It’s time to show some compassion. Here we find out why kindness is good for us, what random acts of kindness to try and how we can be kinder to ourselves
The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year was promptly changed to kindness in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Why? Because at times like this, kindness has immense power. Not only can it help others feel loved and supported, it helps us feel better.
“When we give to others it activates the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. It can make us feel closer to people, it creates community. When we have communities or ‘tribes’ of like-minded people helping each other out, it helps reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness.” Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical lead for mental health at AXA PPP healthcare explains.
It’s this sense of connection many of us are craving right now. While we may not be able to reach through our phone screens and hug our friends and family, showing them kindness in other ways can keep that connection strong.
As well as increasing this sense of community, being kind to others actually boosts our mood and lowers our blood pressure. Dr Winwood says this is down to the ‘helper’s high’ we experience.
Research from Emory University has found that when we’re kind to others, our brain’s pleasure and reward centres are activated, “this boosts your serotonin and dopamine levels, the neurotransmitters in your brain responsible for feelings of satisfaction, reward and wellbeing.” Dr Winwood says.
On top of this, oxytocin (known as the ‘love hormone’) is released when we’re kind to others. Dr Winwood explains that it also releases nitric oxide in blood vessels, “resulting in dilation and the lowering of blood pressure,” – kindness helps to keep our hearts healthy.
Random acts of kindness to try
Being kind doesn’t have to involve grand gestures that demand a great deal of time and money. Often it’s the smallest acts that have the biggest impact. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Practice active listening when talking to someone (put your phone away!).
- Email a colleague to congratulate them on that awesome thing they did.
- Send a card to let someone know you’re thinking of them (we love these designs from thortful).
- Get creative with ways to stay in touch during lockdown.
- Send a message on social media to your favourite accounts to let them know you love what they do.
- Rate and review your favourite podcasts.
- Run a bath for your partner.
- Send a care package to someone struggling.
- Leave some books out in your local area for others to take and read.
- Call your elderly relatives and check in on them.
- Send videos of your little one to extended family so they don’t feel like they’re missing out.
How to be kinder to yourself
Of course we couldn’t talk about the subject of kindness without discussing being kinder to ourselves. This is the area many of us struggle with, but it’s so incredibly important. Here are some pointers to help you develop self-compassion:
Accept all of who you are
Nobody's perfect. Having flaws is what makes us human and accepting these flaws is what makes us kind. Every time your inner critic shows up to bring you down, get into the habit of arguing with them. Tell them it's OK to make mistakes and that you are worthy and loved regardless.
Try loving kindness meditations
Meditation is a wonderful way to tune in with yourself and develop self-awareness. Meditations that focus on loving kindness can support a change in mindset and encourage you to treat yourself with more compassion.
We love this meditation from Mindful.
Write down three things you've done well, every day
Our brains have a negativity bias, meaning we cling onto the negative and gloss over the positive. This means we have to be really intentional about capturing the good stuff. A simple exercise to help you see yourself in a more positive light is to note down three things you've done well every day.
This could be something small like making an epic cup of tea, or something bigger like helping a friend through a tough time.
Show yourself kindness through self-care
Carving out space for self-care cements the fact that you are worthy of that time and attention. Ask yourself every day what self-care practices you can implement. It may be going for a walk on your lunch break, enjoying a slower morning than usual, reading a few pages of your favourite book or cooking up something nutritious for dinner.
Self-care doesn't need to be complicated or time consuming. Small steps make a big difference.
We know being kind can feel difficult when you’re struggling, so we want to remind you that support is available – Counselling Directory lists thousands of counsellors who are working with clients remotely.
If you’re looking for self-help, Samaritans has recently launched a new self-help app to encourage you to be kinder to yourself and take care of your emotional wellbeing. You can try the app for free at selfhelp.samaritans.org.