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Free online course for separated parents | Family | Health | Ex-coastguard paramedic turned mental health campaigner Andy Elwood shares his tips for wellbeing

Ex-coastguard paramedic turned mental health campaigner Andy Elwood shares his tips for wellbeing

Maya Griffiths

Maya Griffiths

Having served as a paramedic in Afghanistan, and then as a winch paramedic in the RAF and Coastguard, Andy Elwood was no stranger to stress. However, it was day-to-day stress in his personal life that caused him to find his mental health suffering.

‘It was all to do with the stress and pressures around family life,’ he says. ‘Changing jobs, going through a divorce, moving house, and ill parents, followed by bereavements. Those life events one after another- I wasn’t looking after myself.’

As Andy learnt more about mental health matters he decided to change career and become a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and an ambassador for Movember. ‘I believe I can save more lives with mental health training than if I were still dangling under a rescue helicopter as a paramedic,’ he says.

The hamster wheel of life

The day to day of life can get us all down, and being a parent is a heavy weight to bear on top of work, relationships and paying the bills. It can feel like we are stuck on a never-ending hamster wheel of sleep-work-kids. Andy advises that the way to get off the wheel is to step away sometimes for time to yourself.

‘Doing little things for yourself and having a bit of me-time isn’t selfish, it’s taking care of yourself and really essential,’ he says. ‘You have to put your own oxygen mask on before helping the kids.’

That me-time can be anything that makes you happy: it might be a Sunday morning bike ride, half an hour spent on a hobby, or going for a meal. Whatever you enjoy doing, build some time for it into each week- it’s important for your wellbeing. Recharging your batteries means being a happier, healthier person and a less frazzled dad too.

The 5 Ways of Wellbeing

Andy agrees with the NHS’s 5 Ways of Wellbeing- 5 evidence-proven steps you can take to improve your mental health:

Connect with other people

Andy says that making space in your week to be with friends and loved ones not only boosts your happiness but can also provide you with a support system. ‘Have a laugh with your friends, and talk about anything or nothing,’ he says. ‘But, if you can also say ‘I’m finding things tough at the minute’, or ‘I’m knackered’- whatever we share with our mates is good. Plus check in with people- how are you doing? It’s good for both you and them.’

Move more

‘You don’t have to be doing personal bests or a triathlon- a walk is great,’ says Andy. ‘Walking the dog, stretching, or yoga- you can also combine exercise with socialising, having a gym buddy, or playing a sport on a team.’

Aim to get around 30 minutes of exercise a day- cycling or walking to work counts, or try going for a swim after work. Exercise causes chemical changes in the brain which can improve your mood.

Keep learning

‘It doesn’t have to be something big like a language or a musical instrument. It could be looking at a YouTube video on how to fix a leaky tap and then doing it yourself,’ explains Andy. ‘Those simple things keep our mind working, and we feel a sense of satisfaction.’

Even if you don’t have much free time, there are always ways to stimulate your brain- you could try cooking new recipes for dinner, or dabbling with drawing in the evening. Andy loves to tinker on his classic Land Rover.

Take notice

‘That’s about being mindful and being in the present moment. Rather than thinking about the things that went wrong yesterday or what might happen next month, we are focussing on right now,’ says Andy. He advises looking for moments of joy throughout your day: a great dinner, time spent rolling about on the carpet with your child, or throwing a stick with your dog.

Give something back

The fifth way to wellbeing involves helping to improve other’s lives. We may not be able to contribute to charity during the cost of living crisis, but there are a variety of ways we can be of service to others. It can be as simple as making time for someone else, offering to help others, or volunteering.

‘It helps us feel good because we are of value to someone else and have connected to someone else. Time is the most valuable thing you can give,’ says Andy.

Rest and refresh

In addition to the 5 ways to wellbeing, Andy believes sleep is a big factor in feeling well. ‘It’s proven now that we can last longer without food than without sleep,’ he points out.

Having some kind of routine- trying to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time- will help. Try going to bed half an hour earlier and reading a book to wind down before settling, and avoid screens before bed as they have an impact on getting to sleep.

When feeling anxious or overwhelmed

Aim to ground yourself back in the present by reaching down and touching the ground beneath you. You can also listen out for any sounds you can hear, and try to notice any smells or tastes as well. ‘Say to yourself “I’m safe”- it really works,’ adds Andy.

Don’t compare yourself to other’s troubles

‘A lot of people do the comparison thing- what have I got to complain about? But there’s no comparison. Each of us are dealing with our own things. Its ok to be you and whatever you’re dealing with is completely valid,’ says Andy. ‘We’re all dealing with life according to our own experiences and life so far. In the same way as we see it as ok to get a Dr to help us with our broken bone, speaking to a professional or your mates about how you’re feeling is part of that mental recovery journey.’

Further information and support

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Mental Health Foundation

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