“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop
The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year (18 to 24 May) is kindness. Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, the week celebrates acts of kindness, important contributors to our mental and emotional health and wellbeing, and of particular significance during the current COVID-19 crisis.
Kindness is an instinctive human response, and vital to developing and nurturing strong, supportive relationships with others. We know that people who experience kind and loving environments do better. Kindness is contagious, being experienced in the brains of everyone who witnesses it, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.”
And kindness is officially good for us too. Here’s the science: an act of kindness, whether given or received, boosts our production of serotonin and dopamine – the ‘happy chemicals’ in our bodies that contribute to happiness, motivation and wellbeing. Kindness is good for our hearts because it releases the hormone oxytocin which in turn releases nitric oxide, dilating blood vessels and lowering blood pressure. And kindness reduces anxiety too, by boosting ‘positive affect’, the extent to which we experience positive emotions like joy and interest.
In terms of our relationships, kindness is a key interpersonal skill. It’s not about grand gestures but about small things, like noticing and responding to how someone is feeling, or praising and appreciating them. It’s about reaching out to others in small ways, like getting to know a neighbour or a colleague better, sending a text to tell someone you’re thinking of them, being generous with hugs for your loved ones, or celebrating the success of others.
Sometimes kindness may be viewed as a weakness when in fact the opposite is true. Being kind often requires insight, strength and courage, especially in the context of our relationships: things like telling the truth or giving feedback gently when it’s helpful, not making assumptions if you witness unkindness, and holding boundaries in a calm and kind way. In Plato’s words, it’s about recognising that everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.
Kindness is an attitude, a way of life, and during this pandemic it feels more important than ever. Here are just a few things you can do right now:
Offer thanks, appreciation or praise, not just for what someone has done but for who they are
Reach out to family or friends, offer a listening ear and let them know how much you value them
Run an errand or shop for a neighbour
Share a meal or some food
Showing kindness to others is hard to do if we’re running on empty, it’s crucial that we also show kindness to ourselves. Practice some self-compassion: be aware of your own needs and the small ways in which you might meet them, forget perfection, feel proud of your achievements each day.
Self-care is not an indulgence, it is an essential and fundamental part of our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. And part of self-care is being aware when we need to ask for help from others. So if you’re struggling physically, emotionally or mentally be kind to yourself and ask for help, whether that’s from family, friends or professionals.
Be your kindest.