How To Be Kind To Yourself
Perhaps the hardest thing about working in mental health is seeing how much people suffer with issues like stress and depression when there are some simple, yet incredibly effective, things they can do to increase their sense of wellbeing.
According to this year’s Mental Health at Work Report, one in three employees have now been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue, with 60% of employees saying that work has adversely affected their mental health at some point during the last year.
Easy as it would be to place the blame entirely with employers, we also need to think about how we as individuals are responsible as well.
So during the month of World Kindness Day we thought it would be good to share some tips on how to be kind to yourself.
Why we need to be kind to ourselves
We have far more independence and autonomy to choose how and when we work than generations before us, yet many of us regularly push ourselves past our limits, so that the positive of feeling stretched becomes the negative of feeling strained, both at work and at home.
We consciously make decisions that we know will put us under unnecessary pressure or, when we finally hit our stride, expect that level of peak performance to go on indefinitely, then beat ourselves up when we inevitably can’t continually demand more of ourselves than even our employer asks of us.
A major problem is that we’ve forgotten how to be kind to ourselves. We’ve learned how to suppress the physical and psychological desires that naturally guide us to do things that recharge us and make us feel good. Then wonder why we’re experiencing low mood.
So if you, or someone you know is experiencing low mood, or even if you’re just keen to stay healthy, read our top tips on how to be kind to yourself.
Four ways to be kind to yourself
1. Don’t push yourself past your limits
Most of us are now in the habit of regularly pushing ourselves past our limits. Unfortunately this is a false economy because although you might feel like you’re getting more done by ‘utilising’ every spare moment - working late, through lunch or forcing yourself to keep at a task long after you’ve started to feel ineffective - there comes a point after which you will cease to add value.
The problem is that once you’ve gone past that point, you probably won’t recognise it yourself and will simply get frustrated and try harder than ever to extract even more from yourself. That’s because when we push ourselves past our limits, our brains enter into ‘primitive mode’ a sort of safe function that limits our access to all our creative and problem-solving ability so that we can remain resolutely focused on just getting through the task in hand.
Other people might recognise when you’ve pushed yourself into ‘primitive mode’ as you will exhibit the classic fight, flight or freeze response. To your mind, anyone making extra demands of you at this time or suggesting better ways of going about things won’t be helping. Instead, they will become the ‘enemy’ and you might feel entirely justified in completely avoiding them or telling them exactly what you think of their ideas, which you might feel rather horrified about once your brain returns to normal. Unfortunately, until it does, you won’t be thinking rationally, which is why it’s never a good idea to push yourself into primitive mode. Primitive mode is designed to help us escape life-threatening situations, not manage the pressures of modern day living.
2. Know where your limits are
Pressure can be a good thing, driving us to succeed and increasing our knowledge, skills, earning power and self-esteem as we stretch ourselves in new ways. But if we don’t stay mindful of where we are on our individual pressure curve, we run the risk of tipping ourselves out of feeling positively stretched into feeling negatively strained.
As all top athletes know, the key to stretching your performance in positive ways is to challenge yourself up to and only just beyond the edges of your current abilities. Any further and you risk injuring yourself. Your edge is unique to you and is the point at which you feel energised, focused and ready to meet the challenges ahead. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tearful, angry, exhausted or flat, you’ve gone too far past your limit. You need to think about how you can recharge yourself of take a step back to think about a better way forward, even if that requires admitting defeat and enlisting the support of others or reducing the scale of the challenge you’ve set yourself.
Resilience training can help you to identify the warning signs your body emits when you start to push yourself too far past your limits, be this biting your cuticles, jerking your knee up and down, sensing that your eye is twitching or becoming extra forgetful. By learning what your unique warning signs are and learning how to take a step back when they emerge, you can keep yourself from becoming too overwhelmed.
