In an era of unprecedented burnout and rising anxiety, how can we make space for our mental health?  

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Even as lockdowns around the world start to ease, it’s clear to see that the pandemic has changed all our lives. That’s been a stark reality for Elevate Prize winner Dr. Dixon Chibanda of Friendship Bench, an organization that trains grandmothers to provide talk therapy from benches in the hearts of their communities. Not only did he contract COVID-19 himself, he also had to deal with the loss of colleagues (“when there are only 15 of us [psychiatrists] in Zimbabwe that has a profound impact”) and the challenges of addressing a mental health crisis that shows no signs of abating.

More adults than ever are reporting high levels of stress and anxiety, with older people being the most impacted by the isolation and disruption of lockdowns. And for young people, the picture is just as concerning, with a 6% increase in severe depression among adolescents.

As we navigate the challenges of our world – not only the pandemic, but everything from the threat of climate change and unprecedented burnout, to polarized politics, and the rising costs of living – our mental health is tested. But, Dixon says, there are things we can do to build our resilience.

“Right now, people should be asking themselves: what are my anchors, and how can I strengthen them?” says Dixon. “Every human being has anchors – they’re what you fall back on when faced with adversity – or even if you’ve just had a bad day. Take time to think about what your anchors are, and nurture them.”

Admittedly, for some, this might seem like a daunting task. When getting through the day-to-day is already a struggle, focusing on future mental health can feel out of reach. Yet, though all of these anchors might not be accessible for everyone, Mental Health Awareness Month reminds us that finding a way to invest in even one can be transformative for our mental health. As Dixon says,  “the key to dealing with adversity in the future is cultivating ways of dealing with it now.” 

Some common anchors – and how to cultivate them. 

Focus on relationships:
“It’s important to have people you can turn to. Who makes you happy? Connect with those people. Reach out to old friends – rekindling a relationship can be very positive. ”

Get more sleep: 

“One of the most important anchors is sleep. It’s so critical in terms of how we function. Make sure you’re getting enough for you. That’s fundamental.”

Read a book: 

“Reading is therapeutic. It’s never a waste of time. I mean reading outside of your work or profession. I love reading novels – and I make time to do it every day.”

Get some exercise: 

“There are so many benefits from exercise. Whether it’s going for a walk or finding a sport you love. I love to run, I love to teach karate.”

Hang out with some animals: 

“Animals are great therapeutic support. I have dogs and ducks and chickens and fish and I talk to them all the time. Being able to relate to another sentient being is powerful and soothing.” 

Inspired to learn more about Friendship Bench, and the impact and importance of therapeutic conversations and connections?

Watch Dixon’s TED talk.

Looking for other ways to get involved?

Explore Friendship Bench’s Community Minds resource to find advice and support. 
Follow the Friendship Bench online community for helpful mental health tips, participate in live, talks, webinars and keep up-to-date with global news.
Start your own Friendship Bench!
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