– #SoulfulSunday and a week of kindness –

by Sally Northeast, Georgia Turner and Darren Caveney aka #teamunplugged

As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 we’re giving ourselves some time to reflect on what’s been said, what we’ve heard and what we’ve learned.

As wellbeing is central to the ethos of Comms Unplugged, this is always an important week for us and never more so than during our current lockdown situation.

This year’s theme of kindness really chimes with us too so we wanted to make a real effort to get our unplugged community, and anyone else who wants to join us, thinking about what kindness means to them.

With a daily blog post, thought-provoking Twitter prompts and activities like a Twitter chat, a webinar,the launch of the #kindnesscrown and a music video release, we’ve tried to provide a bunch of resources and ideas that people can get on board with.

Here’s how it went:

#MindfulMonday: we asked you to think about being kind to yourself and Saranne Postans shared how she does this in her blog post. As she and our Fresh Air Fridays friends say, you can’t pour from an empty jug, so make sure you fill up your reserves regularly.

#TwitterTuesday: we wanted to think about how people behave on Twitter – are they being kinder right now? – and Darren blogged to tee up our epic Twitter chat on #MHincomms. With almost 100 contributors, just under 500 tweets in the hour and a reach of 166k, we made it to no 24 on the UK trending list. Some fantastic sharing and support came out of the chat so check out the hashtag to see more.

#WellbeingWednesday: we sent out prompts to think about acts of kindness and things that make a positive difference to your wellbeing. Georgia shared a heart-warming and honest post about how she’s trying to focus on her wellbeing. We also ran our first every Comms Unplugged webinar, in partnership with CIPR Health, with yoga and drawing sessions, a panel discussion on morale and wellbeing for staff and insight on Microsoft Teams and digital transformation from actual Microsoft and NHS Digital guests.Look out for more webinars in the series coming soon.

#ThoughtfulThursday: we set about reflecting on how being thoughtful and kind to others can support their wellbeing and also our own. Initiatives like Darren’s #LockdownLaudations and #somethinginthepost (started by Sally, who shared a blog post about it on this day) encourage us to keep connected with others by being kind and appreciating kindness to us.

We are unplugged#FriendshipFriday: we’re all about the friendships – our amazing unplugged community show love and support to each other all year round and we can hardly remember what it was like without them! We launched the brilliant original song and video ‘We Are Unplugged’ with a blog post by its creator by Daniel Cattanach which expertly captures the heart and love that’s at the centre of our unplugged friendships.

#SaturdaySmiles: this saw us having a bit of fun playing around with band names to make each other smile. Smiling and laughter are proven to boost our wellbeing – so we shared a short video by #CU19’s laughter yoga leader Pat Wilkins. It’s helping us get through the current challenges and keep connected with each other.

#SoulfulSunday: that’s today! And it’s why we’re reflecting on everything that happened last week. All the amazing engagement with people we know and people we don’t is food for the soul. This afternoon we’re having an unplugged afternoon tea chat with a few unpluggers so we can record for the May edition of our #CUontheair podcast. We’ll be feeding our souls…and also our bodies with cake, biccies and a nice cuppa. We hope you have something equally soulful planned.

Meanwhile, here are a few reflections from the three of us on our Mental Health Awareness Week journey.

Sally: I think this year we pushed the MHAW boat out further than we ever have. We knew that this year – when we’re locked down and the world we knew is something that only exists now in our memory – it would be more important than ever to focus on our mental health.

We know that comms professionals in all sectors have been working their socks off – pulling long hours, creating, encouraging, cheer-leading and advising. Doing all the things they’re so brilliant at but in an environment of heightened pressure, heightened anxiety and heightened expectations.

For me, leading an in-house NHS comms team, I’ve had to draw on every ounce of my reserves (generally healthy and resilient) to keep myself going. I’ve experienced the coronacoaster like everyone else – the ups swooping into the downs and out again with full force. I even had a full-on wobble in Mental Health Awareness Week  itself – how’s that for irony?!

Sally at CU19

While I like to think I will just keep on going, keep on pushing through, I’ve had moments when I’m just done. I’m completely drained of energy and have nothing more to give (in the words of Vanessa, the lovely colleague who lends me her van for Comms Unplugged every year). I’m panicky, exhausted and just plain confused. Why then would I and my wonderful co-conspirators Georgia and Darren want to give ourselves a whole load of work organising a bunch of stuff for Mental Health Awareness Week?