Similarly, don’t push yourself past your limits at home. For example, if you know spending hours on social media stresses you out or that binge-watching box sets makes you feel flat and tired the next day, don’t do it. Restrict your viewing to a certain time and get someone else to physically turn the TV off if you’re one of the 32% of adults who says that the temptation to watch ‘just one more episode’ costs them sleep and leaves them feeling tired.
3. Give yourself recovery time
Top athletes also know that the key to sustaining peak performance is to build in enough recovery time. That’s because we build muscle and create growth not while we’re actively stretching ourselves, but when we rest afterwards. The same is true of our brains.
Brain scans show that it’s when we relax that our brains become most active. Which is why you might have come up with some of your best ideas when you were in the bath, commuting or focused on some simple task that somehow got your creative juices flowing.
When you hit your stride, even if you haven’t pushed yourself too far out of your acceptable stretch zone, it’s unrealistic, and even unhealthy, to think that you can sustain your peak performance indefinitely. It’s essential that you only try to stretch and push yourself for short periods at a time, so that you can build in recovery time and recharge yourself in anticipation of the next challenge.
Instead of flopping on the sofa and passively watching TV, or spending hours on your phone at the end of an already long day, give yourself ‘golden time’ and actively plan how you want to treat yourself each day.
Maybe you’d enjoy a relaxing bubble bath when you get home, a trip to a local art exhibition at lunch, a walk in nature or a quality telephone call or meet up with a good friend. Perhaps it would rejuvenate you to regularly take time-out to do a hobby that gives you joy or indulge in screen-free time with your family.
Whatever it is, be kind to yourself by making sure you regularly give yourself the time needed to do something that gives you a boost.
4. Recharge all your batteries
When planning your ‘golden time’ it’s important to mix things up a bit to ensure you’re constantly recharging all of the ‘six batteries’ we’ve identified as being mission critical to your emotional wellbeing. These are:
Social Energy - Current research is suggesting that we all need about six hours of daily interaction with other human beings to stay mentally well. This indicates how important it is for us to feel connected and have a sense of belonging. It is important to review where you source this social fuel now? Are you giving yourself opportunities to have quality interaction with others on a regular basis? Who can you talk to when you have had a tough day?
Mindful Energy – Taking time to value ourselves in dedicating time-out to meditate is very protective of our mental health. Studies have shown that the brain is set at a default position to try and go over all of our worries, trying to find solutions, when we are at rest. Mindfulness trains our brain to focus on the here and now, switching down these default ruminations and affords us the space to fully concentrate and appreciate the benefits of the current moment.
Physical Energy – We all know that looking after our physical health can pay dividends to our sense of emotional wellbeing but how do we ensure that we follow through on our well-made resolutions. This can be helped by knowing how we can develop good wellbeing habits, so that we don’t have to dispel mental energy in persuading ourselves to go on that run – it just becomes a daily non-negotiable.
Emotional Energy – Why do we say things to ourselves that we would never say to a colleague or a friend? Why do we not chase experiences that bring us joy, fun or a sense of awe or achievement on a weekly or even daily basis? We need to be intentional about setting up hobbies or activities that lighten our mood and protect our minds against our natural tendency to notice the negative things around us.
Mental Energy – Understanding basic aspects of how the brain works when we are under pressure can help us to be more in control of our thoughts and make more rational decisions. It is amazing how simple time-out techniques can facilitate the logical side of our brain to come on line and help us plan out good resolutions to stressful situations.
Meaningful Energy - Knowing what is important to us, what values drive our choices and what provides us with a sense of purpose can add so much colour and richness to our day to life. Knowing what is meaningful and how we wish to live accordingly can keep us going even when times are tough and sore in times of giving and success.
By thinking about what small steps of self-kindness you can give yourself in each area you can change the trajectory of your mental health for the better.
Kindness at work: Oracle boosts employee wellbeing
Find out how Oracle trained its people to proactively manage their wellbeing, so they could make healthy choices about the levels of pressure they were putting themselves under.
Read the case study here
To talk to someone about the opportunities for training your workforce to be more compassionate towards themselves and others, please call 01494 685277.