Mental Health Awareness Week
UK Mental Health Awareness Week takes place this week and this year’s theme is nature and the environment. It goes without saying that access to nature, and variety of environment, are very important pieces of the mental health puzzle – and most of us experienced this during the lockdown periods.
We have had to handle what for all of us was our first worldwide health pandemic, and for the majority of us our first recession. A time when we have experienced a deep fear for our health and in our working lives read about, felt threatened by, and perhaps experienced redundancy. Certainties which we had previously relied on became unknowns, whilst freedoms which we had taken for granted were removed.
Looking back on this period, there are some key mental health lessons we have taken away in relation to both our personal and our working lives which we wanted to share in the hope it can help others:
Conversation around mental health moved front and centre
Having been stigmatised for far too long, and talked about but not necessarily acted upon, COVID has brought mental health to the forefront of political and commercial conversation. When before people may not have been inclined to ask about your mental wellbeing, and equally it may not have been easy to talk about it, these conversations became more normalised, which has hopefully started an ongoing movement in the right direction.
People realised they could talk about it and get help
We all feel low at some point and experience tough times, some of us experience this stronger than others and have to dig deep to find the resilience to move forward. This isn’t always possible when we don’t have the coping mechanisms in place to do this, and it takes professional care and support to provide you with these tools. It’s OK to ask for help, it’s human, and there are many options for support available – some of which we have listed at bottom of the page.
We learnt the importance of connection and community
Whether it was walking around our neighbourhood or local park during lockdown, using neighbourhood apps to make connections, clapping weekly for the NHS, or donating groceries or time to those at high risk, a sense of community and connection to those people and places around us are vital to our mental wellbeing. We noticed a huge improvement to our mental wellbeing after reaching out to family and friends to break the isolation, after all we are social creatures! In a time of darkness and stress, these small rays of sunshine have been a beacon to those struggling silently
We have rediscovered the simple things in life
Being forced to spend time at home was extremely difficult and isolating, but many people rediscovered simple pleasures such as baking (can we remember the flour shortage!), painting, spending more time with their family and friends (either physically or through Zoom) or exercising. We also realised the importance of the work/life balance – people, whether they were an employer or an employee, were reminded of what was already apparent – that life balance is a significant marker for performance, and that clear boundaries between life and work will always be necessary especially if we are working from our kitchen tables.
Wellbeing strategies are becoming mainstream
Apps such as Headspace and Calm have become household names, helping anyone with a smartphone access simple and quick mindfulness tools that can fit into any busy day. Mindful walking in nature and natural sunlight is also a great alternative to trying to sit rigidly and force yourself to meditate if you find that too difficult. At a time of uncertainty, loss and having an inability to plan ahead, we have been forced to slow down and take one day as it comes. These small wellness habits can also be complimentary to professional support.
We have become more aware of our physical health
The fear that most people have experienced throughout the pandemic has been at times intense and has made leaving the house a stressful experience. For many, the pandemic has brought into focus our physical health and how fragile this can be, which also affects our mental health as our minds and body are so closely connected. Being one of the only valid reasons to leave the house, exercise became a central point to many people’s day and many have created new healthy habits, such as walking, running or cycling routines as a result.
Mental health awareness has come to the fore throughout the pandemic, and will continue to be an important issue as the world opens up and we return to a more normalised life. We have learnt many lessons around dealing with isolation, loss and suffering and how important connections to those people and places around us are. If you, or someone you know, is in need of some extra support we have included some links below to mental health charities as a starting point, or you can talk to your GP.
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