Natalie Heaton from Bupa talks us through the 5-a-day for her mind and why cloud-watching, thinking up stories and fancy dress improve her mental wellbeing
I’ve picked up a pesky cold and my body is craving good nutrition. So as I write this I’m eating some grapes and blueberries. That’s two of the five-a-day we’re all so familiar with. But how is my mind doing? Apart from feeling a bit bunged up and a little sorry for myself, I’m feeling pretty good at the moment. That’s because I took some time to think about my Mindapples; the five things I do on a regular basis that helps me feel okay. The ways we look after our mental wellbeing can sometimes feel less tangible than exercise or nutrition, so it really does help to take a moment to write it down.
1. Write a story
I’m writing a story. I’ve been writing it for some time (ahem). But in a way that’s not the point. Whether I finish it or not (and I really hope I do), I get so much out of spending at least half an hour a day tapping a way and watching the word count clock up. I’m very guilty of procrastinating so I have to set a timer and it inspires me to keep writing till the beeping starts.
I love the creative process: brainstorming, thinking up ideas and details about the lives of other people. I have a desk, that I made with my boyfriend (actually he made most of it) out of a recycled pallet and various bits and bobs. And this is where I write. On my makeshift noticeboard I’ve got five creative postcards that help keep me going. My favourite is from Einstein who says: ‘Imagination is the highest form of research.’
2. Get cosy
As Autumn beckons, I’ve set up my living room as a haven of cosiness for the approaching dark nights. I don’t just have one blanket on the sofa. I have a basket of blankets ready to hand by the sofa. My favourite is fleecy on one side and furry on the other. When I do something, I like to go the whole hog. There’s nothing cosier than drawing the curtains, lighting some scented candles, putting on my slipper boots and snuggling under a blanket with the piece de resistance: my kindle. I’d rather read a book than watch TV any day.
3. Take a good look around
I do leave the house regularly, contrary to the above! I walk five miles a day to work and back. It never feels like a chore. In fact, the odd occasion I have got the bus or tube, I arrive at work in a much grouchier mood. Not only does walking boost endorphins (feel-good hormones), I think it’s good for practising being in the present moment too (mindfulness).
A lot of the time it seems like everyone’s just trying to get from A to B. Head down, or looking at a phone. Is the view of the pavement really going to improve your mood? Unless some unfortunate person has dropped a fiver on the ground, I doubt there’s much to be found. So I make it my business to look around, look up and notice things.
There’s always so much to see. A cloud in the sky that looks like a Moomin, the ever-changing architecture at Kings Cross (I especially love the fountains at Granary Square). I might exchange a smile with a stranger, see a window display that I like, or discover a new coffee shop that’s opened – all before 9am!
4. Water the flowers
Like many people living in London, I don’t have a garden. For a long time all I did was lament this unfortunate fact. And then I snapped out of it and decided to make the most of the sliver of space outside my living room window. I got outside (climbed out the window), swept away the leaves and invested in some pot plants. I don’t know all their names and the squirrels do their best to dig them up, but I love opening the curtains in the morning and seeing a new flower that’s bloomed.
And since I carved out a tiny garden, it’s become an urban haven for wildlife! The disused barbeque that we keep meaning to throw out is now a bird bath! I love hearing them splashing around and ruffling their feathers. And even though I have to climb out of the window to get outside, once I’m out there, I feel really calm and relaxed. I didn’t know that watering plants could have such a calming effect. I love the stillness of the evening, the way my thoughts wander or just concentrate on the task in hand.
5. Start a silly conversation on WhatsApp
My family and my close circle of friends – we’re all spread out across the county. We can’t pop round for a cuppa or go to the cinema spontaneously. It’s often a case of planning months in advance for a weekend when we’re free to meet. So for the times in between, I try my hardest to keep connected with everyone I love. I speak to my mum on my way to work several times a week, a friend and I often start an email conversation at the beginning of the week that takes us the whole way through to the weekend. I love being tagged in a funny quote or a Throwback Thursday picture on Instagram.
One of my favourite evenings this year was when I was at home watching Eurovision. Before it had barely started a group of over 10 of us had connected on WhatsApp and were watching it together, even sending each other photos of our drinks and snacks. It was such a fun evening, despite not being able to be together in person. We’ve recently done it to decide what our fancy dress costumes should be for this year’s Bestival festival. Much silliness ensued (see above!).
Everyone’s got their own mind and their own Mindapples, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about mine!
Natalie Heaton is a reader, a writer, a bad cook, a loyal friend, and always looking for the secret to contentment. Natalie is a Senior health editor for Bupa UK, with a keen interest in mental wellbeing.