Mental Health Awareness Week: Be kind to yourself 

May 22, 2020 4 min read

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (18th - 24th May), a chance for us all to reflect on our mental health and wellbeing. This year’s theme is kindness, with the  Mental Health Foundation explaining: “now more than ever, we need to re-discover kindness in our daily lives”. Our latest blog post looks at ways to look after your mental health during these challenging times. 

Reducing Stress

Stress is a normal part of our everyday lives; but when this pressure builds to an excessive level over a number of weeks or months (chronic stress), it can affect our health. The current pandemic has resulted in huge uncontrollable changes to people’s routines. Uncontrollable change is a significant predictor of stress (1), so given the present circumstances, stress is a very normal reaction to extraordinary circumstances. While we can’t always control the cause of stress, we can control how we respond to it by implementing evidence-based stress relief techniques. Here are three suggestions:

1. Get some Exercise!

Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. It helps reduce the intensity of stressful emotions and makes us feel calmer (2). Find a form of exercise that you enjoy and can stick to regularly – whether that’s a daily cycle ride or walk round the park. Healthy adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days, but if you’re not used to exercising, build up gradually (3).

2. Try Mindfulness

Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, noticing what’s going on around you, and acknowledging the thoughts and feelings you experience without judgement (4). Mindfulness-based stress reduction programmes have been shown to reduce stress and improve mood (5). The organisation Mindful has some tips on  how to get started with mindfulness practice.

3. Stay Connected

People with strong social support networks have more resilience to stress (6). Ensuring we stay connected can help us deal with stress when it arises as talking with friends and having a laugh are great stress-relievers (7). It’s important that we always follow the latest  government advice on social distancing and shielding. If you’re able to do so, consider meeting up with a friend for a socially distanced walk or picnic in a park. If face-to-face contact isn’t an option, make frequent use of telephone calls, video chats, texting, and social media to stay in touch with your loved ones and ensure that you get the social support you need.

Boredom Busters

Boredom and loneliness are closely interlinked (8), and loneliness is a risk factor for malnutrition (9). There’s never been a better time to invest in old and new hobbies. There are many activities we can do from the comfort of our homes, whether that’s arts and crafts, cooking and baking, gardening, learning a new skill, or even joining a virtual  choir

There are plenty of free resources to help with all of the above online, allowing you to get creative. The government has also launched a new  skills toolkit, which allows users to undertake free online courses to improve digital and numeracy skills. 

Strategies for ‘Down Days’

Everyone has down days – those days where you might feel low, flat, numb, or tearful, and sometimes without explanation. Firstly, it’s important to recognise that it’s completely normal to be feeling this way. The situation created by coronavirus is unprecedented and scary, and we’ve had no choice but to adapt to it very quickly, often making considerable sacrifices in terms of our freedoms, plans, and daily lives.

If you find yourself having a down day, carve out some time for yourself– time set aside specifically to do something you enjoy. It could be exercise, playing a game, or simply sitting and watching TV for a few hours. We all deserve time to indulge in a little self-care.

When we’re feeling down, it can be hard to think positively, but putting focus on the things that we’re grateful for can help to reframe our way of thinking. Try creating a gratitude journal, where you note down the things that you’re grateful for each day – small or big. Being able to look back at all the things that make life good can help to reframe your way of thinking.

Being open and honest about your feelings can also encourage others to do the same. Sharing thoughts and feelings helps to remind us that we’re all in the same boat – and you may feel better simply from having got it off your chest.

Eating Well on ‘Down Days’

When feeling down, it can be difficult to find the motivation to shop for food, cook, or even to eat at all. To support you in continuing to eat healthily, you could try the following:

  • Prepare – use the days when you’re feeling good to get to the supermarket to stock up on food, and batch cook some meals to store in the freezer for days when you don’t have the energy or drive to cook. Good options are chillies, casseroles, curries and soups – dishes that you can pack with vegetables and pulses to provide a healthy, filling meal that can be reheated quickly and easily.
  • Keep it simple – eating well doesn’t require complicated recipes and fancy ingredients. Simple meals can be nutritious and delicious – wholemeal toast with baked beans and cheese or a jacket potato with tuna mayonnaise and salad are both balanced, nutritious dishes.
  • Eat regularly – when we skip a meal or don’t eat enough, our blood sugar levels drop, which can cause a simultaneous drop in mood (10). If you find this happening to you, try eating regular, small meals or snacks throughout the day.

Getting support

Many people find that feelings of stress, sadness, or anxiety are temporary and can be well-managed using the techniques mentioned above. However, for some people, they become a long-lasting issue, which may interfere with your day-to-day life. If you find yourself struggling or feeling overwhelmed, don’t keep it to yourself. You can speak to a trusted friend or loved one, get in touch with your doctor, or contact a mental health support organisation like  Mind or the  Samaritans.