This Mental Health Awareness Week, Capsule chats to two Kiwi founders who are teaming up to celebrate the power of a mantra for our mental health.
If you’ve ever struggled with your mental health, you’ll know that quieting the swirling, spiralling thoughts in your head can be one of the hardest challenges to overcome. This is where the power of a mantra can come in to help clear some of that fog away. A mantra is a short, memorable phrase that feels meaningful to you – either as a gentle reminder in daily life, or as a personal battle cry when you’re in the thick of it. For Genevieve Mora, co-founder of Voices of Hope, she grew up with mantras as a tool for her mental health.
“When I was unwell during my teenage years, my mum would leave a mantra on my pillow every evening so that when I went to bed, I could read something that would inspire me and remind me why I need to keep fighting,” she tells Capsule. “This was a HUGE help to me; for so long I struggled to express how I was feeling, and often these mantras would resonate with where I was at.”
‘My mum stuck a mantra directly opposite my hospital bed so that it was the first thing I saw when I woke up.’
Genevieve struggled with anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety as a teenager, and her journey with mental illness saw her hospitalised during this time. Mantras, she says, became a huge part of her healing journey. “When I was first admitted to hospital, my mum stuck a mantra directly opposite my bed so that it was the first thing I saw when I woke up and the last thing I saw when I went to bed. ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’” She would repeat it, she says, “over and over again as a way to motivate myself.”
For a long time, Genevieve says, she felt so much shame over her experiences, due to a lack of understanding and the social stigma that hung around the world of the mental illness. But once she was in recovery, she realised that what she was feeling – both the mental illness, and the shame around it – was more universal than she had previously believed.
‘I realised that if I was feeling this shame, then others would be too.’
“I realised that if I was feeling this shame, then others would be too. I felt the need to be ‘a Voice of Hope,’ and be vulnerable with the intention of helping others feel less alone in their fight,” she says.
In 2014, she and fellow mental health advocate Jazz Thornton set up Voices of Hope, a platform for mental health stories and resources. “Through sharing my story, I felt like I reclaimed that power the shame held over me for so long. I believe that when one person shares their story it creates a really safe place for others to then open up and do the same.”
Helping spread awareness and hope is a large part of the Voices of Hope kaupapa and this Mental Health Awareness Week, they’ve teamed up with lifestyle brand Sophie to encourage personal mantras. A portion of proceeds from Sophie’s Choose Your Letter jewellery, where you can create a custom necklace or bracelet with a personal word, is being donated to Voices of Hope throughout September. For Belinda Cannon, the designer behind Sophie, the power of words and of sharing stories has been a big part of her life ever since she too was a teenager.
“When I was growing up, we wrote a lot of letters. We wrote notes in classes to give to friends at intervals. I’ve kept them all. They contain snippets of who we had a crush on, what we were wearing to mufti day, the weekend plans, and expressions of someone feeling left out or jealous about something,” she says. “These letters & their words helped us connect and feel united as we grew together & diffused situations too – as trivial as it all seems now, at the time they were an important part of sharing.”
‘Women seek connection and words help us do this.’
For Belinda’s teenage daughter Sophie, it’s the same thing – only now it’s online, with group chats replacing the written notes (where would any of us be without our group chats?) “It’s comforting to know that all these years on, she too is discussing similar things. Women seek connection and words help us do this.”
Of course, the power of a friendship group is that it’s there for you when you want to discuss your love life or your weekend plans, but if you’re lucky, it’s also there for you when you’re going through the heavier parts of adult life. Genevieve says that one of the most important things we can do when our friends are suffering is let them know that we are a judgement-free zone they can rely on. “Often when someone we love is struggling we want to give them advice and fix them but a lot of the time, these people just want to feel heard and validated,” she says. “Something as simple as ‘I care about you and am here to listen whenever you’re ready to chat.’”
She also says that going beyond your friend group and bringing in a mental health professional is an important tool that we should consider sooner than we might think. “If you feel like you need some support, but perhaps there are fears around ‘not being bad enough’, ‘overreacting’… start now! The sooner you acknowledge your struggles, the better,” she says. “You are not alone. There are people who care about you and it’s not weak to speak.”
Belinda shares that when she first experienced mental health issues, she only told a doctor and her mum, and did her best to “just soldier on.” But since that experience, she’s now learned to pay attention to how she’s feeling all the time and actively manage her mental health. Her mantra of choice? ‘This too shall pass.’
“In really bad times, you just have to believe this and know that the crappy feelings will subside. Remaining hopeful is everything – accept the feelings and you begin to feel at peace with them,” she says. “For a long time I tried to understand why I felt bad, but sometimes there is no reason, so this mantra enables you to just be and that in itself has a calming effect.”
Three things that bring Belinda joy:
- My cat, Archie. He makes me smile all the time & never talks back in words I understand. He has his own language.
- Watching my daughter Sophie play hockey. I played myself & seeing her love something like I do is just so cool.
- Cards – the ones you write in & give to people. The perfect card for someone makes my heart sing!
Three things that bring Genevieve joy:
- The beach
- Time spent with family and friends