The importance of regular and structured space to improve mental and emotional wellbeing
This week’s blog is from Jacqui Woods, a Fresh Air Fridays facilitator, who runs monthly sessions in Liverpool. Jacqui highlights the need for regular and structured space for anyone looking to support their mental and emotional wellbeing.
The need for regular and structured space
Whilst the aim of social prescribing is to increase the number of non-pharmaceutic interventions for people with mild to moderate mental health issues, the greater the range of social prescribing interventions available, the better.
As we know, the NHS can’t afford to maintain the status quo or continue the practice of prescribing pharmaceutical interventions for mild to moderate mental illness. And, it’s clear that prescription medication is not always the answer for those struggling with mild to moderate mental ill-health.
If you’re reading this you may already be one of the converted and you don’t need any persuasion with regard to the benefits of social prescribing. On the other hand, you may not be aware of this or the benefits of alternative therapies such as Fresh Air Fridays.
Given that 1 in 4 of us in our lifetime will have some sort of mental health issue, not taking action to help ourselves is a bit like not engaging in a healthy diet and regular exercise until we develop diabetes, stroke or heart disease.
Episodes of minor and moderate mental health issues take their toll not just on us, but also our work and personal lives, and can result in devastating consequences as happened to me during my previous work life.
Jacqui’s wellbeing story
My journey into wellbeing began when I ended my 38-year career in Nursing in March 2018.
A career that took me from student nurse to a variety of senior nursing roles in both primary and secondary care, across a range of specialities culminating in the last 14 years of my career seeing me at times with a foot in both camps of clinical practice working with asylum seekers in Liverpool and academia. I ended my career in a full-time academic role across a number of North West universities.
I am now a facilitator at Fresh Air Fridays and have recently completed a Mindfulness-Based Stress Relief course with Mindfulness Merseyside; I have since become a Director with their company Mind Body Matters CIC, while keeping a foot in medical education by participating in the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) of medical students at the University of Liverpool.
Benefits of activities
Throughout my full-time working life, I believed that I managed my mental and emotional wellbeing by filling myself up via a range of activities from yoga, meditation, monthly mountain walks with friends, regular pedicures and massages.
However, despite my best efforts, I was often in a state of overwhelm – physically, mentally and emotionally. I regularly succumbed to minor mental and physical health problems that became prolonged or worse because I never took the time to look after my physical and mental health needs properly.
At the time I didn’t understand that I was spending more time ‘doing’ than ‘being’, after all, we are human ‘beings’. Since leaving full-time work in 2018, I became a member of Fresh Air Fridays and came across a programme that is a simple yet effective way of supporting my mental and emotional wellbeing, which had a positive benefit on my physical health too. This is something I feel I could have benefited from during my busy working life.
FRESH AIR FRIDAYS - 5 WAYS TO BETTER HEALTH
At Fresh Air Fridays we believe that everyone has the capacity to lead a happy and healthy life, and that success follows happiness.
During each session, we explore a different theme designed to focus our thoughts and empower us to create a life we love. We believe in ‘total wellbeing’ – balancing our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and understand that being in nature and connecting with others in a meaningful way is vital to that.
Fresh Air Fridays believe in 5 ways to better mental health and it is via exploration of these during a session that aids us in being able to practice the simplest of techniques that are free and can be done anywhere at any time. What are they you ask, the answer is, breathe, practise gratitude, get outside, look after yourself first and being present.
Okay, so you may be thinking that this is simple and easy to do. I thought I knew how to do many of these things already. I knew about breathing, I regularly got out into nature with friends, I practised gratitude, and a friend bought me a beautiful notebook to note 3 things at the end of each day to be grateful for. I thought I took care of myself but too often I saw to others needs above my own, I was always thinking about what came next and too busy to be living in the moment.
Space, time, connection and support
What did I get out of attending and joining Fresh Air Fridays?
The answer was space and time for me to reconnect with myself and allow myself to focus on me and only me.
Each month at Fresh Air Fridays over the year we explore a topic area and, by using our ‘listening without commentary’ technique (which is essential that – simply listening, without responding or reacting) I am able to speak and be heard. I can also reflect on my thoughts and feelings as I speak and formulate my own ideas and actions. This reflection in a safe space, with like-minded people, has made all the difference to my life.
As I continued my membership I realised that I wanted to undertake my facilitator training and bring to Fresh Air Fridays to Liverpool.
Fresh Air Fridays work not only with individuals but also with organisations to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of their leaders and teams.
JACQUII WOODS, FACILITATOR, FRESH AIR FRDAYS
Jacquie has over 38 years of clinical experience including 10 years pre and nurse education. Within the last year, Jacquie has joined Fresh Air Fridays as their facilitator. This new role has given her “Space, time, connection and support”. This role has allowed her to have a more balanced life. She now wants to share the benefits she has gained to others who are looking to find balance in their lives.