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Mental health awareness week: The role of kindness in mental wellbeing

Readers Lounge By Audrey Masitsa
When we're kind to others, we feel calmer and happier (Photo: Shutterstock)

I had had one of the toughest weeks of my life. Not only was my personal life on the brink of disaster but my mental health had suffered a blow like no other. It took all my willpower to hold it together when I was out in public but once I was on my own, the floodgates would open.

But this morning in particular, I couldn’t pretend to be okay anymore. I felt broken, alone, helpless. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t keep the darkness away. To make matters worse, I was at work so anybody who paid any attention to me would have noticed that I wasn’t okay.

It got so bad that I couldn’t concentrate on work. I knew then that I needed to do something to get my peace of mind back. So I excused myself and went for a walk. A friend of mine asked if I was okay and if they could accompany me on my walk. I knew she had things to do but I was so moved that she was willing to drop everything just to make sure that I was fine. We spent some time outside in the fresh, warm air and by the time we went back to work, I was in a better place.

Mental health awareness week

I remembered this incident as I was reading about this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (May 18-24). The theme this year is kindness. I had never thought about the connection between mental health and kindness but on reading more on this year’s theme, I realised that though understated, kindness can help improve one's mental health.

According to mentalhealth.org, the reason for this year’s theme was because of kindness’s ‘ability to unlock our shared humanity’.

Kindness ‘is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health’. It ‘strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity’.

When you look at it, kindness reminds us that we are human, that we’re a community and that we exist beyond just ourselves. It helps to bridge the gap caused by isolation, particularly in these times, making us feel like we belong. Like I witnessed above, when we experience acts of kindness, stress is reduced, we get a fresh perspective on life and friendships grow.

Be available to others. Even just listening can make the world of difference (Photo: Shutterstock)

Benefits of kindness

Dartmouth.edu states that kindness:

  • increases oxytocin, the love hormone, which helps reduce blood pressure, increases self-esteem and optimism

  • makes you happy

  • releases the feel good hormone serotonin which also makes you happy and calm

  • makes you stronger and more energetic, with a greater sense of self-worth

  • protects your overall health

  • gives you ‘helpers high’ i.e. your brain’s pleasure and reward centres get stimulated

Acts of kindness

In these tough times when we’ve been forced to isolate ourselves, it’s not uncommon to feel alone and lose that sense of community. But performing acts of kindness can help alleviate these feelings, making you less anxious, stressed and/or depressed.

Be kind to others by offering to help others stock up on groceries or making donations to the less fortunate. Help out those on the frontline. Drop off books, magazines and even movies to those who can’t go out even for a walk so that they can entertain themselves. Call up your friends and family just to check on them and have a chat.

If you’re isolating with others, offer to help with their work or chores. Invite them to accompany you to a walk or just spend time speaking to them about how they’re holding up.

Be kind to yourself. Instead of negative self-talk, turn it into positive self-talk. Praise yourself for achieving even the smallest of feats. Take a break when you feel overwhelmed. Cook yourself a nice meal. Look after your skin. Eat well. Exercise. Nourish your brain.

Remember that you can reap the benefits of kindness when you’re kind to others and to yourself. And, when you’re kind to others, and they pay it forward we’re building a more humane society.

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