Mental Health Awareness Week: what's kindness got to do with mental health?
This week (18-24 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual campaign initiated by the Mental Health Foundation to encourage conversations around mental health. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's theme is kindness.
With the global health crisis seeing a rise in anxiety, stress and loneliness, it is clearer now more than ever that mental health problems can affect anyone, at any time. So how can we support each other through this time?
This is where kindness comes in. Being kind simply means to be friendly, generous and considerate, and even the smallest act of kindness can enhance our health and wellbeing in a big way.
Giving an act of kindness stimulates the production of: serotonin - the ‘feel good’ chemical that helps us feel happy and calm; endorphins - the brain’s natural pain killer; and oxytocin - a hormone that lowers blood pressure, aids heart health and increases self-esteem. Kindness also reduces the production of the body’s stress hormone, cortisol.
When receiving kindness, there is a sense of belonging, feeling important to someone and of feeling cared for. What’s more, the part of the brain that lights up in the recipient of a kind act, also lights up in the brain of the giver, so all involved experience a positive wave of emotion. As a result, kindness has also been shown to have a domino effect, with recipients of kindness often inspired to pass kindness on to others.
When we add up the health and wellbeing benefits of kindness, it looks something like this:
- Reduced feelings of anxiety, depression and stress.
- Higher energy levels, feelings of optimism and self-worth.
- Increased social connection and meaningful interactions.
- The potential to live longer, more fulfilling lives.
This week, we have the opportunity to come together and help make the world a kinder place to be for us all. We invite you to take part in our mission to share the stories of kindness taking place around the world. From acts of kindness you have given to others or yourself, that you have received, or will be committing to this week. Head over to our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to get involved.
We’ve offered some ideas to get you started - these are just the tip of the iceberg so be sure to incorporate your own ideas throughout the week! Remember, one act of kindness goes a long way, so take care and only do what you can.
Support yourself and fellow students
For students, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes in where and when you study, and take assessments. Be compassionate while coming to terms with these new arrangements.
- Let those around you know how to support you, such as reminding you to take breaks or providing a quiet environment.
- Offer to be someone’s virtual study buddy so you can help each other revise and keep going.
- Download TalkCampus, the mental health peer network for students. You can share kind words with someone who needs them or ask for help. Go to the ‘Wellbeing’ tab on your Student Portal for more details.
Be kind to yourself
Take care and make sure you are not giving from an empty cup – looking after yourself first puts you in a stronger position to help others. Consider trying one or all of the following:
- Note down one thing you did well each day.
- Take some time to do something just for you.
- Write yourself a daily affirmation to begin each morning, such as ‘I believe in myself’.
Show friends and family that you care
You can do this in any number of ways! You could:
- Tell someone why you are thankful for them.
- Set aside quality time for a virtual catch up to ask someone how they’re feeling – this could be someone you know might be finding things tough.
- Send someone a cute/funny/uplifting video.
Reach out to those under extra stress
People have had to quickly adapt to significant life changes brought about by the pandemic. This could mean increased workload or unemployment, extra caring responsibilities or being unable to maintain activities that bring calm and stability. How about:
- Sending someone a weekly appreciation message.
- If you feel able to, offer a listening ear for them to talk through things or simply vent.
- If appropriate, suggest researching support services together.
Share kindness in the community
Doing your part for the communities and causes you care about are great ways to feel you're having a positive impact on society. Here are some things you could think about doing:
- If you have vulnerable neighbours, let them know you’re there if they need anything, such as food shopping.
- Create a hopeful poster and stick it in your window to brighten someone’s day as they walk by.
- Take a moment to share your stories of kindness with the global University of London community on social media this week.
We hope this article has shown you that being kind is a simple and effective way to make everyone’s day a bit better, as well as enhance health and wellbeing.
If you want to know more about Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation, being kind and its benefits, we have listed useful reading at the end of the page.
If you are worried about your mental health, take care and seek support from a health professional, family or friends.