How kindness starts from within
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (18 – 24 May) and the theme is kindness. But the compassion you really need to cultivate, also arguably the most challenging, starts on the inside.
When I was asked to write about my mental health journey and discuss the importance of kindness it left me pondering where to begin. Should I start with how I was bullied at school, or perhaps the verbally abusive relationship I found myself in aged 18, or the story that I talk about a lot – my battle with PTSD in my early 30s? All of which led to my internal dialogue becoming self-destructive and very hurtful.
Like many girls, I was bullied a lot at secondary school. I found it hard to fit in and to maintain friendships. Over time the bullying took its toll. I had next to zero self-esteem and constantly told myself ‘People don’t like you, you are ugly’. It altered my thought process around friendships and relationships. I carried these feelings of hopelessness and lack of acceptance around for many years afterwards.
Just before I moved down to London back in 2010 to start a new job, I was dating a guy when I unexpectedly fell pregnant. The guy in question didn’t want the baby so I panicked and ended up making a rash decision to have an abortion.
The years ahead were very up and down. I had frequent episodes of crying and an abundance of negative thoughts racing around my head. I had a constant feeling of emptiness – like a part of me was missing. I put on a brave face each day but it got harder and harder. I would see couples together and I would break down in the street. Friends would have babies and I’d cut them out of my life. I was living with an overwhelming amount of guilt, grief and regret – I just couldn’t handle it. I became verbally abusive to myself. I would tell myself each day that I wasn’t worthy of having friends or finding love, that I didn’t deserve to have my job and that I was a failure.
EYES WIDE OPEN
I didn’t really speak to anyone about what was happening to me. After 3 years of worsening mental health symptoms, my physical body gave up on me. I had a mini-breakdown. I had an autoimmune response to the mental trauma I had been through and my hair started falling out. I ended up with a string of nasty viruses that I couldn’t shake off, exhaustion and a form of arthritis in my hands and feet that I still experience problems with today. Our mental and physical health states are so intrinsically interlinked and I learnt the hard way.
People ask me, with your background in mental health (I have a MSc in Physical Activity and Mental health), how did you not see this coming? Did you not notice the onset of the symptoms? The truth is I didn’t. When you’re in the middle of a mental health challenge, you don’t see what’s happening to you. You don’t notice the changes in your mood and behaviour. It was others that noticed the change in me and suggested I may like to seek help. I will always be grateful to them.
Each day I now work on my mental wellbeing and have found the two things that really work for me in terms of boosting my mood and maintaining positive thoughts are exercise and self-care activities such as journaling and finding time to do the things I enjoy. It’s so important to look after our mental wellbeing, if we don’t, our physical health, relationships and financial health can suffer. I know, I am living proof. I share my story because I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I did.
We’re living in a crazy Covid-19 world at the moment where it’s hard to stay positive. UK Mental Health Awareness week is upon us. The focus for this year is fittingly on kindness. In a world where we are surrounded by negative news stories and social-distancing restrictions, taking time to recognise what we need and how to better look after ourselves is vital. Yes, there are people who need caring for, but you need looking after, too, don’t forget that.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-KINDNESS, SELF-LOVE AND SELF-CARE
Adopting a positive mindset and changing the inner self chatter from one of self-harm to compassion, love and kindness is not an easy task but the good news is it is possible. Here are three tools for your kit:
- Changing the conversation we have with ourselves
If someone came to you with the problem or thoughts that you are presenting to yourself, what advice would you offer? How would you approach the conversation? Would you be hard on them? I am guessing not. Treat yourself as your best friend – offer yourself the support and encouragement you would provide to your nearest and dearest.
- The power of affirmations
Affirmations are a great way to change our internal thought patterns and the dialogue that we have with ourselves. Try writing down three statements and saying them out loud in front of a mirror 3-5 times, twice a day. It may be statements such as ‘I am strong, confident and successful’ or ‘I am truly loved for who I am. I can offer and accept love’. There are plenty of affirmations online too, if you don’t want to create your own, though the more specific they are, the better. It’s surprising how quickly affirmations can change your thought patterns.
- Extend kind acts to you
Being kind to others either by providing compliments, offering support or giving gifts brings us joy. How good are you at being kind to yourself and doing these things for you? Over the next 7 days offer yourself compassion and love. Try doing one kind thing each day for yourself. Here are a few examples for inspiration:
- Make a self-care plan or timetable
- Create a set of positive affirmations
- Connect with friends, family and loved ones
- Have “you time”, be that losing yourself in a good book or enjoying a bubble bath
- Go for a walk in nature
- Listen to uplifting music or an inspiring podcast
- Exercise regularly
- Send little gifts to your friends and family – enjoy giving
- Send notes of gratitude to your friends
- Tell people you love them
- Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby
- Do things that make you happy, not what other people want you to do
- Be creative and make something
- Watch your favourite movie or TV series – it’s important to build in relaxation
- Allow yourself time to reflect, think and mediate
I’ve adopted a positive mindset and have started to change my internal dialogue. Of course there are days when it’s harder than others and the negative thoughts will creep in. Being able to recognise them and offer yourself a positive alternative is the winning formula. Acceptance is the greatest gift you can give yourself along with self-care.
I now run InsideOut, a mental fitness platform that provides instant access to online video therapy and coaching sessions and self-help tools. It’s been built around the tools and support I needed at both my most vulnerable – and today.
You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You are strong. You are confident. You are thoughtful and you are simply brilliant. You’ve got this!
For more information check out www.lettheinsideout.com | @laurajstembridge | @lettheinsideout
Laura Stembridge is a mental health academic who has studied MSc Physical Activity and Mental Health at the University of Gloucestershire, 2003-2006 and a published author. Laura is the CEO and Founder of Let the InsideOut, a digital platform providing video therapy/coaching sessions and mental fitness tools.