Because, despite the added pressure, we care deeply about our amazing unplugged community. We get as much out of this as we put in – more, in fact. Producing music and videos, learning how to run webinars, drawing, chatting on Twitter and WhatsApp, writing blogs, sharing stories, making connections, laughing together (even if it is virtually) – these are the things that have kept me going and filled me up. 

It’s hard work but it’s never a chore. When you love something and know it makes a difference, you can always find the time and energy for it. I’m super-proud of what we’ve done and of our unpluggers and new friends for getting involved and focussing on their wellbeing. Thank you for being part of it – we love having you on board. Long may it continue.

Georgia: I love Mental Health Awareness Week. 

Firstly, I love it because it’s an absolute cornerstone of the Comms Unplugged ethos. The week provides a real focus for us to encourage people to think about and, yes maybe confront, their own mental wellbeing, albeit this year in a wholly non-Unplugged way, being entirely online. 

Georgia at CU18We truly believe in the difference the five steps of welllbeing make in all of our everyday lives. The life-enhancing combination of taking notice, giving, learning, being active and connecting with ourselves and others. It’s a chance for us to stimulate the conversation, showcase what we are all about and provide a platform for the Unplugged community past, present and future to share their mental health experiences, good and bad, in a safe, open and supportive way. 

Whether it’s professional advice, comms good practice tips or singing, planting, baking, boozing, parenting, dog walking, pet talking, drawing, cooking, eating, clothing, hair, music or travel chat, everything about the Unplugger community adds value to my life year-round. The chance to share that with others through MHAW is something very special. And that’s why we put the time and commitment to it that we do. Because it makes a difference to others and to us.

Secondly, I love it because it gives very public permission to focus on myself and shine a light on what I’m doing to support my own mental wellbeing. And to make changes if necessary. 

Being stuck in lockdown, a perpetual state of online meetings, warning and informing requirements, leadership expectations and management responsibilities can take its toll. It’s easy to get stuck in a working rut. Just going on and on and on, skipping lunch, being late for dinner. And I think that MHAW provides a welcome, and this year incredibly timely, platform to address what that means for me and my life. And that’s a good thing. 

I know the strength and power and support of the Unpluggers is behind me, to help me practice more often what I help to happen through Comms Unplugged; to stop when I need to and take time for my own wellbeing; to take notice, give (including to myself), connect, be active and keep learning. 

I am so proud and personally invested in what Sally, Darren and I have created in Comms Unplugged. Giving my time to CU is incredibly rewarding. It’s the ultimate self kindness. And I’m determined to shine a little bit more of that CU love and wellbeing vibe right back at myself. 

Darren: I’m really proud to play a part in Comms Unplugged and its championing of positive mental health and wellbeing. I see it making a difference to people – encouraging them to get involved, to share and talk. That’s the first step in taking on mental health – being honest with ourselves and then talking about our issues with good people who we trust in.Darren at CU19

Hand on heart I haven’t personally experienced poor mental health. Sure I’ve had my moments of stress and being challenged by people whose ethics and values I oppose. But I always found a way to overcome them. But often on my own.

I’m from that previous comms generation – slightly old skool – you know the type; head down, soldier on, things will get better. I was lucky – they always did.

If I’m honest I’m not sure discussing personal mental health issues openly would have been well received by many bosses and organisations in years gone by. I believe that some would have seen it as a sign of weakness. But it’s the opposite of weakness – it takes courage and strength. 

I’m proud of all the comms people challenging and calling out poor behaviours when they see it and putting their mental health far higher up the priority list. They are improving our industry – one by one, week by week – and I’m very grateful to them. 

#MHAW20 gave us all the perfect platform to showcase these advances.

The Comms Unplugged community is an unstoppable force for good. It’s not for profit and has no motives other than to encourage, provide and showcase support for the comms industry and our mental health. It’s built with love and I hope it shows. 

And finally thank you to Sally and Georgia for their tireless work on Comms Unplugged. They are an inspiration to me and I cherish the chance to work alongside them. I think they are the leading mental health pioneers in our industry and I’m proud of them for their achievements.

Sally, Georgia and Darren at CUSally, Georgia and Darren formed into #teamunplugged in 2017 to create the very first Comms Unplugged event in September that year. Since then their idea has developed into something of a movement with an all-year-round focus on learning and wellbeing for communications professionals. Have a mooch around the website and if you’d like to get involved sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of each page.