The Advent of Treats - looking after your wellbeing

The coffee cups have turned red, TV adverts are reducing us to tears and every spare bit of land has been turned into an ice rink. This can only mean one thing … it’s Christmas!! 

It may be the season of joy and jolliness for some of us, but not for all. For many it can feel as if the financial worries, family tensions, relationship problems, grief and trauma that we cope with all year combine forces to hit us in one ridiculously large bow wrapped package come December. So I’m going to talk about the ‘Advent of Treats’ and suggest some ways to improve wellbeing and look after yourself during the Christmas period.

The Advent of Treats began life last winter as a way to combine my passions for crafting, my love of Christmas and my constant desire to treat myself. The core idea is to adapt an Advent Calendar to include 25 different ways you can treat yourself – one each day in the run up to Christmas. Whether you’re at work, 50 miles from home or in a bad financial place, there should be a way you can give yourself a little ‘pick me up’. Looking after your mental health and wellbeing doesn’t have to take hours, cost a fortune or affect your responsibilities.

One in four of us are living with a mental health problem. For many people dealing with depression, anxiety and isolation, Christmas can really heighten these feelings. Last Christmas the Samaritans received around 15,000 calls to their helpline every day. 

There is a very simple and effective way to give yourself a daily treat and boost your mental health – using ‘The Five Ways to Wellbeing’ model. Developed by the New Economics Foundation (nef) from evidence gathered in the UK government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing, The Five Ways are a set of simple actions we can do in everyday life to promote wellbeing.

These actions are: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give:

  • Connect …

With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them.

  • Be active …

Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy; one that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

  • Take notice …

Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are on a train, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

  • Keep Learning …

Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident, as well as being fun to do.

  • Give …

Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and will create connections with the people around you.

I hope I’m able to inspire others to create their own ‘Advent of Treats’ and to think about the little things in life that help to make you feel better. To start your thinking I will list a few treat suggestions and ways to play the game.  But whether you take up the treat challenge or not, I do implore you to think about your own mental health and ways in which you can improve your wellbeing. From picking up the phone and calling an old friend, to taking a walk and enjoying the view, we can all do things everyday to make us feel better.

Suggested treats:

  • Enjoy a glass/mug of a favourite beverage you don’t have every day
  • Eat a favourite food 
  • Be active … or if you exercise every day, your treat could be a day off!
  • Hug someone 
  • Make contact with someone you haven’t spoken to for a while
  • Enjoy a really long catch up with a friend
  • Give someone an unexpected bunch of flowers
  • Make a Christmas card for someone
  • Watch a favourite tv programme
  • Listen to a favourite album
  • Find out about something new
  • Look through a memory box/photo album
  • Read for an hour
  • Visit a famous landmark

How to play:

Just think of 25 treats that work for you. Be creative, ask people for help, adapt your plans and make new discoveries. And remember that the point is to enjoy yourself, so don’t stress out in order to fit in a treat! The idea doesn’t only have to fit the Christmas Advent Calendar – it can work at any time of year. Maybe do 31 treats in January when things are dark and gloomy. Or even 365 days of the year. It’s not the packaging that’s important but taking little steps to improve your wellbeing.

Becky is project co-ordinator for The Switch, TimeBank's volunteer mentoring project to support young people making the transition from children's to adult mental health services.