Kindness is the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year. One act of kindness can lead to many more, like a lovely domino effect. A green ribbon is the international symbol of mental health awareness. The charity behind this week in the UK is the Mental Health Foundation, which was founded in 1949, but 2001 was the first Mental Health Awareness Week and usually starts the second Monday of May.
I’m grateful for such a week, as growing up mental health was rarely mentioned let alone talked about. I feel that if I was made more aware of these kinds of issues back then maybe I would’ve coped better with certain things growing up. Covid-19 has impacted everyone and I’m aware that children and teenagers may be the ones worst hit mental health wise in this pandemic.
There are many types of mental health problems that people deal with daily on their own with few people knowing, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, burn outs. I’ve heard before that depression is worrying about the past, whilst anxiety is worrying about the future. This is an oversimplification but it allowed me to better understand how being mindful and present can help.
In today’s world, expectations and pressure from others and even yourself can be harmful. I myself have been victim to this: from parents’ expectations and work pressure due to potential failed exams. What I found was that these were temporary: I moved away and I passed the exams so the expectations and pressure lessened as I grew older.
There are of course other pressures, like comparisons on social media. Even in lockdown there were social media posts stating that if you weren’t trying to sort out a side hustle or improve yourself in this pandemic then what are you even doing. There was pressure to start blogging more, to read more, to learn more. But that actually made me want to do these things less and less.
Everyone is running their own race or writing their own book of life. This is a marathon not a sprint, and comparing your chapter 10 to someone else’s chapter 25 is completely different and unhelpful. You can’t pour from an empty cup and sometimes you just need to rest.
Then there are other things that are out of our control or that give us uncertainty, which can be stressful. If stress is not physical, then the flight or fight hormone only works up till a certain point. You can do research and use information to help you as a guide and make informed decisions but then stop once it has served its purpose. Following blindly is unwise, as what works for some may not work for others.
I’ve found over the years that exposure helps, it kind of becomes a sort of muscle memory to help you deal with emotions or situations. Of course exposing yourself to something when you aren’t ready or something that is triggering does not help and should not be done. For me in this lockdown I have barely left the flat in fear of potential racist incidents that I’ve seen online. But then I heard that if you don’t go outside often enough then it could become something daunting to do. So now I try to go out more and expose myself to the outside, which is re-wiring my brain to think it’s ok, as I haven’t experienced the incidents I was trying to protect myself from.
It’s ok to feel your feelings. It’s ok to feel scared or vulnerable – we are only human. I have to remind myself to not let the little things get me down, but also not to bottle it up inside either. We are allowed to let things out or that pent up bottleneck may explode uncontrollably. The emotion one feels is valid, it is the narratives we build to make sense of those emotions that require exploring. Through embracing emotions and not avoiding the triggers of those emotions, we can learn to accept our feelings and deal with them appropriately.
Mental health affects physical health too. Everything is connected so listening to your body is effective as it may be trying to tell you something. Sometimes feeling lethargic or tired is just your body letting you know to rest, as if switching your body off and on again to reset. There are many things that can help you relax and reconnect that doesn’t require going to a retreat.
Doing something physical or active can help you be present, such as yoga, dancing, or sports; any exercise can get some endorphins going. Mindfulness can help too, which can take the form of meditation, deep breathing exercises, or even a social media/ internet detox. I did an unintentional internet detox on a cruise last year where there was no wifi signal in the middle of the sea, and I came back from that holiday so refreshed.
I’ve found self care to be important too, something as simple as taking a bath, putting on a sheet mask, or even something a bit fancier like a manicure. It’s as if you are trying to take care of the body which translates to taking care of the mind. Being outside and with nature can help too, not sure if it’s the extra oxygen from the trees, breathing in the sea air, the soothing sound of the waves crashing against the coast, or just the sunshine but being in nature sure helps with being still and present. It means being away from the noise and distraction of every day life, giving your mind some space.
Finding ways to be creative and express yourself can also be calming, such as through music and art. I find listening to music cathartic whilst playing music immediately stops me overthinking. Art I haven’t done in years, but it’s nice to look back at past creations and I’m still reminded of the emotions I felt when creating that piece of art. Indoors, what I find most helpful is writing. I have written for years in diaries or expressed myself in poetry, as writing down thoughts and feelings and acknowledging them means they no longer need to race around in my head. Nowadays I have a gratitude journal and I’ve heard of bad thoughts journals, especially as a way of coping in the pandemic in a constructive format that is therapeutic.
Hopefully this post has helped you in some way. If not then there is other help out there: talking to a friend or counsellor or obtaining professional assistance through therapy. Be sure when talking to a friend to check they are in the right headspace to receive information, as they can’t pour from an empty cup either. It’s ok and perfectly normal to have mental health issues. Your mind is a part of your body, and just like your body it can have issues. Learn tools to cope and know that this isn’t what defines you.