25 Jun 2020
Covid-19 has added another layer of stress in a world where we’re already dealing with busy anxiety-ridden lives. We were thrilled to have an amazing group of health and wellbeing professionals host a webinar to help us better cope during these trying times. Here's a comprehensive summary of all the fantastic information they provided.
Here at Engineering New Zealand, we feel strongly about the role good mental health plays in resilience and wellbeing. We’re constantly looking for ways we can better deliver the support and information our members need to make good decisions around their mental health. This webinar was part of that journey. Stay tuned and look out for some exciting developments in this space during the coming months.
Our expert panellists included:
- Claire Turnbull, a Registered nutritionist and fitness guru, who shared her expertise in physical wellbeing.
- Dr Dougal Sutherland, Clinical Psychologist from Umbrella Health, who spoke about mental health, and social wellbeing.
- Dr Nigel George, Clinical Psychologist from Umbrella Health, who explained what it means to take a dimensional approach to wellbeing, as well as sharing his wisdom around spiritual health.
A dimensional approach to wellbeing
There are many different approaches to wellbeing – including Te Whare Tapa Whā, a great model created by Sir Mason Durie, which provides a Māori perspective and a useful way for us to think about health as a whare or house.
Panellists enlightened members with their wisdom and tips and introduced us to the concept of looking at our wellbeing through the lens of four different dimensions – physical, spiritual, mental and social – each of which play a pivotal role in our overall equilibrium.
It’s often thought the physical dimension is the main determiner of our health. However, the other dimensions also massively impact our overall wellbeing. So, it’s important we keep all four dimensions healthy, as when one is lacking, it can cause another to become subsequently unwell.
Claire Turnbull. Nutritionist/owner of Mission Nutrition
How can I keep my eating habits on track, keep motivated and tame my sugar cravings?
According to Claire, one of the most confusing things about health and nutrition is the number of conflicting opinions out there. We’re all aware we need to eat better and move more, but why is this so hard? It’s because we have an abundance of easily accessible, highly palatable, processed foods – making it difficult to regulate the amount of these foods we consume.
An interesting place to start when it comes to optimum nutrition is looking at ‘blue zones’ – regions of the world where people live much longer than average, largely due to their lifestyle. In these places, people eat seasonally, don't restrict, and enjoy their food. These blue zone countries are in 'natural environments' where people eat from the land and consume little processed foods.
Did you know there's nothing in nature that has equal parts of sugar and fat? For example, an avocado is mostly fat (no sugar) and oranges are mostly sugar (no fat!), but these days, food that consists of a combination of the two is all around us.
One of the best things you can do is to eat as many unprocessed foods as possible. Try and manage your access to these foods e.g. by putting the biscuits on the top shelf at the very back! Claire also suggested knowledge itself isn’t enough. Although we know all these things, implementation is key and that requires us to look at our eating habits and behaviours.
What can I do to boost energy levels, support my immune system, and stop feeling so tired?
Feeling constantly drained can severely impact your health. Your desire to eat well goes down, you’re less motivated to exercise, and your appetite is affected, making you more likely to want to overeat. If you’re often feeling tired and drained, Claire advised checking these four things.
- Exposure to natural light. Are you getting outside enough? Exposure to natural light boosts our serotonin levels – which is very important, given it helps regulate mood, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, sexual desire and function.
- Caffeine intake. You might have guessed this next one! Too much caffeine can compromise the quality of deep sleep, fuelling that cycle of fatigue. Limit yourself to four teaspoons of instant coffee (or three coffee shots) daily.
- Micronutrients. It’s important you replenish the daily vitamins you need – if you’re not having enough, you’re likely to be tired all the time. Make sure you’re getting enough zinc (oysters, red meat, legumes and nuts are excellent sources) as 40% of men and 11% of women don’t, as well as iron (red meat, legumes, dark leafy greens are great sources).
- Switch off. Lastly, give your brain the well-deserved break it needs! Regular short brain breaks during the day are vital. If you head to the kettle, leave your phone behind, don’t walk and scroll! Driving your car? Try leaving the radio off. Standing in a queue? Leave your phone in your pocket!
Dr Dougal Sutherland. Clinical Psychologist, Umbrella Health
How do I notice early warning signs of mental health?
Dougal gave a quote from Thomas Friedman “When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops. But when you press the pause button on human beings they start.” As humans, we need to stop and pause, as often our minds fly around, which can cause early symptoms of poor mental health.
Dougal ran through a mindfulness technique which gently brings your mind back to the present, ultimately helping us to relax and reduce stress. In this exercise, we take note of how we feel, such as our physical sensations, from our toes to our ears. We notice our breath and be present in the moment.
When it comes to mindfulness apps, Dougal’s top tip was to find somebody’s voice you like.
What can I do if I find myself worrying a lot?
