9 tips for achieving wellbeing on a budget

Original article on BBC Radio 4

Feeling better in body and mind doesn’t have to involve extortionate yoga classes, hard-to-source vitamins and supplements, cripplingly-expensive spa days or long holidays in the tropics.

There are simple steps we can take in our everyday lives to help us stay calm and comfortable, healthy and happy.

1. Fill your home with houseplants

Houseplants have been shown to reduce stress and boost happiness. How? On a basic level, plants assist our breathing by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Certain plants can also help to purify the air – filtering out nasty, airborne chemicals. And, of course, colourful leaves and flowers can brighten up a room and our mood. What are you waiting for? Get out there and pick yourself up a peace lily.

2. Stay hydrated

Water is the major component of the human body: women are around 55 percent water, and men a whopping 60 percent. We need water to function – so it should come as no surprise that staying hydrated can improve our health, raise our energy and improve our ability to concentrate. If you find drinking lots of water unappealing then try adding natural flavour with a wedge of lemon or a slice of cucumber or ginger. There are also apps that will send you reminders to get sipping and track your H2O intake.

3. Rearrange your rooms

Feng shui, which literally translates as wind and water, is a Chinese system that seeks to promote health and wellbeing by examining how energy (qi) flows through a space. The thinking is that how we arrange our home has a huge impact on our mood, how well we sleep and our energy levels. If you want to give it a crack, then start with the bedroom: keep the window open for fresh air-flow, let in as much natural light as possible, and clear clutter from cupboards and under your bed. If possible, place your bed in a “commanding position”: diagonally opposite the door, with a solid wall behind it and access from both sides. Feel the qi!

4. Give your home a lick of paint

The colour of the walls in your home can have a huge impact on your mood. Green – which represents nature – can promote balance, harmony and relaxation. Blue is a calming colour with soothing qualities: it can help create a sense of tranquillity and improve rest – great for a bedroom. Avoid red, which can actually cause us to breathe faster, raising our heart rate and blood pressure.

5. Listen to birdsong

It might sound cuckoo but new research conducted by scientists at King’s College London shows that listening to birdsong can improve our mental wellbeing for up to four hours. Volunteers were asked to record their mood on an app as they moved around a city space, and the results showed that exposure to birdsong, trees and the sky had benefits which were present even hours later. Dr Andrea Mechelli from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience states, “short-term exposure to nature has a measurable beneficial impact on mental wellbeing.” If you can’t readily get out and about to immerse yourself in nature then download some birdsong on to your phone, pop in your headphones, close your eyes and think of rolling hills.

6. Stroke a cat

Research has shown that petting a cat has a positive, calming effect. One ten-year study of more than 4,000 Americans by researchers at the University of Minnesota's Stroke Institute in Minneapolis found that, over a 10-year period, cat owners were 30 percent less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than non-cat owners. If you don’t have a cat, and perhaps can’t afford to look after one, find a friend who might let you pay a visit to their moggy to harness the power of purring. There are also dog and cat-sitting apps that will help hook you up with other people’s pets.

7. Tickle your funny bone

A good laugh releases physical tension in our muscles, improves blood flow and triggers the release of nitric oxide, which boosts the immune system. A good giggle can also decrease stress hormones and cause a release of endorphins, the chemical that makes us feel good and acts as a natural painkiller. That’s right, laughter really can be the best medicine. Spend time with friends who make you chuckle, get out to see live comedy or, if you aren’t feeling sociable, binge watch videos of cats on skateboards.

8. Take a Scandinavian approach to work

The Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland – are ranked among the happiest in the world. And they seem to have some great tricks up their sleeves for promoting happiness and wellbeing at work. The Swedes have a legally sanctioned custom known as fika: a daily coffee and cake break when colleagues meet, drink a pot of coffee and tuck into some (preferably) homemade baking. In fact, fika is practically a mandatory workplace ritual. Why not ask your employer if you can do the same? After all, a happy workforce is a productive workforce.

9. Get more sleep

Rest is as important to our mental and physical health and wellbeing as diet and exercise. Poor sleep can lead to a weakened immune system, higher levels of stress hormones, anxiety and depression – and it is while we are asleep that our body repairs itself. Work hard to sleep better: keep your bedroom nice and quiet, avoid eating late at night and power down - the blue light from a phone or tablet can keep you awake. It’s also time to cut down on the caffeine later in the day.