Andy Elwood is a mental health first aid instructor and campaigner. After 20 years spent treating people’s physical health as a paramedic in the Air Force and with the Coast Guard, he decided to turn his attention to mental health.
As dentists, and the world, adjust to life during a pandemic and the stress that can bring, Andy shares the five ‘ways to well-being’ – five things that can help you to stay mentally well …
Connect and talk to the people that you’re in lockdown with. My wife and I are both working from home at the minute. We’ve had a walk from home at lunchtime and then eaten outside and we’ve caught up, asked each other, ‘How’s your day going? What are we eating this evening?’
Simple conversations like this are just a way of checking in with each other that breaks you away from what you were doing, gets you out of your own head and helps you feel connected again.
Also, reach out and connect to people outside of your own lockdown, not just other family members but maybe someone you haven’t spoken to for a while. I’m trying to call someone each day that I just haven’t connected with for a while, somebody out of the blue. It helps to brighten their day and is something different for me.
However you’re connecting, whether it’s through phone calls, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, etc, is crucial at the moment. Please keep doing that everyone. It’s really important.
These five ways to well-being are from research commissioned by the NHS in 2008 by the New Economics Foundation. They are based on research and fact.
Being active, getting some exercise, whatever suits you and at a level for you, is really good and produces endorphins. As dentists I don’t think I need to convince you of the medical benefits of that. Did you know that regular exercise can be as effective for treating mild to moderate depression as anti-depressants?
Take notice and become aware of what is around you. When we’re well and feeling mentally healthy we often do notice things like the sky, stars, birds, etc. And this time of year, the spring, is a particularly great time to try and do that.
When you’re outside on your daily walk or run, try and notice what flowers are out that weren’t out yesterday, the first bumblebee of the year, the first butterfly, etc. Just take notice of what’s going on.
We can do mindfulness in lots of ways. We don’t have to be burning incense and sitting on the floor with our legs crossed for an hour a day.
There’s lots of free apps that you can get for your phone, which will help you focus on your breathing to work on your mindfulness. For example, Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace. Being mindful like this calms your mind, which is particularly great at the moment, with so much anxiety and stress.
One of the other benefits is that it increases your concentration so when you come to your work, you’re actually more focused on whatever procedure or task you are performing. Whether you’re working in the surgery after all this, or whether you’re doing CPD at home through this period, you’re able to study longer and focus on what you’re doing because your mind has eliminated a lot of the white noise.
Learn something new. There are loads of things you can learn from the internet or elsewhere, for example, Fender have offered three months free guitar lessons through their website and I think there are other language websites who have offered free membership for three months or six months.
This kind of thing keeps your brain active, keeps you thinking about different things and gets your mind away from the things that are worrying you and stressing you out.
Personally, I’m trying to do more drawing and a little origami. It allows me to focus on something really closely and take notice or have mindfulness.
A lot of these ‘five ways’ overlap, interlink and dove tail. By learning something you can be mindful and you also have something interesting to talk about with whoever you might be connecting with, and you might even encourage them to do something similar.
If we think about Christmas and giving gifts, actually a lot of the pleasure is in the giving rather than the receiving. It’s the same with giving in terms of helping other people.
Whether you’re volunteering locally with your community or looking after vulnerable people by going to the shops, getting some prescriptions, etc, give in whatever form you can.
We’ve all done this kind of thing already, every Thursday at 8pm standing outside and clapping for the NHS. Both NHS workers and people who have gone outside and clapped are all telling me how good that feels. They feel part of the community and like they’ve really done something positive.
Again, we’re getting good feelings, a sense of satisfaction, endorphins and everything flowing through us that keeps us positive.
With these five ways to well-being there is no prescriptive method of having to do something for 40 minutes, three times a week. You can find what suits you, what feels comfortable for you and what you’ll enjoy. And that, ultimately, will keep you mentally well.
Three other things which help in my personal experience are sleep, good nutrition (including hydration) and a gratitude practice. We’ll focus on these in another blog.
Andy saves lives. His approach is different, refreshing and unique. He campaigns, speaks and is a Mental Health First Aid instructor.
Andy sparks conversations which enables culture change regarding Mental Health and Wellbeing for individuals and organisations. He creates safety and trust by sharing his own vulnerability and gives a unique ‘behind the scenes’ insight into life and death situations on Search and Rescue helicopters, on the Afghanistan battlefields during military service and to the potential downward spirals due to 21st Century pressures.
After 18 years working on rescue helicopters around the world, he believes that focusing on mental health will save more lives than continuing to dangle under helicopters, as a paramedic. Andy’s Search and Rescue career began with the Royal Air Force and was completed in the Coastguard, where he led Clinical Governance for half of the UK. Despite Andy’s various awards for physical courage, he believes his bravest action has been to talk openly about his own struggles and vulnerability, in order to find a way through three very different challenges during his lifetime.
Since HRH Duke of Cambridge attended Andy’s Mental Health workshop, at the UK Search and Rescue National Conference in 2018, he has been engaged as a speaker by organisations such as University of Cambridge Medical School; Jacobs (construction industry); Scottish Mountain Rescue; Emergency Services Show (NEC) and Mind Blue Light Programme.
Find out more at https://www.andyelwood.com/