The power of kindness

I have trouble thinking of myself as a “nice” person, as I’m not always sunshine and rainbows. I sometimes describe myself as a bit of a bitch, because my natural reaction is to challenge new information and think critically about it, until I come up with my own conclusions.

I’m also socially awkward, partly to do with being an introvert, but largely because of autism spectrum disorder (I’m undergoing a diagnosis that relates to high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome). It makes me seem cold and unapproachable in group social situations.

Yet – I know I am compassionate. And kind.

In Paul Gilbert’s book The Compassionate Mind, he describes compassion as showing a profound awareness and understanding suffering, and taking steps to relieve it.

Compassion is an NHS core value, something which I am learning about in regards to my future as a mental health nurse. There are many ways in which I will express my compassion as a nurse, such as showing respect, listening actively, responding intuitively without needing to be asked, going the extra mile, being empathetic, as well as being kind and generous.

This is something I try and do in my everyday life too. It’s not always easy. We live in a world where anger is perhaps our most prominently displayed emotion. Sometimes anger is well placed as a reaction to lead to needed action, but at other times it is misdirected at things of lesser importance.

Regardless of the intention, I think that kindness is needed now more than ever.

It’s no coincidence that the theme of the recent Mental Health Awareness Week was kindness. The reasons for this theme were outlined on, but here’s a snippet:

Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.

Tribalism is so entrenched in our daily lives – particularly online – that kindness seems like the ideal antidote to rage, hateful rhetoric, misinformation and fake news. We often confuse opinion as fact, and woe betide anyone if they should disagree.

If kindness can heal these societal scars, we should fully embrace more opportunities to practice it.

Kindness is largely responsible for me getting to this point in my own battle with mental health. The simple act of sharing my stories is a gift for other sufferers to feel seen, heard, and validated, but it also gives me inner strength and inspires more positive thoughts in my mind.

When I first started my antidepressant medication, I kept a journal with something nice I had done each day. This got me into the habit of assessing my thoughts and actions, and got me thinking about more than what was going on in my own head.

There is no one right way to be kind, and what works for one person might feel uncomfortable for another. It doesn’t need to involve spending lots (or any) money, and it doesn’t even need to take lots of your time.

I’ve kind of disregarded my own statement there as I will be doing a mental health nursing degree which will take both a lot of time and money, but some of my other acts of kindness have been much smaller in scale, but still made a positive impact in people’s lives.

Just as inspiration to get you thinking about your own potential for kindness, here are just some of the ways I have tried to do better recently. I’m not suggesting you copy my approach, and I know that there’s always more I could do…

  • Offered free mentoring sessions to fellow marketers who needed additional support in regards to their work or mental health
  • Made a donation to my local food bank
  • Put a box of unused toys and books outside our house, and let our neighbours take what they wanted for free
  • Checked in with an elderly neighbour to make sure she had enough food
  • Surprised a couple of anxious friends with a flower delivery
  • Signed up to be an NHS Volunteer Responder
  • Volunteered to do media interviews on behalf of Time to Change

I will also keep sharing the story of my own struggles with mental health – something that costs me nothing other than my domain name and web hosting. I think it’s important for me to do this, as even just one voice can make a difference to someone else.

The more we understand about mental health, the more we can do to ensure that people are not left behind, forgotten about, or discriminated against. It’s rewarding to know that I can do my part to keep the conversation alive.

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Mental health blogger & speaker | MSc student mental health nurse
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