If the past year of lockdowns, working from home and social distancing has taught us anything, it’s the importance of taking care of our health and wellbeing.
During a time when our homes moonlighted as workspaces and access to our usual vices – fitness facilities, cafes, and so on – was cut off, many of us witnessed firsthand the connection between wellbeing and work. How, when our health isn’t prioritised, our work often suffers. Yet, when we invest time into taking care of our health and wellbeing, we often see it reflected in our work, either through increased productivity, output, quality or satisfaction.
A 2019 survey looking into mental health in the workplace revealed that 62% of employees had taken a day off in the last year due to anxiety, depression or stress, an indication that mental wellbeing has a huge influence on our ability to work, not only efficiently, but at all. Poor mental health is literally stopping people from working, full stop.
Over the years, I have trialled many health and wellbeing rituals with the goal of simply feeling my best and, as a result, have seen a positive ripple effect on the way that I work. Of course, rituals can’t replace professional help in the case of mental health problems that affect the quality of your daily life. But they can, I have found, help to relieve stress, restore calm, and boost inspiration, creativity and productivity.
5 health and wellbeing rituals that have changed the way I work (for the better)
1. Mindfulness for wellbeing
Mindfulness has different meanings to different people. To me, being mindful means being aware and present, both things which help to significantly improve my mental wellbeing and, as a result, the way that I work.
There are many ways you can practice mindfulness – journaling, movement or even finding mental space during everyday activities like showering or washing dishes, for instance – but I like to section off a window of time every day to meditate and breathe. These practices help me to observe and relieve any stress, tension or anxiety and restore a feeling of calm so I’m better prepared to take on any challenges throughout the day.
You can practice meditation and breathwork anywhere and at any time (lying in bed or on the train whilst commuting to work, for example), but I like to find a quiet space – usually, my garden studio where I can get the fire going – roll out my yoga mat and light a soy candle to get me in the zone.
2. Yoga and pilates
Some people feel energised after a run, some are raring to go after a strength training session. Me? I feel my best following a yoga flow or pilates class.
Movement can trigger endorphin release – those happy hormones which have you feeling like you’re bubbling over with energy – and can also help with feelings of stress and anxiety.
When I manage to work movement into my morning routine I feel calm and more present, and I’m less likely to be distracted or overwhelmed by looming deadlines. Yoga with Adriene is my go-to for challenging virtual classes.
3. Tech-free time for my mental health
Excessive screen time can leave me feeling drained and sapped of creativity, so scheduling frequent breaks and tech-free time helps me to better manage my mental wellbeing and produce my best work without distraction.
My first rule is that I don’t check my phone until I sit down at my desk at 9 AM. Having a full morning to myself allows me to get my day off to the best start, instead of feeling stressed before I’ve even started working.
I put my phone on flight mode when I’m working on a project, and I set regular alarms to step away from my workspace, away from screens, and do something that makes me feel refreshed (like going for a walk, grabbing a bite to eat or taking a few minutes to meditate) before getting stuck into work again.
In the evenings, I take time away from tech to eat dinner with the family – strictly no phones at the table – and I read before bed to limit blue-light exposure. I steer clear of my inbox outside of my work hours, and I try to limit social media scrolling too.
4. Prioritising sleep hygiene
Research has found that several sleepless nights can result in brain fog, difficulty concentrating and making decisions and low mood – not ideal for productivity or creativity.
Personally, when my sleep is disturbed, I find that I struggle to focus, so every task takes three times as long as it would were I feeling energised.
Prioritising sleep hygiene helps me to avoid the brain fog and work as efficiently (not to mention feel as good) as possible. I aim for eight hours where possible, and schedule wind-down time before bed where I avoid blue light from screens, get cosy in my reading corner and read a few pages of a book. I also try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day to keep my body clock in sync.
As surroundings can also impact the quality of your sleep, I like to make sure my bedroom is styled in a way that’s sleep-promoting. I have chosen a neutral, calming colour palette, and have filled the room with lots of natural textures. The bedroom is a no-go zone for tech, so there’s no TV and phones are left to charge elsewhere in the house overnight.
Check out The Sleep Scientist for advice on creating positive sleep habits.
5. Spending time in nature
Even just 10 minutes spent outside can be a game-changer when it comes to boosting creativity and relieving feelings of stress. Personally, walking daily helps me to process and resolve problems easier and replenish mental energy so, more often than not, I return feeling inspired and full of ideas.
And research has found that benefits of being around nature aren’t only to be had in the great outdoors. One study concluded that having plants in an office could increase productivity by 15% – which, speaking as someone with a house full of foliage, I can completely understand. Incorporating nature – potted plants and natural textures – into my home and my home office has done nothing but good for my mental wellbeing, and – with the exception of actually being outside – there’s nowhere I feel happier or more inspired.
If you enjoyed reading this post, check out my top 8 tips for improving time management to boost productivity.