Dougal taught us about the circle of control. People often feel themselves "ruminating.” A solution to this is to prescribe worry time. Perhaps in the afternoon take a moment to write down everything that's running through your head. Writing daily in a journal is also a great option, but you need to do this at least 2 hours before you go to bed.
This daily journaling helps you focus on what can you control. Ask yourself, what can I control? What's in my influence? Is this an area of concern that I can neither control nor influence? You can then take the practical steps to focus on the areas you can control. For example, if you’re worried you might be made redundant, refreshing your CV and updating your LinkedIn profile might help you get back some of the control you feel is lacking.
Dr Dougal Sutherland. Clinical Psychologist, Umbrella Health
How do I identify what relationships in my life to pay more attention to?
Dougal advised a useful exercise for this is to draw a picture of yourself in the middle of a blank page. Draw around you all your important social connections/write down all the groups of people. Then draw a line to these different groups of people, with the strength of the line reflecting the strength of the relationship. Draw a dotted line to people whose relationships are a bit weaker. You might notice some have weakened or are not as important anymore. We can then stand back and look at where we want to focus our attention.
What can I do to strengthen important relationships in my life?
When thinking about how to get relationships going again, there are three things you can do – prioritise; do something new; give.
- Prioritise. Wherever you are, whoever you’re with, be present. Prioritise focusing on that person and relationship ahead of anything else.
- Do something new. For relationships that are familiar, what can you do reinvigorate that relationship?
- Give. A small random act of kindness can go a long way, e.g. write a nice message and put it on someone’s windscreen, send someone flowers!
Dr Nigel George. Clinical Psychologist, Umbrella Health
Spiritual wellbeing can mean a lot of different things to different people. But essentially, it’s all about values.
What are my core values and what can I do to live in line with them?
Identification is our first point of call on values. What are your core values? Respect, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, courage? It’s important to note that the values you share with your partner might be different to ones you have with your immediate family.
Values are aspirational, so what do you hope people would say about you? Then ask yourself, what are you going to do about your values – they’re only as useful as what we do with them. It can also be good to check with people at the other end of your values on how they're being received, as people can hold the same values but project them very differently.
Why is knowing my values important to my health and wellbeing?
Nigel believes values act as navigational tools. They give you direction and help determine what matters in your life. When we are living in line with our values, we have a sense of pride in ourselves and our actions.
Set intentions that align with your values. You can then set daily behaviours that intentionally engage and connect you to your values.
All of our panellists encouraged us to engage in an exercise called WOOP. Write the questions down, and then write your answers – that way there’s more accountability.
- Wish. Now I’m informed, what’s one thing I wish to action?
- Outcome. How will this benefit me?
- Obstacle. What’s an obstacle I could encounter?
- Problem-solve. How can I overcome this?
What are tips for coping with a hard-nosed corporate environment?
Suggest to your employer that investing in the wellbeing of staff will result in more productivity. Did you know for every dollar invested into employee wellbeing you gain $4.20 cents back in productivity?
How many values should you have?
There's not an actual number. Instead, think about what your core values are – establish one or two values you want to try to live by.
How do we align our personal values with the team at work?
Most organisations have a value statement – so reading this is a good place to start. It's important to know your team's values. What is the team about, and how do we want to be with one another? Establishing team values and goals is a great way to clarify this.
Can we get enough nutrients from our daily food intake? Or do we need supplements?
A well planned out diet can cover most nutrients. Supplements have their place, but they don't replace whole foods. You need to know why you’re taking a specific supplement – so if you think you're lacking in something, then speak with a registered nutritionist or dietician.
Can we treat ourselves to 'bad' food?
There's no good or bad food! It's fine to eat and drink 'bad' foods, but it’s the WHY. To enjoy food because you love the taste is totally fine, but it’s the emotional eating we should seek to understand and reprogramme.
How does nutrition affect our mental health?
Food and mood correlation is strong. The best thing you can do is eat plenty of plants and veggies, oily fish is also great. Too much sugar/caffeine causes anxiety, so it's important to regulate this.
It’s so hard when the weather is miserable to get/keep motivated with exercise. Do you have any tips and tricks?
The best thing to do is to create a habit that is linked to time and location. So set a time in your diary to go and if you find you still skip it, sign up to a class where you have pre-paid and have to turn up.
If you are going for a run or walk, as well as saying what time you will go, also map the run/walk before you go so you remove that barrier. Do a weekly plan if you can, and exercise with other people if you need motivation as you'll be less tempted to let them down. Also, start small, tell yourself you only need to do 20mins and anything else is a bonus. Once you have created the habit the rest will be easy.
How easy is it to rebuild trust in a relationship if there is a sense that has been broken, or that one party has not been a priority?
Broken trust can be slow to get back. It will take time. My suggestion is to have an open discussion with the other party about the breach, acknowledge that it will take time, and talk about how each of you can prioritise the relationship. It may also be good to talk about the values each of you brings to the relationship and how you would express these values.