Kindness is having something of a moment: hashtags on social media, acts of kindness on the news, rainbows in windows. It seems that we are all in agreement that kindness is worth spotlighting whilst we’re all in lockdown. However, our need for kindness goes beyond this moment in time and this is especially true for those of us who struggle with our mental health. Kindness really matters, and not just whilst we endure this pandemic.
Our time in lockdown seems to have amplified regular emotions. We need each other more than ever before; in practical ways and - most definitely - in emotional ways. The early days of the coronavirus pandemic may have brought out the worst in some people (where did all of that toilet paper go…?) but, undoubtedly, it’s brought out the best in others. Good news stories are going viral across different mediums and they provide a wonderful tonic to the bleak news bulletins and updates constantly broadcast across all channels. Even in the tiny microcosm of my block, people in my stair are shopping, cooking and baking for each other. My local shop remains open because one of the owners is staying away from his family in order that he can continue to provide groceries for the community. We are smiling and talking to people we don’t know. In a time of uncertainty and fear, these things are very consoling.
We can still do more. At a time when there is so much that we cannot do and so many places that we cannot go, it’s worth thinking about what we can do. If you are in a position to extend some kindness to others, do so. The smallest gesture will undoubtedly make a difference to someone who is struggling and, if we’re honest, aren’t a lot of us struggling?
Each one of us has mental health, and, like our physical health, it can wax and wane across a lifetime. It’s very easy with all manner of mental illnesses to get lost in your own head and to feel a sense of worthlessness and purposelessness. Certainly, as someone with an anxiety and panic disorder, I can completely lose faith in myself when I’m unwell. For people like me, I like to think that kindness has a particularly significant role.
When somebody actively and deliberately treats you with kindness, it has the power to undermine any harmful self-beliefs and imbue you with a sense of worth. Long term, it’s probably not healthy to get all of your validation from external sources, but we’re talking about when you feel very low. At these times, I don’t think it matters where it comes from; feeling like you’re worth something is so valuable.
Kindness needn’t be anything life-altering. It might be patience, a kind word, or an offer of help. Some of the kindest things people did for me when I really needed it were very small things. I remember my sister hovering just outside my bathroom door as I showered, because I was scared that I would die in the shower. When I finally had to move in with them as I wasn’t coping, my mum and dad celebrated every tiny achievement, despite my frustrated eye rolling. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
Kindness from strangers can also be vital. Some of us struggle to leave the house, to step into a shop, to quiet the voices, to exist in the world. How damning a tut or an eye roll can be. The opposite is also true: how encouraging a smile, how helpful when someone patiently waits as you fumble, when someone pretends not to notice that you’re crying at the cashline. You really don’t know what someone else is dealing with: err on the side of kindness.
It’s a lot easier to think about how and why to direct kindness towards others than it is to turn it inward. When someone else is hurt or scared, we comfort them, offer them reassurance, kind words and help. When we are frightened, many of us only add to our own fear and speak unkind words about the worst possible scenarios. I know, because I’m one of those people. If someone I love is fearful about something, I will talk kindly to them, comfort them, encourage them. A couple of years ago, a counsellor challenged me to try and notice the way I spoke to myself. It’s not really any exaggeration to say that I was shocked and upset by the vitriol I spoke to myself in my weakest moments.
Self-care is a term that is being bandied about a lot at the moment, touted as a lockdown essential. Perhaps this conjures up images of indulgent bubble baths and face masks, yet, I’ve learned embarrassingly recently is that this needn’t be the case. Treating yourself with kindness might mean getting enough sleep; asking for help; preparing a meal; paying your bills. There’s nothing wrong with a lovely bath either!
Fundamentally, treating yourself with kindness means treating yourself like you matter. If you find this difficult – and who doesn’t? – think about how you would treat a close friend or loved one. Would you tell them they were useless? Tell them they were a failure? Tell them that they didn’t deserve good things?
Genuine kindness is a radical and wonderful act. Real kindness helps people to see and to be seen. By all means, stick that rainbow in your window and offer to walk Betty from number 8’s dog, but also try to embrace the fundamentals of what kindness means. In particular, think about treating yourself with greater kindness. It would be a better world – and we’d all be happier and healthier – if kindness was a more fundamental part of all of our lives. Let’s prioritise kindness, and not just for lockdown.
by Rachel Alexander
Rachel lives in Edinburgh. Interested in writing, feminism and mental health, she’s an English teacher to trade, and passionate about learning as well as teaching. She loves stories of all kinds, and believes they are a uniquely powerful way of changing the world. Tweets at @rachalexwrites and Instagrams at @rachjanealex.