Mental Health Awareness Week runs from the 18th - 24th May 2020, the theme for this year is kindness. Now, more than ever it’s important we show kindness to one other. Giving and receiving acts of kindness can help to improve mental wellbeing by creating positive feelings.
I’m 10 weeks into social distancing, and like many of those around me, I’ve had up days, and down days. Some days fly by, and are made better by the little things, a stroll in the park or a nice meal. Others knock me side-ways, and I don’t manage to do much of anything. Which reminds me that I’m three weeks late submitting this blog (apologies Time to Change Wales). With more time to spare during lockdown, it’s easy to put unrealistic expectations on ourselves. This might be the time to complete those niggly tasks we never got round to; like clearing your wardrobe, learning a skill you’d always wanted to or even getting that lean six pack you’d always dreamed of (yes – I’ve bought the Joe Wicks 90 day plan, and no – I haven’t started it yet) .
A daily dose of social media has led me to feel the pressure to make the most of this time by adopting new skills; maybe learn a language, read tens of books, join a virtual book club, learn how to bake the perfect banana bread or become a culinary connoisseur and Instagram star. Find the meaning of life.
I must admit, the endless possibilities were exciting at the beginning, the world was my oyster. However, it soon transpired into feelings of guilt for not achieving as much as I’d set out to, along with a sense of worthlessness. Much like setting yourself ridiculous new year’s resolutions and feeling disappointed when you, of course, fail. My unrealistic expectations made each day a little harder, when in reality, I was finding getting out of bed and showering at a decent time each day enough of a mountain to climb.
"I find showing kindness to others an easier task than showing kindness to myself; the socially distanced conversation with a neighbour, a smile and a ‘stay safe’ to a cashier, or taking a second to show my appreciation to loved ones. This is something that comes naturally to me. In future, I want to afford the same kindness to myself."
Recently, I’ve let those expectations go and now my to-do lists consist of the most basic tasks; such as setting out a morning routine and a weekly plan for exercising. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve dropped the expectations of learning a new language or mastering a Boeuf Bourguignon, however, I must admit that I’m partial to the occasional banana bread. So, what changed? And why have my expectations of lockdown suddenly dwindled into mundane tasks? After a little thought and reflection, it dawned on me that these are of course, strange times. As everyone keeps telling me, ‘unprecedented’. Despite wishing things could get back to ‘precedented times’, surviving and dealing with the implications of a global pandemic as it is now, is and should be my priority. In turn, learning a new language didn’t seem so important and focusing on the little tasks that make up my day did.
Now, more than ever, focusing on the fundamental is important. For me, that definitely includes kindness. At a time where suffering is a global commonality, kindness is easy to practice and makes a huge difference. Being kind is usually seen as something we do for others, but for me, being kind to myself is just as important and can be much more difficult. By relieving the pressure that I have put on myself over the last couple of weeks, I’ve become more productive, more present and happier. Ultimately, I’ve become kinder to myself.
I find showing kindness to others an easier task than showing kindness to myself; the socially distanced conversation with a neighbour, a smile and a ‘stay safe’ to a cashier, or taking a second to show my appreciation to loved ones. This is something that comes naturally to me. In future, I want to afford the same kindness to myself. This might sound selfish to some, but I make no apologies, becoming kinder to myself will in turn give me the happiness to do the same to others and the strength to face these ‘unprecedented’ times and whatever may come afterwards
Iestyn is a mental health activist and LGBT rights campaigner. Iestyn often shares his experiences of living with OCD and his experiences of being gay in Wales.