This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. This year’s theme of “kindness” couldn’t be more fitting for this time of lockdown and social distancing.

Kindness means being friendly, generous, and considerate, and it’s a trait we need to embody both now and as we finally return to something like normality. Critically however, it’s a trait we need to show to ourselves as well as to others. Protecting our mental health is going to be central to coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic - with the psychological and social impacts likely to outlast the physical symptoms.  

With all that in mind, we asked some of RY’s ‘mental health first aiders’ – a trained support network for our agency - what they had learned about themselves and protecting mental health while in lockdown. They told us the different ways they’re practicing self-kindness.

Rich Yadgar, Client Services

Getting moving is easier said than done, especially when you live alone. But after the first eight weeks of doing very little, practicing self-care has significantly boosted my mood as well as my physical wellbeing. I’ve also found ‘feel good’ music and getting out in the garden for a daily dose of sunshine has helped escape the constant barrage of bad news in the media, which have added to my feelings of stress and despair.

Fran Payne, Creative

I used to hate running. I hated getting up early to stagger bleary-eyed around the park, or coming home late to…well, stagger bleary-eyed around the park. Running to music? Stressful. I always end up trying to keep step with what I’m listening to, and Tina Turner, FYI = terrible run-buddy. Running to podcasts? Draining, as my tired brain simultaneously tries to plot a route, plan/unpack my day, and learn from or form opinions on whoever’s yapping in my ears. Then one day in week one of lockdown, leaving the house for my 'daily exercise' in a state of distraction and worry at the world, I realised I’d forgotten my headphones. The only thing worse than going for a run was the idea of having to go back and start it again, so I kept going, running to nothing but the ambient soundtrack of SE23. And it was AMAZING. Thoughts came and went, ideas formed, problems solved, messages drafted, moods lifted, resolutions made. Running's meditative quality isn't news to seasoned runners. But to me, this has been a revelation. I thought running to nothing would be boring. But by listening to nothing, I could finally listen to MYSELF. It's such a small thing. But it's had a huge impact on how I've got through the last few weeks, and how I'll get through many more to come.

Alice Richards, Client Services

Throughout lockdown, I've been quite consistent in taking a daily walk, often at lunch time, which has been a great way to clear my mind. After a couple of weeks of lockdown, I was adamant I was going to do yoga every day. Following along with daily yoga practice on YouTube lasted about a week. By the next week, my stress levels meant I was I was replacing my daily walk and downward dogs with a long savasana (that’s corpse pose… so sleeping. I was sleeping). At first I was mad at myself for not sticking with my daily yoga and walks, but I really came to enjoy my power naps, which made a world of difference to my energy levels and attention span. I realised that I shouldn't put too much pressure on myself. Letting go of expectations I had on myself and learning to listen to my body has done wonders for my mental health. This week I'm back to walking every day - not because I feel I should, but because I want to.

Sharn Kleiss, Consultancy

In the first week or two of lockdown I watched the daily press briefing at 5pm religiously. I felt like I had read all there was to read about COVID news and had just about ‘completed’ the internet. I was bored with my phone (which never happens!). One day a sale popped up for a plant retailer. I had always thought I was a plant killer but thought now was the time that I could properly care for a houseplant or two. After they arrived, I started to think about where to put them, which led to reorganising the flat, and putting away all of the detritus of everyday life. Then I started looking at interiors online, and found macramé. Yes, that wonderful 70s craft of knotting cords. (It was kind of strange how many people recalled seeing a macramé owl in their grandmother’s house when they were children). It seemed simple enough, and I found the online tutorials soothing and satisfying, ordered some supplies and got started. It was harder than it looked, but I made a plant hanger, then another, and have now mastered spiral coasters. I learned that channelling my bored energy into something productive did me a world of good. Tending to plants, creating something with my hands (to stop them scrolling) and making home more ‘hygge’ has given me a positive outlet and made me more comfortable indoors.

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