It’s Mental Health Awareness Week the theme is kindness. One thing I wanted to talk about is self-kindness. It’s probably not the first thing you would think about when the word “kindness” is uttered, we think of kindness as something we give to others. And generally, we feel more comfortable being kind to others but yet turning that light towards ourselves often feels unnatural.
Yet, as mental health first aid instructors one of the first things we talk about is looking after yourself first, the old “put your oxygen mask on first before helping others” analogy. And for me that also means be kind to yourself first too, and all the more important in the current climate.
I say this, but I have to confess it’s not something I myself have mastered, I am still working on it & likely will for the rest of my life, you see it’s something a lot of us have to unpick and re-wire & that takes time and effort especially when we have got used to operating in a certain way. We’ve forged the motorway and now our brain can speedily fire off a few negative self-defeating comments, without us even being aware of it. Some of us are kinder and more forgiving to our friends and relatives and our own worst enemy.
During the current climate some of us are giving ourselves a hard time for not accomplishing more during “lockdown”. I was one of those that had high expectations of what I might achieve; continue working on my business, look after my child, do yoga once a day, read lots, eat healthier, cook, clean and de-clutter the house and the list goes on. But then I remembered, this is no ordinary situation, this is living in a global pandemic, the unrealistic list I concocted is not achievable in “normal” circumstances let alone a global crisis.
So, I have been trying to re-wire my mind and show myself a little compassion, if I find myself spiraling with a negative critical thought, where possible I have been stopping that thought and re-framing it. In the spare moments I have, I have re-discovered doodling – which is fun but also a mindful practice and helps me stay in the present moment.
I have also been practicing gratitude, thinking of things I am grateful for each day, it doesn’t matter how small it is. Practicing gratitude every day can help reduce stress and improve emotional awareness, it releases dopamine and serotonin which are vital neurotransmitters that help make us feel good. And lastly, I have been resting when I need to, this has been hard for me, as I always feel guilty for sitting still, chilling out, especially if I have a long chores list, but rest is vital for me, I quickly become useless to myself and everyone around me if I am exhausted. It’s a slow process, it will work differently for everyone but it requires repetition to re-direct and re-build those motorways to a kinder destination.
Kristin Neff an expert in self-compassion describes self-kindness as “An ability to relate to ourselves with warmth and kindness.” An “ability” so it’s a skill, something we have to learn!