Has there ever been a better time to engage in the wellness practice called kindness? As we face unprecedented challenges around every corner, we are often hard pressed to find happiness. Many of us are in the sandwich generation, caring for kids or companion animals, while also caring for aging parents. When we feel down about the world or overwhelmed with caregiving, a little bit of kindness can go a long way to soothe a furrowed brow and turn our frowns into smiles.
Recently while browsing journal entries from the early pandemic months, I found an entry about the kindness a fellow shopper extended to me. This entry was written during the phase when we were all wearing masks and staying far apart while shopping. There was no idle chatting or saying hello to friends or strangers during this phase. Aisles were designated as “one way” and there were security guards to ensure we followed directions. Once back home, we were sanitizing the groceries and wondering if it was safe to touch our mail.
One day as I was unsuccessfully trying to grab something on a high shelf, a tall shopper about 10 feet away asked if he could approach and get the item for me. I nodded and said “thank you” through my mask; embarrassed by my immediate and grateful tears. I then saw tears in his eyes as he placed the bag of shredded coconut in my cart, an awkward apology being quietly spoken about him touching the bag. I said quickly, “No worries, please! I’m just so grateful for your kindness. . .” We nodded our heads in mutual understanding, then realized that he was only about four feet away from me. We both stepped back, shaking our heads at the absurdity of it all. We both giggled a bit, then simultaneously bowed to one another like Buddhist monks before continuing our separate ways. It was a humbling moment, a moment of unforgettable shared kindness. It was a moment of connection in the pandemic world.
“K” is for kindness because it has a ripple effect. It is uplifting for both givers and receivers, and often inspires additional and spontaneous acts of kindness. Random acts of kindness produce a “feel good” sensation and can be extended to any being or situation. Offering kindness is not difficult, but it does require mindfulness and conscious action. It requires that you extend yourself in a caring, helpful way. This short video explains kindness from children’s perspectives. You will note from the video that sharing your snack or letting someone go ahead of you in line are excellent examples of kindness! Science tells us that extending kindness is good for the heart, slows aging, reduces stress and anxiety, increases happiness hormones, and fulfils the innate human desire to live a purposeful life.
I learned about another aspect of kindness from author, Dr. Kristin Neff, who teaches about self-compassion and kindness. Patterns of self-criticism, lack of confidence, or a “glass half empty” outlook can be transformed through the practice of kindness. A pioneer in the science of mindfulness and self-compassion, Dr. Neff offers several free audio and video presentations to inspire self-care. I took great comfort in her words when I was in the throes of caregiving for a family member several years ago. I also appreciated her guidance when I was caring for my beloved Spaniel, Madison in her final days.
A caregiver is one who provides care for others; human or animal; young or old; robust or frail. The act of caregiving can be all consuming. Caregivers can become especially prone to overwhelm, worry, self-doubt, and guilt as they work to fulfil caregiving responsibilities. If you are a caregiver and catch yourself in those patterns, try replacing negative self-talk or self-criticism with kind, compassionate self-talk.
When navigating serious illness or at end-of-life, there will always be times when things do not go as planned or turn out the way we want them to. When that happens, I encourage caregivers to practice self-kindness. Dr. Neff offers a beautiful 9-minute practice especially for caregivers. When a short meditation is not enough, respite from caregiving may be needed. Giving yourself the gift of a nature walk, yoga practice, time to read a book, or have a conversation with a trusted friend are all acts of self-kindness that will help to re-balance caregiving overwhelm. Allow yourself permission to seek support with respite care so that you can take a time out to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate.
This is your invitation to undertake an act of kindness today! Open the door for someone; stash a supportive message in a lunch box; say a kind word instead of grumbling; smile. Do it for your sibling, companion animal, grandparent, or child; for your colleague, neighbor, acquaintance, friend, boss, or partner; for someone walking down the street or at the market. It doesn’t need to be flashy; just a small act of kindness will do. Share below in the comment section if you want to spark a ripple effect. May your day be full of kindness.