Written by UKCP psychotherapist, Fe Robinson
Taking part in the national clapping and cheering for our essential workers has given many people a meaningful understanding of the power of gratitude, and the benefits of feeling part of something beyond our self. We don’t do it for our own good, we do it to say thank you, and it’s that very open-heartedness that means we get a lift.
So what about kindness? In these difficult times it’s not hard to find stories of people helping each other. It’s happening in every village and town, up and down the country. People reaching out to those they love and care about, as well as to people they have only just met.
So why does kindness feel so very good? One obvious part of this is that it helps other people. It makes their lives easier and sunnier, and that feels good to them.
So what of the person being kind? It turns out that kindness releases endorphins in our brain, making it a natural painkiller. It stimulates the production of serotonin, also known as the ‘happy chemical’, which plays a part in healing wounds and calming us. We also get a hit of oxytocin, that reduces our blood pressure, and enhances feelings of connection and love. It elevates dopamine, giving a high feeling as our pleasure and reward centres light up.
As well as all these lovely chemical effects, being kind raises our self-esteem, and improves our relationships. It brings us closer to others, and to our own self.
So why are we not all kind, all the time? It’s not always the easiest thing, particularly when you feel stressed and under pressure. Fear, anger, pain and other difficult emotions can cause us to curl up and take our resources inwards, which makes it is more difficult to flow love and kindness out to others.
If you are finding it hard to be kind just now, this simple exercise might help:
Softening your gaze, as if you were looking while gently smiling, can have profound effects. While looking at someone else, or at your own reflection, remember the newborn child they once were, the goodness that is common to us all deep-down, and take your compassion from that thought into the present day. Then ask yourself: What’s good to do? How can I be kind in this moment?
Everyday acts of kindness, even small ones, make a world of difference. It may be getting extra items for friends when out shopping, or mowing next door’s grass, or calling someone who might be feeling lonely. For yourself, perhaps taking a few moments to admire a beautiful flower, making yourself a favourite drink or meal, or even enjoying a relaxing bath or shower can be a way of showing yourself some care. The most important thing is finding the ways that work for you, things that you can do with an open heart and a smile on your face.
Who most needs your kindness today?