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Be Kind – a Revolution in Mental Health

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Lesley McCall
Spring 2018

Random Acts of Kindness – Be Kind, A Revolution in Mental Health

 

Stress is a dirty word that everybody is scared of and we discuss it like it was an unusual rash on an unmentionable body part. ‘ I have stress, I only just noticed it … ‘ said in hushed horrified tones. Stress itself is not the problem, we all get stressed, and it’s just a mechanism to help us do tasks more efficiently, it can even boost memory, but what everybody needs a bit more of is stress management. Not managing stress effectively can cause both physical and mental problems but so few of us do this!

We can’t get rid of stress entirely, but we can make sure it doesn’t reach the ‘tipping point,‘ where it can cause physical problems like IBS, headaches, rapid heartbeat or mental health issues like anxiety, panic attacks or OCD etc. It’s like a boiling kettle it can’t continue forever, or it will boil dry and catch fire. There is a whole multi-million-pound industry around stress, we can pay lots of money for spa’s, yoga lessons, massage and relaxation lotions with unicorn’s horn and gold in it. However, actually there is a free, proven way to control stress on a daily basis and it doesn’t take much time or effort.

Do a random act of kindness every day and improve your health and wellbeing.

Emily Ansell, who is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine has done research into this which concludes: ‘Doing small acts of kindness every day helps diffuse our stress, improving mental health.’ She says, ‘The take home message is that when we are stressed, and we help others, we can end up helping ourselves.’

So Why Does This Work?

People who are anxious, depressed, suffering from panic attacks, severe OCD or any of the other mental health issues that affect us tend to share one thing in common… misery tends to make people inward-looking, stuck in their own minds, overthinking everything and focussing on their own fear. Many therapists use techniques that involve some sort of external focus and distraction, which helps your mind get off the hamster wheel of negative thoughts and emotions. It makes perfect sense that focussing outside of yourself, looking for where you can make a difference, however small, will prime your mind to look for what is good. Looking for chances to do little kindnesses for people will help divert your mind from agonising over every negative thought that enters your brain.

The negative impacts of everyday stress affect mind and body. Therefore the reverse – something that brings your stress levels down must improve your overall wellness.

Focussing on other people also gives your mind a break – takes the pressure off and the small positive feeling of having helped someone is a small step in the right direction.

Stress Awareness Month

April is stress awareness month – stress awareness, not stress elimination. It is not possible to eradicate stress entirely, but by coming aware of it, we can manage it. One of the problems with stress is that it creeps up on us, so getting into the habit of looking for small random acts of kindness every day can be a preventative technique. Teenagers are particularly bad at recognising when they need to stop and calm down. So, stress builds and becomes something more serious. Anything that teaches them to defuse this and focus on anything rather than themselves is useful and healthy. One Random act of kindness a day keeps anxiety at bay! Clearly, this is not a ‘cure all’, but it could be a step in the right direction – to becoming a kinder person who looks for what they can do for others.

Young people are especially vulnerable to intrusive thoughts, so any distraction is a plus.

What kinds of Random Acts of Kindness could help our well being?

Random acts of kindness can take many forms, and it might not be what you expect. They don’t have to be obvious, looking for ways to be kind is an excellent way to distract yourself from anxiety and misery. There are practical ways to be kind, such as putting out someone’s dustbin or giving someone a lift, but what about other, more unusual ways to be kind? Ideas that I think might notably improve our mental health and well-being?

Being Non – judgemental

We all hate being judged and actually judging people is not only unkind but bad for your mental health. We all do it and often unconsciously. Apparently, even toddlers prefer the company of a more cooperative child, so we are judging people before we are out of nappies! If you think about it, why do we judge people?

In Cognitive Hypnotherapy, we sometimes mention the OK Corral. This is a way of relating to people. From the position of ‘I’m OK, You’re Ok’ then we tend to feel more at peace with ourselves, others and the world around us, less stressed. If our positioning is ‘I’m OK, You’re Not OK’, this suggests a position of judgement. We are often more prone to judge others when we feel less than OK ourselves. If we are happy and involved in our own lives and at peace with ourselves, we tend to notice what other people are doing less and are more forgiving. If you are happy, what does it matter whether your neighbour’s house is tidy or not? Or whether your friends live their lives the way you would?

The next time you find yourself disapproving of someone take a step back and let it go – let them work it out for themselves and try not to give them disapproval or unwanted advice … you will feel better and so will they.

Don’t mind read

Give people the benefit of the doubt. When we mind-read, we usually read it wrong because obviously, we can’t know what people are thinking unless we ask. Mind reading leads to misunderstanding and unhappiness. If somebody misbehaves or is standoffish or even ignores you, then it’s easy to assume they are being unfriendly or dislike you. But how do you know? They may be deeply unhappy, or there may be something awful going on in their lives… so don’t mind read, ask if they are ok or at the very least don’t dislike them and don’t pass judgement until you have all the facts. Be kind, you don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives.

Respond to anger with kindness

This is hard to do but is an act of kindness that will be beneficial to you. As an example, if somebody tries to cut you up in the car it can make you angry, if they push ahead of you in a cue, you can be left feeling angry and
frustrated. However, if you let them go willingly and even smile at how pointless it is to drive so aggressively when you don’t actually get there any quicker, then you will not allow other people’s issues to affect you. Repaying anger and bad behaviour with kindness can disarm a situation and be good for you too.

It’s all about balance

Now I’m in no way suggesting you make a doormat of yourself but looking out for others, giving them the benefit of the doubt and not rushing to judge people negatively are not only acts of kindness to other people but acts of kindness to yourself.

Living life focussing outwards and looking for the positives is a great way to be happy and healthy.