When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern came to power she promised her government would do things differently, and with Thursday’s landmark ‘wellbeing budget’, she kept her word.
“Today we have laid the foundation for not just one wellbeing budget, but a different approach for government decision-making altogether,” Ardern said.
Promising to put matters of public wellbeing next to the economic figures, her government has announced billions of dollars towards new spending on tackling mental health, suicide rates, child poverty, homelessness and domestic violence. It’s the first time a western country has designed an entire budget around wellbeing measures.
“For me, wellbeing means people living lives of purpose, balance and meaning to them, and having the capabilities to do so,” New Zealand’s Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.
And I’m applauding it!
As a leadership strategist and modern psychology practitioner (and someone who works with burnt-out leaders all the time), at a time when the world’s peak medical body has just included burnout in their guidebook for diagnostic classifications, public investment in wellbeing is much needed.
Women running themselves into the ground to run the ‘insta-perfect’ life, juggling businesses, careers, families, health and home life, is one of the biggest issues facing women in 2019.
US economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers coined ‘the paradox of female happiness’ after their research of happiness trends found that “women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relatively to men’s”. As women rise, our wellbeing declines. It’s the newest gender gap.
Even scarier, perhaps, it is predicted mental health problems will be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally by 2030.
Taking care of yourself is not an indulgent luxury, it’s a matter of self-preservation.
While we don’t all have a billion-dollar budget, there are a number of ways we could be more proactive when it comes to improving our mental health and wellbeing. Let’s all take inspiration from Jacinda’s wellbeing budget and create our own #wellbeingbudget. And while daily yoga and weekly trips to the day spa would be nice, there are less expensive and more impactful places to start.
Here are a few ideas.
1. Set clear boundaries, especially with technology, and stick to them
Arianna Huffington in her book Thrive says it’s not about giving up our devices, but rather acknowledging that “technology has accelerated our lives beyond our capacity to keep up”.
If we let it, technology can mean we never truly log off with much of our work being done on devices that rarely leave our sight.
Set clear boundaries, like device free meals, scheduling specific times each day to check and respond to email, or making a point not to check your device when you first wake up (which wreaks havoc on your circadian rhythm).
Your iPhone can support you by setting time limits on your social media usage, just avoid the temptation to click ‘ignore limit’ once the time is up!
2. Use your unique strengths and skills to work for a purpose
Simon Sinek famously talks about starting with ‘why’ to increase motivation, more recently it has been found to help banish burnout too. Having a sense of purpose has been found to be surprisingly important for countering burnout.
If we have the autonomy to use our own strengths, skills and smarts to get the job done without someone looking over our shoulders we’ll be even better off.
3. Use this breathing hack
Back in the cave (wo)man days, our biological fear response kicked in when we needed to escape genuine danger (like running from a lion). Now, this fear response kicks into gear at the ‘ding’ of a mobile phone, or the thought of our dwindling bank account. I can’t help you escape those things, but I can help you calm the source of the fear itself: your sympathetic nervous system.
Learning to deal with this fear-creating part of your nervous system used to take years of meditation. While meditation is great, it’s frequently popping up on the long list of the ‘should dos’ of the leaders I work with. Now things are different — we have heart rate variability training and we can ‘calm our farms’ in seconds.
It turns out when your brain stem is preparing your body to run away or fight, the first thing it does is to change the rhythm of your heartbeat so it is very steady rather than having its usual natural variation.
There is some fancy tech you can get hold of to get your heart rate variability back on track, but a far simpler way is to use your breath, specifically concentrating on an exhalation that is twice as long as your ‘in’ breath.
4. Switch your lights
Are you sitting under fluorescent lights all day? Turns out it’s not such a bright idea. Numerous studies point to light quality, colour temperature, or certain spectral patterns inducing a stress response. Research consistently demonstrates fluorescent lights raise stress markers, such as reduced heart rate variability, raised blood pressure, stronger startle response and increased cortisol.
If you can, switch to warm light, or better still natural light or the soothing flicker of a naked flame. If you have no choice, make sure you step outside regularly to give your brain a break.
5. Tweak your morning routine to sort your sleep out
Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for your mental and physical wellbeing, and while we’ve all heard about how mobile phone use and too much hype before bed is a no-no, few of us consider how the start of our day can ensure we get a quality eight hours at night.
Take a look at these tips to regulate your sleep via your morning routine:
- Get out of bed immediately;
- Get up at approximately the same time every day;
- Get fresh air by going outside; and
- Do some sort of physical activity.
6. Take baby steps
The very process of setting goals can be enough to activate a download of stress hormones set to flip us into the ‘fight-flight’ response (if we ever manage to actually flip out of it). All of this goal setting is what’s largely responsible for the physical and mental health issues we’re currently facing. The latest neuroscience research is telling us the key to reaching our goals is by doing it in a way that doesn’t trigger this stress response.
The idea is to take baby steps, rather than being tempted to leap into things for that hit of instant gratification, only to fall quickly back into old habits. This is less of an energy drain for our brain, whose priority is to get us from the beginning to the end of the day in a conscious waking state.
7. You can do anything, but not everything
Don’t let people put things on your plate just because you’re good at them. Get clear on where you’re going, and what’s important, and do less of the rest.
So, let’s all channel a bit more ‘Jacinda’ and devote effort and time into our wellbeing. You’ve read my tips, what else will you include in your #wellbeingbudget?