Kindness is so important, and I have seen and heard about such a wealth of it amongst the staff I have the privilege of working with and supporting here at Airedale. In the stories I hear, it is often the kindness of colleagues that has kept people going through some really tough times at work.
My job here is to help staff to recover, restore and take care of themselves in and amongst the many demands and pressures they can face at work. So, why ask people to be kind when there are so many other competing demands for their time and energy? Because we know from research, and experience, that being kind not only benefits the people we are kind towards, but also benefits us too!
Kindness can be thought about in three parts, each with their own benefits:
Kindness to others
When we are kind to others, the warm feeling we experience is connected to the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. But these don’t only make us feel good, they have physical benefits too. Research has shown that kindness strengthens our immune system, reduces pain, improves our cardiovascular health, and boosts energy and strength in older people.
Each act of kindness might seem small, but each time we make a choice to be kind, it can have a positive effect on how we see ourselves and others. There are significant positive benefits for our mental wellbeing – people who are kind have been shown to cope and perform better, and not surprisingly, have better relationships with others.
Kindness from others
Noticing, accepting, appreciating and thanking a friend, family member, or colleague for their kindness towards you is both a way of showing kindness back and a way of connecting with feelings of gratitude. Gratitude is known to be protective to our mental health. This is because it balances out our human tendencies to focus on our next problem or worry about what has been going on.
The next time you experience kindness from someone, try running back over it in your mind at the end of the day, remembering how that felt for you. It is good for us to take in the good!
Kindness to self
Being kind to ourselves often falls last on our list and can sometimes be mistaken for a luxury or even self-indulgence but this is not the case. Self-kindness means treating ourselves as though we have equal value with others, and offering ourselves the same warmth and support that we would show someone we care for such as a good friend or family member. Research has found that people who practice self-kindness:
- Are kinder and more sensitive towards others (the opposite of self-indulgence!)
- Are less prone to burnout when giving to others.
- Bounce back faster from setbacks
- Feel less depressed and less anxious
- Have increased positive emotions such as optimism and gratitude
- Tend to make better choices for their health
- Have better interpersonal relationships
Ways we can practice self-kindness include:
- Kinder self-talk – when you next encounter a problem, make a mistake or are having a hard time, try thinking about how would a good friend or mentor talk to you about this difficulty? Or even how you might offer words of comfort to a friend in the same situation and offer the same to yourself. Try to remember that you are human and we all struggle sometimes and no one gets it right 100% of the time.
- Scheduling time for what nourishes and restores you – whether that is time with people you love, in nature, doing something creative, learning something new or making time to unwind.
- Making the most of the small moments such as using small windows of time between tasks or meetings to drop your shoulders, unclench your jaw and deliberately breathe slowly and evenly before going on with the next task. It is ok to take a moment to stop and breathe!
Thanks for reading this, and for continuing to put kindness out into the world. Remember you are just as deserving of kindness as anyone… so see if you can turn your kindness towards yourself too!
Dr Fiona Purdie
Lead for Employee Psychological Wellbeing for Airedale Hospitals