This year, the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness - a characteristic vital to individual and shared mental health.
Being kinder to ourselves helps us maintain self-compassion, between individuals it strengthens relationships, and between groups it leads to a sense of community, cohesion and an awareness that we all share experiences. It allows us to fully appreciate the shared experience of what it means to be ‘humankind’.
Since lockdown, a third (36 per cent) of us believe our mental health has got worse, according to new research by healthcare charity Nuffield Health. But kindness can act as an antidote to worry, anxiety and low mood, and has never been so important.
To help us get through this strange and unprecedented time, Brendan Street, head of emotional wellbeing at Nuffield Health, has these tips on how you can be kinder to yourself - and why this is important in helping increase your capacity to be kinder to others.
Self-love: being kind to yourself is good for you
“Self kindness is important for our wellbeing,” says Brendan. “We spend more time with ourselves than anyone else and how we relate to ourselves has a huge impact on how we feel. Self-compassion plays a vital role in our mental wellbeing and can act as a powerful antidote to many mental health difficulties.
“And there are not just emotional, but also physical benefits to be gained. Our bodies benefit from giving and receiving kindness with positive impacts on human physiology, including the immune and cardiovascular systems, nervous system and regulation of our genes,” he says.
Self-love: accept that you're worth being kind to
“The idea of being kind to yourself can be a difficult concept for some people who find it much easier to be compassionate to others than to themselves,” explains Brendan. “It's a common misbelief that looking after oneself is selfish, it makes you ‘soft’ or self-indulgent and other people are more important and should be the priority.
“True self compassion involves being honest with ourselves and fully accountable for our actions, but with an understanding of what it really means to be human and the acknowledgement that no one is perfect.”
Self-love: hold a mirror up to yourself
“Life is hard, but being understanding, kind and supportive to ourselves can help us get through in a way that is much more helpful than being self critical and beating ourselves up. Imagine how it would feel to spend a day with a truly negative person who constantly points out all of your faults, no matter how minor.
“Chances are you’d end the day feeling disheartened, lacking in confidence, and that somehow you are ‘not quite good enough’. You may (wisely) think twice before choosing to spend too much time with this overly critical person recognising them as a negative influence on your emotional wellbeing. However many of us without always realising it, regularly relate to ourselves in this way.”
Self-love: compassion gets us further than criticism
Brendan says: “Being hard on yourself is actually likely to cause more harm than good. Research shows that the more people criticised themselves, the slower their progress over time was, and the less likely they were to achieve the goal they had set.
“Being cruel to ourselves is not motivating: instead it leaves us feeling threatened and demoralised. Compassionate self-correction and self-talk, on the other-hand, boost happiness and are effective means of enhancing our motivation, performance and resilience (our ability to cope with difficult situations).”
Self-love: be less of a critic, more of a coach
“It's not always easy to be kind to ourselves, and we can be our own harshest critics. A helpful tip is to try to imagine how a ‘kindness coach’ might help us approach the complexities and difficulties that life throws at us; they accept us ‘as we are’, not how we wish to be.
“For example – after eating a multipack of crisps a critic (often ourselves) may say something like “you’re so disgusting”. A compassionate coach on the other hand would take a more encouraging approach. For example saying: “I know you ate those crisps because you are feeling bored and lonely, but now you feel even worse because you are not looking after your body. I want you to be happy and healthy, so why don’t you take a long walk so you feel better?” We need to be that coach for ourselves.
“Think about the words you might say to someone else who was feeling low and needed encouragement. Now use the same words and phrases to positively encourage yourself.
“You may find speaking to yourself with kindness and compassion difficult at times. But don’t give up. Keep trying. Like any new skill it requires practice, but the benefits are worth it. You’re worth it.”