Kindness Matters: Mental Health Awareness Week 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week has chosen kindness as its theme this year, largely as a response and acknowledgement of the widespread kindness we are witnessing on a global-scale during the Covid-19 pandemic.

An Efficient Way of Boosting Wellbeing

Kindness, as a quality, has been researched and demonstrated to be linked to countless benefits; improving our mood, buffering against stress, even bolstering our immune system and heart health.

Most often kindness can be conceptualised as acts of service that are driven by warm, genuine feelings towards others. What really gives kindness its competitive edge, beyond other qualities, is how reciprocal these benefits for wellbeing can be. Simply put, kindness is contagious. It is one of the primary vehicles to strengthening our social connections.

Practising Self-Kindness

Often overlooked however, is the importance of extending this kindness to ourselves. For our students, being kind to themselves acts as an important tool for navigating the transition to university, where their identity is often tested socially and academically.

Stallman, Ohan, and Chiera’s study reminds us of the reciprocity of kindness, as their findings suggest  that university students are more likely to exercise self-kindness if they are receiving social support and kindness from others, and this plays a moderate role in contributing to wellbeing. There is a positive feedback loop; when we are kind to ourselves we are better equipped to provide support to others too.

So, how can we keep our vicious inner critics in ourselves at bay?

Create Space

This is a mindfulness technique to build self-awareness for our passing thoughts and feelings. When we are engaging in critical self-talk, it can be useful if we purposefully notice the passing thought or feeling at the time. This act of simply stopping to observe our inner dialogue, allows us to create a space to step outside ourselves and be a more neutral observer to the situation, and possibly then respond with more curiosity and kindness. A response more in line with how we would react to a friend or a loved one who was in distress.

Celebrate Your Failures

Undoubtedly, we are the harshest with ourselves when we feel disappointed with our performance or outcomes. If we can restructure our relationship with failure, it can ease the tendency to spiral into negative self-talk. Often times, we view failure and success as two distinct end states, when more often than not success is in fact born from failure. When we fail, we are provided a wealth of new information about ourselves and makes us re-examine why we want to succeed at something, and what success truly means for us.

The Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme this year is a powerful one, as we feel the need to exercise kindness more than ever, bolstering ourselves and others’ wellbeing during this challenging period. Let’s be reminded of how naturally we can cultivate widespread kindness, which begins when we get better at directing it towards ourselves.

Author: Farah Khushabi, Head of Student Care and Development

Stallman HM, Ohan JL, Chiera B. The role of social support, being present and self-kindness in university student well-being. Br J Guid Couns. 2018;46(4):365–74.