When I started to think about writing this blog, my first thoughts went straight to thinking about what I could offer as a supposed expert in emotional wellbeing and mental health in such challenging times. What sage advice and tools could I suggest that may help keep yourself well in an era of turmoil and ideas to help navigate the immense pressure of living in this new normal? But I had nothing extra to offer on top of the fantastic resources that are springing up every day.
This is mental health week and the theme this year is kindness. This got me thinking: how in times of crisis do we maintain kindness to ourselves and to each to other? Research shows that acts of kindness have a significant positive impact on our brains. We get a jolt of happiness. Being kind makes us feel good. But it’s very hard to be kind sometimes, particularly when we’re stressed, worried and confused and dealing with huge change in our carefully balanced (if we are lucky) lives. When our future is un-certain how can we possibly manage to be kind?
I am certainly no expert but as a counsellor I have a rigid protective system in place to ensure that I treat myself with kindness and compassion as part of our professional code. If I am not on top of my own emotional well-being, then I cannot provide enough space to offer compassion and empathy in an authentic way. That is how important it is: I could not do my job without allowing myself time to be taken care of, to give myself some self-care. Wow, your might say, what a great a job you have that makes you consider your own emotional well-being as part of its requirements! I think many people are under the impression that we counsellors have an infinite supply of compassion and kindness. But the facts are we too are very human and have to work hard to maintain our own self-care as a professional need. As my own family will testify, I am no paragon of virtue, with Zen like calm and a never-ending supply of kindness!
I have felt myself being stretched in this crisis, trying to work out how to sustain myself in this new normal. As a result, I have been seeking extra support from my supervisor who has made me focus on myself and my needs. I have had to look after myself.
Compassion fatigue is very real. I think those who care for loved ones, and those who work in the caring professions, are facing enormous challenges as they do every day but somehow in these times everything seems heightened and more difficult. Self-kindness is essential in whatever way fills your resource tank. Whatever works for you. It is not selfish to allow yourself time to reflect and think or read a book or go for a walk or whatever it is that meets your needs even if for a short while. It is an essential part of being able to offer the kindness and compassion your various roles demand. Many of you do not have the professional support systems in place that I am lucky enough to have so I encourage you all to make time to be self-kind – show yourself some love!
Being kind to yourself will perhaps give you the space you need to be more kind to others and that is when the payback is felt. What is even better is kindness is contagious! The Latin derivative for kindness is humanitis, and I wonder if being kind is a fundamental human characteristic that we have all forgotten a little due to the intense demands on us and our lives. I think these times present an opportunity for us to change the culture of getting on with it with a stiff upper lip, to remember that we are all human and all trying our best to survive this state of flux that the world is throwing at us.
So be kind to yourself. It may help you to be kinder to others. Remember that we at Carers of East Lothian (CoEL) are here to help with this if you are struggling or if you are worried about someone else who is struggling. We are happy to take self-referrals and referrals from professionals and partner organisations. You can reach us Monday to Friday, 10am to 4 pm, on 0131 6565 0135. We will do our very best to help and at the very least offer some kindness.
Sara O’Connor, Counselling Co-ordinator, Carers of East Lothian (CoEL)