The term ‘Altruism’ helps us understand kindness as a human being’s ability (or want) to display or perform acts that would benefit others without reward. This display of kindness from an evolutionary perspective is arguably a trait developed to allow us to co-exist with others on this planet in harmony. However, it has been shown that human being’s truly benefit both physically and mentally by showing selfless concern and well-being of others around them.
Showing acts of kindness generally boosts well-being, positive feelings and a sense of satisfaction within us. Furthermore, prosocial behaviours offer peer acceptance, happier moods, boosts self-esteem and can help stimulate the release of serotonin and oxytocin; both of which give a sense of trust, increase social connection and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Showing kindness to ourselves
With most clients I work with, they all struggle to show themselves elements of kindness and compassion. When I ask them to tell me some positives about themselves, they struggle in doing this, which pinpoints to me that their internal dialogue towards themselves maybe quite down putting. The issue with this, is not only do outside influences and situations impact our self-esteem, being unkind towards ourselves fundamentally will create a very negative headspace; cultivating an environment which is negatively ‘perfect’ for harboring feelings such as self-loathing, despair, regret, anxiety and fear for example. This in-turn will allow our internal dialogue to consistently put ourselves down, saying “I’m not good enough”, “I cant do that as well as they can”, “I’m a failure”, “I’ll never look good” and so on. Therefore, I encourage people to begin with self-compassion, which is the ability to treat yourself with kindness as you would a friend or a loved one. Furthermore, knowing that you are not alone in how you are thinking, and understanding that others will share these negative thoughts also. Recognise and be mindful that you are holding onto your negative headspace but making sure you try not to over-identify with the thoughts. Knowing that these distorted thoughts can be worked with, and that offering yourself self-compassion will cultivate lots of well-being benefits, alleviating your own stress, optimising resilience, increasing optimism and helping with low mood. Adding in some form or exercise on top of this is a powerful combination.
Showing kindness to others
Cultivating kindness can be done in many ways. Maybe it is something you already practice on your daily/weekly routine. Maybe you help an elderly neighbour, maybe you help a friend or family member, or perhaps just recently you called someone out of the blue just to check up on them and make sure they are okay. One way or another, I can guarantee you felt a sense of positively and well-being come from it.
The theme of the mental health awareness week is that of ‘Kindness’. Given the world COVID-19 pandemic, and the struggles people are facing with this catastrophic situation, I feel the theme holds quite a few relevant connotations for us all. Therefore, what better way to evoke positive well-being than promoting a sense of self-compassion, community spirit (which we see when everyone claps for the NHS workers once a week), and generalised sense of human commonality. Certainly, on my evening walks I have experiences far more ‘Hello’s’ and acknowledgements with a smile that I have ever had, which suggests a heightened understanding of the importance of kindness and empathy towards others and self during this time.
Mental health has been defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” (WHO, 2005). The Act – Belong – Commit campaign strategy has been shown to assist good mental health practices and encapsulate the kindness theme (Donovan et al, 2006).
The three behavioural domains which have substantial scientific evidence showing how they significantly contribute to increased levels of positive mental-health and physical health are:
- Act: Keep alert and engaged by keeping mentally, socially, spiritually, and physically active.
- Belong: Develop a strong sense of belonging by keeping up friendships, joining groups, and participating in community activities.
- Commit: Do things that provide meaning and purpose in life like taking up challenges, supporting causes, and helping others.
Interestingly, these 3 domains appear to be universal across different cultures.
The Act-belong-commit overarching idea is to encourage people to be physically, spiritually, socially, and mentally active. Promoting ways that increase a person’s sense of belonging to the communities where they live. Furthermore, to become involved in commitments to causes or challenges that provide meaning and purpose in their lives. This could include small things such as helping that neighbour or friend, or by committing to offering self-compassion towards yourself. Also, it could include starting a new exercise goal/regime to make you feel better.
So, to summarise, the theme of kindness is not just to show others kindness, but also the concept of self-compassion. We can see many physical and mental health benefits for doing both, which further underpins the connection between body and mind as per my blog last week which you will find in the reference list below (Simpson-Price, 2020).
At Find a Life of Wellbeing we can assist you in creating purposeful goals which will give you a sense of commitment, goals, purpose and action.
The ‘Get Moving Challenge’ set out by the Mental Health Foundation is a great resource to tap into.
Yours in wellbeing,
Vicki Simpson-Price Psychotherapist (MNCS Acc)
Donovan, R.J., James, R., Jalleh, G. and Sidebottom, C., (2006). ‘Implementing mental health promotion: the act–belong–commit mentally healthy’ WA campaign in Western Australia. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 8(1), pp.33-42.
Simpson-Price, V. (2020) ‘The importance connection between physical health and mental health’ [online]. Available at here.
World Health Organisation (2005) ‘Mental Health’ [online]. Available at here (Accessed 17th May 2020)