In her latest blog for Mental Health Awareness Week, she explains how little acts of kindness go a long way and sets out some of the small things we could do to help others, whilst also being kind to ourselves.
I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness recently. Little acts of kindness really do go a long way and I’ve appreciated every little thing that people have done for me recently. A letter in the post, a text asking how I’m doing, or a friendly smile from a stranger as we pass each other in the street. Despite the chaos, people are still exchanging acts of kindness with one another.
Being kind to others can also be good for our own wellbeing. That might include giving, which is one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing. Giving, whether time or money, can help us to feel part of something, and it can feel really good to do something for someone else. Especially right now, there are so many opportunities for us to donate to valuable causes, or to volunteer our time to help our communities.
But what if giving, or volunteering, is just not possible for you at the moment? Maybe you are just too overwhelmed by the situation, you may not have the funds to donate, or your circumstances may prevent you from giving your time. When this is the case, it’s really easy to start beating yourself up. I experienced this at the beginning of lockdown.
Theoretically, I should have had way more time. I no longer had a commute to work every day, evening squash matches were (and still are) cancelled, and any weekend plans had been deleted from my calendar. Yet, I still found myself with very little time on my hands. “You should be doing more to help”, I would tell myself over and over again. “You’re selfish”. “Other people are doing so much, so why should you be any different?”. Sometimes that critical voice in your head can get quite loud. But the truth is, we all deal with certain situations in different ways and some of us take longer to adjust and adapt to a situation. Not only that, we’re having to learn new ways of staying connected to each other. Some people find themselves constantly being invited to talk over video or phone. For others, that hour they might have previously spent coming home from work has been replaced by an hour’s walk around the block. And some are having to go to work more often and for longer hours. Whatever it may be, our timetables have changed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are less full.
There are two things that I did to challenge the belief that I wasn't doing enough.
Firstly, let me take you back to a phrase I used at the very beginning of this blog: “Little acts of kindness really do go a long way and I have appreciated every little thing that people have done for me recently.”
If you are able to volunteer your time, or donate to a cause that is important to you, that is a great way to help others and to practice kindness. But if you can’t, do remember that those little things, like a text or a smile, are still acts of kindness. A few weeks ago, I started a little kindness diary. I record little things that people do for me, and try to aim to pass that act of kindness on. So if someone smiled at me in the street, I try to make an effort to pass that on and smile at somebody else. I also try to record what I have done for others, like speaking to my Grandma on the phone, or pointing a lost cyclist in the right direction. As I often find myself focusing on what I haven’t done, recording these acts of kindness helps me to re-focus, and to see that I am actually doing something, however small it may seem. And that is enough.
The second thing I have tried to do is perhaps a bit more challenging and can take longer to get into the habit of doing, and that’s practicing self-kindness. It’s the type of kindness that is all too often forgotten, or left until the end.
I used to think that self-kindness meant putting yourself above everything and everybody, but now I see it differently. For me, self-kindness means treating myself as I would others. So now when that thought comes that I am selfish, or should be doing more, I don’t just agree with it, I ask myself what I would say to a friend. Would I tell a friend they were in fact selfish and should be doing more, or would I be more understanding towards them and their situation? Usually, it would be the latter. It often feels like I set higher standards for myself than for others, and expect so much from myself. So now, when that critical voice tries to creep in, I try to take a step back from whatever I am doing, take a deep breath and be that supportive friend to myself. It might be that I tell myself something like: “you’re safe”, “it’s okay”, “you’re enough”. Those little phrases can really help. Practicing saying them when you’re not distressed or caught up in your thoughts can also make it easier to remember them when you are. The more you say them, the more you, or at least a little part of you, starts to believe them.
So whatever situation you are currently in, please remember to be kind to yourself. You are enough, and no matter how much or how little you are able to do at the moment, you are deserving of kindness.