Illustration by Hiraku

Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) is a big deal for us here at MoreYoga because we believe in the importance of holistic well-being and that taking care of your mental and emotional health is just as important as looking after your physical health.

During this time of  social distancing, uncertainty, change and lock down it’s even more important than ever that we look after ourselves and each other. For many of us, lockdown has meant slowing down, staying at home and being forced to pause and it’s fair to say that most of us were overworked, over stretched and overwhelmed. Technology has us connected 24/7 and stress, anxiety, depression and suicide are becoming far too common place. Amid the monumental loss we have witnessed during Covid-19, there are so many lessons that we can learn, and should learn from to make the world a kinder place. MHAW is so important but we need to keep talking, keep evolving and keep supporting one another every day for positive, lasting change to really occur.

So, what can we learn from lock down and how can we practice more kindness to ourselves, to each other and to the planet, beyond Mental Health Awareness Week?

1. Practice self-kindness and reflect on how you can introduce more self-care into your daily routine.

Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or spiritual, self-care can mean investing your time and energy into the things that help you feel better, that replenish you and that bring you joy. I tried just about everything to help arrive at a happy & healthy place mentally from meditation to medication and the one, most life changing pearl of wisdom I can offer from my own mental health journey is the power of kindness & how everything can change when you begin to treat yourself with compassion.

Look at your daily schedule and reflect on how much time you actually commit to taking care of yourself. Can you be kinder to yourself through the way you speak to yourself, the way you treat yourself and the decisions you make?

Try making a list of the things you want to say YES to, in order to practice more self-kindness, then next to them reflect on what you need to say NO to, in order to make space for these things.

“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” Eleanor Brown

2. Redefine what productivity means for you, on your own terms.

Like most of us, I give myself a really tough time for not being productive ‘enough’ and I had grand ideas about all the things I’d get done during lock down…most of which I haven’t done! I think the goalposts of what we classed as ‘productive’ were precisely the problem. We need to stop glorifying busy because wearing exhaustion like a badge of honour is not working, we need to move the goalposts

We live in a world that is always striving for more but during lock down many of us realised we can survive and actually perhaps even thrive, on so much less. Spend some time reflecting on what being productive really means to you and what you want to put your energy and time into, define your own goalposts and move them accordingly.

Simple things like spending time with loved ones, cooking a nutritious meal, spending time with yourself or investing in rest can be just as productive as putting time and energy into work and can have such a positive effect on your mental and emotional wellbeing.

3. Practice kindness to each other. 

I had the pleasure of speaking with the amazing Dr Radha Moghil for MHAW and we discussed the lessons we can learn from lock down and what we may have forgotten about, “Kindness, love, safety – those basic human needs. This is a big reminder to us all to listen to what’s really important and this is how everyone can thrive across the planet.” Radha goes on to say that because this pandemic “has affected all of us, it’s brought into focus the importance of emotional wellbeing and mental health, and that those topics are not just for a section of society or people who’ve been affected by it. It’s for everybody.”

So how can we begin to practice more kindness and compassion towards each other? “Someone listening to you and asking if you’re OK is the first step in terms of our mental health, kindness has a lot of power behind it to help all of us.” Dr Radha.

Make sure to check in with the people you care about as we have all been affected by lock down and Covid-19, even though we might be practicing social distancing we can still stay connected to each other by picking up the phone, writing a letter, sending a message and simply checking in. When someone is suffering their they mental health it can be hard to bring up and talk about. Giving someone the space and time to talk things through or  letting them know you’re there when they are ready to, can make them feel supported, which is such a gift and costs nothing.

4. The power of giving back. 

Phili Boyle, the Director of charity ChooseLove, said in our recent interview that ‘Kindness is a very innate compulsion that we all have inside us to treat other people in a loving and respectful way but everyday life can make a barrier between us being our true kind selves,  this current time we’re in is showing such a resurgence in kindness.”

Becoming more aware of how we treat people and making a conscious decision to be kind in the way we speak to and interact with others can be a powerful act of kindness in itself because it’s like a ripple effect. Often when we’re busy, stressed and not practicing kindness to others, we become less aware of how we’re treating other people but by becoming more conscious of the kind of society we want to create, a kinder more compassion world, we can begin to spread kindness through the small, everyday acts and interactions.

Giving back can make you feel great, it can improve your emotional wellbeing and help to feel more connected to others and give you a greater purpose. You could reach out to your neighbours and ask if they need any support, get involved with a charity or in your community, or simply practice more kindness in your everyday interactions.

“If we can try to bring kindness into all of our interactions with other people and try to look at the world through a lense of kindness then anything is possible, maybe we could even save the planet! There is still hope.” Phili Boyle.

5. Think about the choices you make everyday and how they impact the world around you.

During our interview for MHAW with Co-Founder of The Sustainable Food Story, Abi Aspen Glencross, we discussed her top 3 takeaway points for anyone wanting to make more sustainable choices and practise more kindness to the planet:

COOK: Cook your own food, stop buying as much processed food which uses lots of packaging & is often imported and try to share food with others whenever you can, eating as many different plants as you can.

GROW: Learn to grow simple vegetables, herbs or fruits at home so you aren’t completely reliable on supermarkets and shops.

LEARN: Finding local suppliers means a shorter supply network, less carbon emissions and you’ll be supporting local businesses! When you’re buying food, try to find out where it’s coming from, taking more responsibility for the choices we make is a huge step in living more sustainably.

If lock down has taught me anything it’s that slowing down and enjoying the smaller things in life doesn’t mean you’re being unproductive, rest shouldn’t be a reward for how hard you’re working & self-care shouldn’t be a coping strategy. The old world is gone, things have & will continue to change but we can learn so much from what’s happened to us all over the past few months. Rushing back to what was ‘normal’ isn’t the way to move forwards because normal wasn’t working. I really hope we can learn some lasting lessons from this virus & see some positive change come out of so much loss by practising more kindness & compassion to ourselves, to each other and to the world. Kindness costs nothing but it has the power to spread like wild fire and maybe it really can change the world.

Interviews for Mental Health Awareness Week can be found on MoreYoga YouTube

Cultivating More Self-Kindness with Dr Radha Moghil

Cultivating More Self-Kindness with Dr Radha Moghil

Cultivating More Self-Kindness with Dr Radha Moghil

About the writer, Liz Joy Oakley

Liz Joy Oakley is Yoga Teacher, Holistic Wellbeing Coach and Head of Vibes at MoreYoga, co-running our MoreMind Project with Stephanie Minchin, coordinating events, content and workshops focused on better supporting our communities mental and physical wellbeing. After starting her career in the fast-paced world of luxury fashion Liz came to Yoga after being diagnosed with Malignant Hypertension and Generalized Anxiety and left with the goal of helping others to lead healthier lives holistically. Liz went on to spent a year working at the Safe Childhoods Foundation in Indonesia, an NGO committed to combatting organized crimes against children, she began to understand the true benefits of Yoga, Meditation and Psychology as therapeutic tools and describes this as a time of total transformation.

Now back in London, Liz is passionate about helping people achieve a healthier, happier lifestyle through her work. She loves bringing people together, encouraging authentic connection and is happiest when facilitating retreats, workshops and events based around Yoga, Positive Psychology and Holistic Wellbeing.

Liz teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin & Restorative Yoga, specialising in teaching Yoga, Mindfulness & Meditation to improve stress & anxiety. She combines this with her work as a Holistic Wellbeing Coach & is dedicated to spreading Joy through her work.