The core of wellbeing, productivity and health in uncertain times

by Brendon Livingstone on 11/05/2020 10:00

Brendon blog post 1.1

Brendon and daughter Chelsea doing a HIIT workout at home

This article is republished from my original The core of wellbeing, productivity and health in uncertain times post in LinkedIn. 

We've all been through some big changes over the last few weeks, and a different way of life and uncertainty is set to continue over the coming weeks and months even as we go into an eased set of restrictions in Level 2.

In this post I focus on what I use to maintain my wellbeing, productivity and health. It has been beneficial for me during these turbulent circumstances, but these approaches apply to any situation including our 'life as normal' times.

The foundation of the thinking in this post comes from clinical psychologist Chantal Hofstee who has worked with Equinox IT a number of times over recent years. I've continued to explore and experiment with these ideas since she introduced them to us.

What intrigues me is that 'what is good for you' seems to be strongly aligned across the different areas of 'you'. What I mean is what is good for wellbeing is also good for productivity, immunity and overall health. I'm an insulin dependent type 1 diabetic and the ideas are also perfectly aligned to help with the management of my condition.

As we move into the different stages of COVID-19 response and then back to 'life as normal', focus on getting these core ideas into your daily routine.

Maintain consistent, good quality sleep habits

Getting 7 to 8 plus hours a night of sleep has been shown to be fundamental to your immunity, learning, performance, productivity and wellbeing, as well as reducing risk of Alzheimer's and dementia as you age.

While stuck at home or as you change routine again to return to work, you may stay up later, have less consistent wake times, and as a result get less sleep. This could impact your wellbeing, productivity and health. Getting to bed early, the same time every night, in a dark and quiet room will help.

To find out more watch Matt Walker's TED talk on Sleep is your superpower.

Eat lots of fruit and vegetables

Research shows that eating a lot of fruit and vegetables will improve both immunity, productivity and overall health. Luckily through the changing circumstances we've had good access to a variety of fresh foods, so to help keep yourself well and energised put lots of veges in your meals and replace your unhealthy snacks with fruit, berries, nuts and seeds.

I'm not asking you to become a vegan or vegetarian during these current times, just pick more healthy options when you can. My Equinox IT colleague Bill Ross put me on to Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not to Die) and I find him a valuable source of what to eat because he supports his advice with good quality scientific research. In his video Using the produce aisle to boost immune function Dr Greger shows research connecting fruit and vegetables with immunity and makes the statement "Those who eat more fruit and vegetables appear to have a lower risk of getting respiratory track infections". This has got to be a great benefit right now.

Get daily exercise

We know exercise is important for our wellbeing, immunity and productivity. The good news is you will be able to return to the gym in level 2. But you also don't need a gym to get regular exercise. I personally find it more convenient to exercise at home, and this is something I continued right through the lockdown. For example, I tend to follow high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, free on YouTube, like this one from The Body Coach. I also get out with the kids and do pull-ups and other resistance exercises on the kid's climbing frame. 

Manage your stress

Chantal Hofstee in her book 'Mindfulness on the Run' talks about three brain states:

  1. The red brain – state of stress / fight or flight, which is useful when you face a physical emergency like escaping a fire, but is counterproductive and unhealthy when this state is triggered by family, work or life challenges. In red brain, unnecessary functions, including rational thinking and immunity, are put on hold while all of the body's resources are assigned to areas essential for fight or flight.
  2. The orange brain – go-go-go state / goal oriented, where you are planning and working to achieve goals. The orange brain does not have the same risks as red brain and likewise doesn't have the same benefits as green brain.
  3. The green brain – calm and present, a state where you have all the resources of your brain available to make good decisions, be productive, have strong immunity and work smart.

Many people spend their time going between orange brain (looking to achieve) and red brain (triggered when things go wrong, timeframes become tight or there is too much going on). This negative cycle may be exacerbated during the current challenges - coordinating work, managing kids at the same time, uncertainty around job status, worrying about financial situation, being concerned for family health risks, working out how to get to the supermarket and so forth.

Chantal talks about the importance of spending more time in green brain, and using mindfulness (paying attention with kindness) as a means to get there. Mindfulness may involve many things that help train your mind to be present (not dwelling on the past or over thinking the future) and be non-judgemental. Mindfulness could involve meditation or yoga, but it can also be a range of other things to suit your preferences such as focusing on the breath; focusing on what you see, hear and feel; walking in nature; or letting go of judgemental thinking.

At Equinox IT we've started a daily remote guided meditation over Microsoft Teams, led by one of our team Reena Lather. But you can also access great free guided meditations through YouTube; I quite like The Honest Guys.

I'm also experimenting with breathing techniques such as the Wim Hof method.

Get some sun

While spending more time at home (and soon hopefully returning to the office) it is easy to forget to go outside and get some sun.

Sunlight is important for triggering the mood boosting hormone serotonin, and lack of this is often the reason people get Winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Our skin also creates vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, the immune system and cell health.

It also turns out that one of the major triggers for our body clock is exposure to light. The colour of daylight changes throughout the day with more red and orange hues in the morning and evening and more green and blue hues in the middle of the day. Getting sunlight during the day and reducing artificial light at night (which can trick your brain into thinking it is day) will help your body stay in sync and help you feel tired at night to get that important sleep I mentioned earlier.

From ideas to action

I hope this post has given you some helpful ideas that get to the core of wellbeing, productivity and good health, both in the current uncertain times, but also for the future when life returns to some level of normality. Ideas in themselves won't make a significant difference, but putting them into practice in your daily routine will.

Brendon Livingstone is Equinox IT's Marketing and Communications Manager, based in Wellington, New Zealand.

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