Mental Health Awareness Week 2020: Kindness

What a wonderful theme for mental health awareness week. We can all relate to times where people have been extremely unkind and it has affected our mental health, or just our mood in the moment. We can equally all relate to times where the opposite is true, where people have been extraordinarily kind whether from small acts or big and our mood corresponds. Then there is the impact of kindness that originates from and to ourselves, there is research that shows that being kind gives us a sense of belonging, it can reduce stress and strengthen relationships. When you apply the notion of kindness to any given circumstance, when you’re angry or sad for example, you can quickly change the outcome by taking a moment to breath and think what if I apply kindness here instead of anger? Kindness links us to humanity, something that can easily be forgotten in the rush of a moment.

So how can we celebrate kindness during mental health awareness week, a week which would usually be filled with activities and coverage and person to person connection is somewhat more isolated this year – along with the rest of the country. Here are a few possibilities, but why not take 10 minutes to consider some options that you might like to implement yourself.

1. Take each day as it comes, so perhaps at the end of the day, sit and consider how many times today you were kind to someone, you felt someone was kind to you, or when you were kind to yourself. For example, did you make someone a cup of tea without them asking for one? Did someone call you out of the blue to ask you how you were feeling? Or did you allow yourself a moment of guilt free time away from work, children or housework and do so without guilt.

2. Think about 5 times you have felt people were kind to you, either this year or maybe ever. For me people have been unceasingly kind with the birth of my first child, from thoughtful gifts to checking in on my mental health, hugs and messages of encouragement, to the lady at Pret who gave me a free drink. Even thinking back to the time when I was 6 and having a sleepover at my sisters uni digs, her housemate bought me chocolate buttons because I was homesick about an hour after my parents left and I cheered right up. We can take the smallest things for granted, but it’s these small acts that often mean the most.

3. Think about 5 times, and bear with me on this one, people were unkind to you. But! How you found the kindness to forgive them and how that ultimately helped you show kindness to yourself. For me I wish I could say this was true in small amounts this year, but with experiencing some of the most joy filled moments of my life, I have also experience some very sad times at the hands of people I cared for. Some people I considered friends haven’t replied to my messages or spoken to me since baba was 6 weeks old. As a new parent I have at times felt so tired and vulnerable, constantly worrying that I wasn’t good enough to be a mummy and yet some people took it as an opportunity to exploit me. And what’s awful is I know so many first time mums that go through the same, motherhood is seen widely in society as a time that women make a choice to sacrifice their sense of selves while men carry on as they always did. This is of course bollocks of the highest order, but there will be arseholes always. We have to remember that we are not responsible for peoples actions, only the way the we react to them. We don’t know what fuelled their seeming selfishness, cruelty or inconsiderateness and not everyone has the self knowledge to see the consequences of their actions as clearly as they see that of others. So when did you cry, but then shake it off and wish those poor arseholes kindness and perhaps one day, enlightenment? It’s honestly the best course of action for everyone involved.

4. Think of 5 times you have been kind to someone else, don’t be stingy and suppose that the big stuff is too self indulgent and don’t ignore the small stuff and claim it as irrelevant. This can even be linked to the point above, because being kind to someone who may have failed to show you the same courtesy can be healing for the both of you. Maybe you walked a blind person to their platform, bought a homeless person a meal or reminded a small child that they were doing a good job when they fell off their scooter at your feet. Maybe you just talked to someone who is otherwise lonely . The smallest act can have the largest impact and ok sometimes we might go a bit far and then realise that they don’t actually need your full mother Theresa act, but it’s always the thought and intention that counts.

5. Now to the best bit, the bit where we do what the mental health foundation is asking, think of 5 or more ways that we could as a society and as a people be kinder. I don’t know about where you are, but the converse reality of a restricted society has seen so much kindness here. In ways I wish and hope we can continue, once the horrible sense of forbidding that comes in the unique circumstance of a global pandemic has passed. One lady in the village, for example, has created a bear hunt and stuck laminated bears along paths and gates for the children to enjoy. The way that the majority of people will stand at their doorways come rain or shine on Thursdays at 8pm to clap our frontline workers, of course it would be so much better if it was more than kindness and appreciation fuelling their exhaustive efforts, but give what you can and if that’s kindness don’t discount it. We are not all, thank god, policy makers and MP’s.

Kindness is a wonder of the world, it’s the foundation of stories and can be seen dotted around as lynch pins of history, but as this fantastic article on the Mental Health Foundations page states, kindness takes courage and it takes bravery. Kindness can be hard, hard to show and give and even hard to take sometimes. Please let’s be clear, kindness doesn’t mean a person is virtuous and devoid of external or internal judgment, don’t be hard on yourself for looking at an old bully and judging them to be less slim that they were as your tormentor. Just try to remember they’re probably no longer that same person you remember, no more than you are the same person they remember. There is also a note here about boundaries, kindness and forgiveness are not the same thing although one does of course need input from the other. Having clear boundaries on how you treat others and how you let others treat you is an enormous subject of its own. So if someone is an arse to you but you find kindness in your heart for them, it doesn’t mean either that you have forgiven them or that all is forgotten for the same mistreatment to happen again.

I’m sure Piers Morgan and his ilk would surmise that kindness is the weapon of snowflakes, and just as ineffective as the cold white stuff itself. Well that’s fine by me, because kindness is often seen as a chain reaction, when we are kind to ourselves we find it easier to be kinder to others, but that isn’t a closed circle, being kind to others means they may be spurred on to offer kindness to others still and so on and so forth. So let’s keep the chain going, what if the silent point 6 is this…what act of kindness can you do, right now, this moment? Now stop faffing and bloody do it!

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