Today, we’re talking about this year’s Mental Health Awareness theme: kindness.
The power of kindness should never be underestimated; kindness is the antidote to fear, and fear is at the core of poor mental health. In fact, witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’, which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which reduces anxiety and depression.
When we think about kindness, we think of acts – doing or saying something nice for someone else without the personal motive of receiving something in return. Kindness is about empathy, gratitude and positivity. We’ve seen some amazing acts of kindness lately, and I think we can all agree it’s these moments that have got us through this scary time – personally, locally and globally. The Mental Health Foundation chose kindness as this year’s theme because of its “singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity.”
Acts of kindness have taken many different forms since lockdown started; the NHS clap, Colonel Tom Moore’s £30m fundraiser, schools and universities donating PPE, individuals knitting ear protecting headbands for NHS staff, local food businesses donating lunches to hospital staff, children painting rainbows to display in windows to say thank you to our key workers… the list goes on. In fact, our incredible NHS and key workers are showing consistent acts of kindness and selflessness every day simply by going to work.
Although acts of kindness often involve selflessness, they don’t always need to. ‘Selflessness’ implies neglecting the self. But in reality, it’s just as important to be kind to ourselves as it is to be kind to others. Although it sounds simple, being kind to yourself takes practise. Our most critical voice is the one in our own heads and because this is so engrained it can be difficult to challenge. Simply becoming aware of the negative voice in your head is a good start, as then we can start to challenge the way we’re treating ourselves. It’s when this goes unchecked that common mental health issues arise.
One good way to practise being kinder to ourselves is to listen to that negative voice and think: “would I let someone else speak to me like this?” We’re all guilty of putting pressure on ourselves sometimes and this is ok, as ultimately, that’s what drives us to achieve. But if that pressure becomes a familiar narrative of beating yourself up with negative thoughts like “I’m not good enough”, “I’m stupid” or “I’m a failure”, they should be challenged and consciously replaced with kinder thoughts or positive affirmations.
If you’re new to the concept of self-love, it can at first sound selfish and narcissistic. But remember, the benefits are two-fold; by being kinder to yourself, you’re being kinder to others because you’ll be a much nicer person to be around. Conversely, if you’re dealing with constant internal conflict, you’ll be irritable, drained and distracted when interacting with others. If you’re being kinder to yourself, you’ll radiate happiness and will have more energy and interest in others.
Why not do one kind thing for someone else today? It can be as simple as checking in on a friend, thanking someone or telling someone you appreciate them. Not only will you make their day, you’ll kickstart positive feelings of love and happiness, keeping those negative thoughts at bay. Plus… kindness is contagious and I think we can all agree the world needs as much positivity as we can get right now!
See how you can get involved with Mental Health Awareness Week here.