Mental Health Awareness Week

Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place this week, 18-24th May 2020. The theme is kindness.

Perhaps this year more than ever in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increased awareness of the need to protect our mental health and be engaged in practices to foster resilience and wellbeing. 

We can think of kindness as something we offer both to others and to ourselves.  Often the former springs more easily to mind than the latter. In the midst of all the pain, uncertainty, worry and grief that has resulted from COVID-19, examples of great kindness have been emerging. Despite the restrictions of social distancing and the resulting isolation, many random acts of kindness and community spirit have been experienced, where people have put effort into what they can do to make life easier or better for others even if they can’t do so in person.

Helping others actually releases the neurotransmitter serotonin which increases a sense of wellbeing and satisfaction. The hormone oxytocin is also released which sets in motion a chain reaction, ultimately lowering blood pressure, thus protecting our heart from some of the negative effects of stress. Therefore, as well as the act of kindness being of practical benefit to the recipient, it is also helpful to our own health: a win-win situation.

Activity 1

Offer one random act of kindness each day to someone. It shouldn’t be something which is reasonably expected of you and neither should you point out to the other person that you have done it i.e. “Did you notice I did XXX without you asking?” doesn’t count! A smile, engaging in an upbeat conversation with a checkout operator, calling someone who is living alone etc. are all examples of kindness which don’t have monetary value attached.

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However, kindness shouldn’t just be something we offer to others – we should also extend it to ourselves. Given how much disruption there is to “normal” life, if we find ourselves juggling demands of working from home and childcare, or balancing tighter finances, or being concerned about the wellbeing of relatives from a distance etc., we need to ensure that our inner voice is one which is kind and encouraging and not one which is only critical, highlighting our shortcomings.

Speaking to ourselves with understanding the way we would to someone we care about sounds like a simple idea. However, if we are someone who is usually hard on ourselves, or used to driving ourselves to achieve things, it can be difficult to learn to extend self-compassion. Being kind to ourselves is not about opting out or reducing achievement. Rather it enables us to deal more effectively with and recover faster from setbacks, and therefore bolsters our resilience – something which is good to enhance in these present times.

Activity 2

Next time you are feeling stressed or upset about something, tune in to your inner dialogue. What kind of voice are you using to speak to yourself? Would you use that same voice to someone you cared about who was facing the same situation? If not, how do you need to change your inner voice to extend the same kindness to yourself as you would to someone else?

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