This year’s mental health awareness week couldn’t have arrived at a more appropriate time. As we enter week 9 of restrictions many are feeling the strain of the huge shift in lifestyle and its new limitations. One of the most difficult aspects of this pandemic is that during a time when we most need to be in contact with others, contact with humans has become the biggest threat. It therefore seems fitting that kindness should be this year’s theme. Though we can’t be close, we can certainly ‘be kind’, but what does this even mean?
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of kindness is: the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. So let’s look at what this means in more details to see how we can show kindness to others during the Coronavirus pandemic.
How do you know someone is friendly? What do you see in them that indicates an air of kindness? Having asked around it seems common to see a smile, some eye contact, non-threatening facial expression and open body language as a sign of friendliness. No surprises there, I guess. And a friendly expression comes easy when life is running smoothly, but during a pandemic many people are scared to be near other humans. With fear present and adrenaline in our bodies we might not always see that friendly expression in others and also we might not be showing it ourselves.
If you see fear in someone’s face notice your reaction and see if you can respond with friendliness, for example, respect their need for distance, smile and move away if necessary.
If you are frightened, acknowledge your own fear reaction, move away if you need to and smile anyway, a smile will also help send signals to the brain which can help to calm the fear response.
Generosity needn’t involve the giving of financial or material possessions, in fact during this pandemic I’m noticing that more people are recognising the benefits of giving their time and effort. Research has repeatedly shown that not only does giving to others benefit the recipient, it also has a positive impact on the mental well-being of the giver. So it’s a win win situation!
Pick up the phone or video call someone you know is struggling.
If you can, offer to help others with their shopping if they are having to stay at home.
If you have the means, donate to a charity relevant to you.
Volunteer your time to help others.
Share your knowledge.
This quality is often overlooked and it probably takes more effort that the others. Being considerate means that you have to think about others, their situation and what they might need or want. As I mentioned above, if someone doesn’t smile at you it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t friendly, they might be going through emotional turmoil and smiling isn’t coming easily right now. Consider what others might be experiencing at the moment, how this might effect them and what they might need from others around them.
Is what you are offering fitting for what the person might need?
Don’t be afraid to ask how things are and if / how you can help them.
It’s completely understandable that when someone has upset you, whether that be by not saying thank you when you have let them pass or by looking at you with fear, it’s hard not to respond with defensiveness or even attack. Our pre-frontal cortex (the thinking part of our brain) can get carried away with thoughts such as, why should I be kind? They don’t deserve my kindnes!. They didn’t even say thank you in response to my kindness! But all that does is fuel our negativity and reduce our own compassion. Let those thoughts go and be kind anyway, at least give it a try and see how it feels.
Don’t expect anything back. Give kindness without expectation.
If someone is unkind to you or seems ungrateful, let go of your frustration and smile anyway.
Let’s not forget the importance of being kind to ourselves! One of the biggest barriers to self-compassion is that little self-critical gremlin we all have. Whilst we will never totally rid ourselves of the gremlin, we can certainly nurture a kinder part of ourselves, one that can recognise and understand our own struggles and helps us to implement self-care.
Bringing ‘be kind’ to life
The statement ‘ be kind ’ can sound like a simplistic platitude with little meaning, but digging deeper shows that kindness has many aspects which can be implemented to a greater or lesser degree. As we have seen, kindness can be shown through thought, questions, actions, body language and facial expressions, we can have conditions attached or we can let those go and act with kindness no matter what we receive in response. Perhaps consider how you will bring kindness into your day today in a way that feels right for you.
Thanks to Simon Ray for sharing their work on Unsplash.