Being kind is about how you behave, not what you talk about, yet it is easy to be glib or pay lip service to kindness. The festive season really does bring out the best and the worst in people. Let’s be honest, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, you will almost certainly be impacted by it in some way.
In the run up to 2020 – the start of a new decade, I’m very focused on connection, on kindness and on protecting mental wellbeing – for myself as well as for those in my world. These are things we often do not pay much attention to, and they are things that are just too precious to be left to chance.
Today I’m starting with kindness, calling on you to run a quick inventory of how you behave.
Our natural neurological default is kindness and compassion. James Doty, Clinical Professor of neurosurgery at Stamford and author of Into the Magic Shop, says it is our adrenaline fuelled lifestyle – or the chronic low-level release of hormones that create a near constant state of stress for many people. This hormonal trigger is designed to be a responsive state not a constant, and in overdrive this is responsible for reduced compassion and kindness, as well as heightened stress and anxiety.
Think about how often you hear someone pass judgement on another’s suffering, misfortune or even non-conformity – blame, shame and ultimately dismissal of suffering can quickly ensue. It’s evident in the various ‘isms’ that exercise people, in blaming people for the things that happen to them, even in circumstances like the recent floods in the UK – seemingly innocuous comments like ‘well they live near a river’ as if the act of nature is somehow their own fault.
I suspect we have all done it on occasions, but if blame, shame or justification are your instinctive responses you may need to pay attention to your stress levels. It doesn’t mean you are an unkind or uncaring person, it might mean you are running an adrenaline fuelled life on your (ironically named) sympathetic nervous system and your response is simply one of self-protection.
We all hit that “I can’t handle anything else” moments from time to time – whether it is at home, your kids, at work, in your social group or a combination of life events that leave you feeling out of control. The challenge is that once in this chronic stress response state you have to first recognise it, then do something active to rebalance your neurochemistry.
I don’t know about you, but when I hit a stress overwhelm – however briefly, the first victim of my ‘judgeiness’ is usually myself, often in tandem with a level of unkindness I certainly wouldn’t levy at anyone else. If you have a tendency towards this, or even if you are an occasional offender, job number one is to learn to create some compassion for yourself. Being able to manage your own physiological state, to consciously move from sympathetic nervous system overdrive back to a parasympathetic (or rest and restore state) is critical.
There are many ways you can change your state, from physical activity to use up the adrenaline in the short term, listening to your favourite music, certain smells linked to calm or feeling good, to longer term strategies like meditation and relaxation. Acts of kindness and compassion are up there in terms of rapid and long-term changes to your state management. Because it is part of your innate make up, compassion is rebalancing, restorative and helps you retain a ‘rest and restore’ state which in turn stimulates oxytocin receptors increasing empathy and helping you to stay connected with both yourself and other humans.
So, as the festive season hurtles towards us don’t just pay lip service to kindness. Spare a thought for your fellow human – none of us really know what is going on for another, a kind word, a small gesture of help or a bit of support may actually help you feel better and might just mean the world to someone.
Not paying lip service to kindness applies to how you treat yourself too. How can you be kinder to yourself, create a bit more support if you need it and not stress out over the festivities?
I’m using kindness to stay grounded and not get caught up in the hype and hustle of Christmas. One act of kindness each day is enriching, rewarding and nurturing for me. It restores balance, enables me to feel good and creates a more positive neurochemistry, it is almost an aside that others are the beneficiaries of my acts, I am without question the biggest beneficiary.
What can you do?
Do share your ideas and strategies in the braver business group.