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Mental Health Awareness Week is an opportunity to reflect on kindness. Louise King, NDS Communications and Public Engagement Officer, discusses the role kindness plays in mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hands with latex gloves holding a globe

This year, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. As the coronavirus pandemic continues around the world, we are seeing a shift in human behaviour. Amid the uncertainty and fear, the social isolation and sacrifices, the sadness and the loneliness, kindness is prevailing. 

Kindness plays a key role in mental health. Research has shown that being kind to others and to yourself has both mental and physical benefits. A systematic review by the universities of Oxford and Bournemouth concluded that being kind to others causes a small but significant improvement in wellbeing, whilst a study by the universities of Oxford and Exeter found that taking part in self-compassion exercises calms the heart rate, switching off the body’s threat response, and therefore no longer damaging the immune system. 

Leading a kinder, more gentle life towards ourselves and towards others has never been so important. Adjusting to a life of remote working, home schooling and social distancing has been challenging, and as a result our mental wellbeing is being tested on a whole new level. It is natural to feel worried, anxious and isolated, and to experience low mood, stress and trouble sleeping during these strange times. However, there are things that we can all do to help ourselves and others. 

Over the last two months, the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences (NDS) has strived to take care of the mental health of its staff and students during the COVID-19 outbreak. Health and wellbeing resources have been collated and shared; a social space on Slack has allowed colleagues to connect and chat about anything from gardening to pets; feedback has been sought via a mental wellbeing survey and a suggestions box; and a workload support page has been set up for those in need of extra help. There has also been an increase in the Head of Department Q&A sessions to discuss our current situation; online meditation and yoga sessions are available throughout the week; the department is offering subsidised coaching sessions for staff and students; and volunteers will soon undertake training to become a pool of Mental Health First Aiders. 

If you are reading this as a member of NDS, I encourage you to get involved and make use of these resources, initiatives and activities as much as you can. In doing so, you are showing kindness and self-compassion to yourself.

Mental Health Awareness Week is a reminder to take time out for yourself, to check in with how you are feeling regularly and to practice self-care. You will then be in a stronger position to carry out acts of kindness. Only if you are kind to yourself, can you be kind to those around you. Not only will acts of kindness make you feel happy, you will also be contributing to making the world a happier place.  

‘The added benefit of helping others is that it is good for our own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress and improve your emotional wellbeing,’ says the Mental Health Foundation. Visit their website for ideas of how to show kindness during the coronavirus outbreak and to find out more about this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from Monday 18 to Sunday 24 May 2020. 

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