How To Be Kind To Yourself

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How To Be Kind To Yourself

Words by Mr Alfred Tong

7 November 2019

Here’s a date for your diary: next Wednesday 13 November is World Kindness Day. Its purpose is to spread a little joy through random acts of kindness from one person to another. So, we’re using the occasion to suggest ways in which you might try being kinder to yourself.

As a regular visitor to MR PORTER, it could be argued that you’re already pretty much into, you know, you. But being kind to yourself is not really the same as buying yourself a new cashmere sweater. If only it were that easy.

Contentment. Happiness. Life satisfaction. These can seem elusive to even the most successful and capable men. A 2015 study by the charity Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably) discovered that four in 10 men have at some point thought about taking their own lives. In the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 50. Self worth – or, rather, a lack of it – is clearly an issue that affects us all.

Being kind to ourselves in this instance means looking at how we can better manage our feelings and emotions, and yes, our existential angst and unhappiness. Here, we offer ways in which to lift the gloom – with or without that new sweater.

Forgive yourself quickly

Being hard on ourselves for mistakes and bad behaviour is something psychologists at the University of Chicago call “negativity bias”. In short, we’re more likely to pay attention to our failures, mistakes and shortcomings than our successes, triumphs and virtues. Indeed, it’s hardwired into us at an evolutionary level.

While it’s important to learn from our mistakes, we have a tendency to dwell on them for too long. “Choose to consciously listen in on the way you speak to yourself the next time you do something you’re less than proud of,” says Ms Shahroo Izadi, behavioural change specialist and author of The Kindness Method.

“Whether it’s hastily replying to an email that could have been worded more considerately or misplacing your keys, use that opportunity to check in with your current internal soundtrack. If you’ve done all you can to rectify the situation, but discover you’re still beating yourself up internally for a while afterwards, ask yourself: ‘Would it take me this long to forgive someone else?’”

Treat your body well

The latest study from JAMA Psychiatry, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association, has found that jogging for just 15 minutes a day, could help protect against developing depression. Based on data from hundreds of thousands of people, it’s one of the first studies to firmly establish the link between exercise and mental health benefits (whereas before it was just widely accepted common sense). However, just because we now have the facts doesn’t mean we’ll follow the advice.

Ms Izadi has a hack for that: “When I’m trying to help people create habits like eating more healthily, exercising more or making sure they get enough rest, I often ask them to simply spend one week making the same choices for their own bodies that they’d want the person they love most to make for theirs,” she says.

“On a number of occasions clients reported that they couldn’t believe the difference. The result is often that they find themselves taking small opportunities throughout the day to treat their bodies with more respect; from making sure they pop out to get some fresh air throughout the day, ensuring they drink enough water or getting off the bus one stop earlier than usual to add a little extra exercise into their routine.”

Eat pizza and watch Netflix (occasionally)

“Just as it’s possible to be too mindful or too committed to the gym, working on one’s mental health also requires a moment to just be,” says writer and editor Mr Kevin Braddock, author of Torchlight, a book about his experience of recovering from a mental breakdown.

To accompany the book, Mr Braddock also devised a deck of Practice Cards that makes a lighthearted game out of learning about good mental health practices. “The equivalent of the ‘joker’ in the deck of Practice Cards I made to help people deal with depression and anxiety is the ‘Pizza Card’, which has the instructions ‘Do None Of These Things: take a day off from practicing’.”

Mr Braddock believes it’s important to know when to take a day off to free yourself from all pressure: to achieve, to develop yourself, to attain and strive. While we can follow programmes and employ techniques for physical and mental wellbeing, adding some downtime and indulgence into the schedule is vital, too. “Sometimes, sitting on the sofa eating pizza and watching Netflix is the kindest thing one can do for one’s sanity,” says Mr Braddock.

Spend time with friends

Sometimes the most obvious advice is the best. But choose wisely: the bantersaurus at the pub who likes to brag about his sexual conquests is unlikely to cheer you up when you’re down.

“Develop a connection with others that’s non-competitive, non-sexual and feeds your soul,” says Mr Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz, founder of MenSpeak and MenFacilitate, workshops and sessions which help men overcome their mid-life crisis. “Emotional isolation can lead to poor mental health, so connect with a friend who you can truly hang out with, someone who offers quality company and camaraderie, and who will have your back. Someone whose life experiences you can learn from and is up for a good laugh, too.”

“Surround yourself with people who are life-enhancing, not life-diminishing,” says Ms Charlotte Fox Weber, head of psychotherapy at The School of Life.  “It’s a simple guide to follow: if someone makes you feel good in general, spend time with that person. And if someone makes you feel bad in general, consider editing. A great act of self-compassion is being discerning about the relationships you prioritise. Of course, you inevitably have to deal with irksome people in your personal life or at work, but it’s the weight you give to these relationships that matters most.”

Be kind to others

One of the fastest, surest ways in which to cheer yourself up is to be kind to others. “It’s the quickest and best way of getting out of your own insecurities and fears,” says Mr Braddock. “Volunteering and getting involved in someone else’s life can help you to recover. In fact, it’s one of the mantras of Alcholics Anonymous: ‘Service keeps you sober’.”

A survey of volunteers who have experience of mental health problems, carried out by the National Centre of Volunteering found that 80 per cent of respondents reported a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing, agreeing that volunteering had done much to improve their mental health. These benefits include “a sense of belonging” and “help to put problems in perspective”. Quite simply helping others feel good is contagious. Unsure where to start? The Mental Health Foundation says that random acts of kindness could be as simple as making a colleague a cup of tea all the way up to mentoring young people and community volunteering.

Illustrations by Mr Janne Iivonen