Henlow man on using kindness and positivity to improve mental health

Henlow's Paul Harris has spoken about the importance of kindness for Mental Health Awareness Week. P

Henlow's Paul Harris has spoken about the importance of kindness for Mental Health Awareness Week. Picture: Courtesy of Paul Harris - Credit: Archant

Henlow’s Paul Harris talks to the Comet on the importance of positivity for Mental Health Awareness Week.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness, but what does it mean to be kind? Why is it so important?

During this pandemic we have seen numerous acts of kindness, and I don’t just mean the big, celebrated efforts of some. I am talking about the little things that may go unnoticed; stopping to give space for someone to walk past you at a safe distance, asking how someone is doing; kindness can be great and small, the important thing is how it makes us, and those around us feel.

This crisis has created a lot of anger and hostility, and I think this is why kindness is a very apt theme to focus on, not just this week, but moving forward.

For me, you can’t have kindness without understanding. Some people have said “we are all in the same boat”, but is this really true? There has been a great post doing the rounds of social media that challenges this way of thinking.

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While we are all facing the same storm, we are not in the same boat, and this is where understanding comes into play.

Everything about us is unique; from our thoughts to how we react to certain situations; everyone’s experience is different. Problems arise when we forget this and try to force our own opinions on others, simply because we are following what makes sense to us.

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Kindness and understanding are vitally important emotions to master, not because it’s the ‘correct’ way to behave, but because positive emotions can have a lasting effect on our health.

Studies have shown that negative emotions such as anger and hatred can be a significant cause of disease and premature death; they can cause particular damage to our cardiovascular system. Some evidence now considers the effects of hostility as a major factor in heart disease, equal to, or perhaps more so than the traditionally recognised risk factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Kindness doesn’t just stop with how we treat others; it is also about how we treat ourselves, and I think this is the most important aspect we need to think about this week. Many of us focus on our own weaknesses and failings.

I struggle with anxiety and depression and these disabilities make me constantly berate myself for the position I am in, and I feel that I am not good enough.

Somehow, if I had made better decisions I wouldn’t be where I am now, unable to work and feeling like a burden. I call it my baseball bat of self-blame, and I give myself a good beating on a regular basis. To be kind to ourselves sounds easy, but it is anything but. One of the most powerful habits of the mind is to focus on the negative, and this is more apparent when we think about ourselves.

Our instincts tell us to find problems and fix them so that we can survive; this means we often take our positive qualities for granted and obsess about our weaknesses.

This week, I encourage you to start being kind to yourself, and try to focus on your positive attributes. It is not about inflating your ego, and you don’t even have to tell others if it makes you feel uncomfortable, just make sure you tell yourself.

It is about finding a balance and perspective so that the view of ourselves is not distorted, where we are neither an exaggeration of the positive or the negative.

I am sure that if you really thought about it, you could come up with a longer list of positive traits than negative ones?

I am not telling you to ignore others either. Studies show that if we are more attuned to being kind to ourselves then this spreads to those around us, making a positive difference in the lives of others.

Try to limit your exposure to all forms of media because this can trigger those negative emotions that are so harmful to our health. Be mindful and stop to think before you comment or judge someone; remember, we are all fighting personal battles, and doing the best we can.

What we eat and drink has a big effect on our mood. When we’re stressed we tend to comfort eat, and are drawn to food that is not so good for us; we also drink more alcohol; while we may feel good for a bit, the effects are short-lived, and can make us more depressed.

It’s not necessarily the time to give up treats and alcohol; but just to be aware of how much you are consuming and try to reduce the levels.

Whatever you choose to do, take it one step at a time; remember, we’re trying to be kind.

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