbeing. Consider your daily opportunities for connecting and prioritise time for them (e.g. a catch-up call, a shared meal, a fun online activity with friends, etc.).

If you are in isolation, it can be useful to agree on regular check-in times. Who can be your quaranTEAM this week? Who can you connect with? Closeness with others is linked with a boost in our oxytocin, the ‘bonding hormone’ that has a calming effect on our body. Even a short call can have a strong impact on our stress levels.

If you live with others, what are those things you can do together that you may not normally have time for? Planning for moments of shared fun can be among our most valuable tools for building resilience. At the same time, consider investing in the habit of sharing good news with each other.

We can also plan for those RNCM spontaneous encounters with colleagues that we are now missing. Come join the RNCM Elevenses, an online tea break that Michelle Phillips is running for all staff and students, 11-11.30am each day. It’s been a great way of staying in touch and of sharing fun stories of our lockdown experiences.

Kindness is contagious too!

Times of crisis are an opportunity to reveal the best in us. Psychologists refer to moral elevation as our emotional response when witnessing acts of virtue, kindness, bravery and moral beauty. We feel uplifted, optimistic about humanity, and motivated to engage in similar behaviours.

This is an excellent time to practice daily acts of kindness. For example, sending a care package, cards, or online photobook with special memories, helping neighbours, offering emotional support and encouragement, or sharing things you’ve learned. In what ways can we make a positive difference to someone else today?

The hidden struggles

Everyone is facing unexpected challenges and dealing with some degree of stress as a result of COVID-19. Sometimes the people we interact with are going through situations we do not know about. Some of us are worried about loved ones or have gone through loss. We might be supporting vulnerable people, struggling with financial uncertainty, finding it hard to stay motivated or experiencing severe mood fluctuations.

Not only do we experience different struggles, we also have different ways of expressing ourselves in challenging times. We might find it hard to focus, or over-engage with activities for long hours to distance ourselves. Some can find themselves displaying unexpected irritability or extreme emotional reactions. As we aim to maintain our wellbeing through this time, it is important to consider not only how we are feeling individually, but also how we all feel. This is a time to build our tolerance, understanding and forgiveness. And as we practise kindness towards others, let’s keep exercising it towards ourselves as well!

Alice Flannery, SU President

This week we had a chat with Alice Flannery, our SU president, to check how she is boosting the PERMA elements these days. Here’s what Alice shared:

‘I have found my daily dog walk the best way to relax, reflect and think optimistically. I can’t decide whether it’s lockdown or getting older that has made me suddenly realise and truly appreciate the beauty of nature! The sounds of birdsong, the bright colours of trees and the beautiful sky have suddenly become something I’m focusing on, helping me to relax, gain some perspective and feel positive. 

‘I feel it’s more important than ever to be nurturing our relationships with friends, family, neighbours and fellow musicians. We all need somebody to talk to and lean on at the moment. I tend to come out of a video call feeling far more positive and calm again and I like to think that the same benefits apply to the other person on the line too!

‘I think the whole world has stopped and suddenly realised that some of the things we previously valued as the most paramount importance, actually might not be. I’d say that kindness, compassion and good health are key to our livelihood and perhaps we forget that during the hectic nature of daily life.

‘By keeping connected with friends and family, doing our bit by social distancing and taking more time to reflect, I feel we are contributing amazingly to something larger than ourselves. 

Alice and her brother walking their dog

‘Along with most people, it has been a struggle to get into a routine and maintain motivation to keep working from home. I’ve found it very important to keep reminding myself that this time isn’t easy, that I should cut myself some slack and use my inner-voice positively, in the same way I would speak to a friend struggling.

‘I have found that sticking to ‘weekdays are work days’ and ‘weekends are for rest’ is a healthy way of working hard, making progress but also taking good care of your own health, mentally and physically. Now is a great chance to have some fun, explore what you enjoy and take up new skills.

‘I started 100 days of practise on the clarinet (I’d never played a note before) and it has been a great laugh, plus something to look forward to each day!’

We love hearing your thoughts on wellbeing! Keep sending them through to [email protected].

30 April 2020