The COVID-19 pandemic is packing a category 5 emotional wallop as it transforms our lives in sudden and dramatic ways. While we’re working to manage our own stress and anxiety, we also want to help those around us—whether it’s our immediate family, friends, extended family, or colleagues. But when we can’t leave our house, what do we do?
Practice small acts of kindness. It not only helps the receiver, it helps you as the giver, as well: A study by Yale and UCLA researchers shows that it can actually improve our mental health and well-being. Science shows that practicing kindness lowers stress, alleviates anger and depression, and boosts our immune system, which is especially important right now.
Here are four types of kindness to practice to support your well-being, and that of your friends and loved ones, during this difficult time.
1. Kindness to Self
It might seem counterintuitive, but compassion toward others begins with kindness toward ourselves. Many of us believe that being self-critical and hard on ourselves is a good thing and will help us achieve our goals. However, research shows that harshly judging ourselves weakens our confidence and resilience and leaves us more emotionally raw. Unless we learn to quiet that inner critic and become more forgiving of our own feelings, missteps, and mistakes, that judgmental voice is sure to show itself in our relationships and interaction with others.
How to do it: Cut yourself some slack as you’re adjusting to this new normal. Acknowledge your anxiety—everyone’s feeling it. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes a while to get the hang of the new work-from-home technology. Or if home-schooling isn’t going as planned. Or you haven’t cooked dinner all week. We’re living through a global health crisis, so be gentle with yourself when activities or schedules go awry.
2. Kindness to Family
Balancing work, parenting, and running a household is a challenge during the best of times. With schools and workplaces going remote, and everyone trying to manage the disruption in close quarters, family squabbles are bound to flare. Rather than reacting, take a deep breath and shift your thoughts toward appreciation for loved ones. Set an example for your kids (and spouse) with a few kindnesses that, in/under normal circumstances, may have fallen by the wayside.
How to do it: Thank your spouse for helping with the dishes, or your child for finding your phone charger. Manners and kindness go hand in hand. Maybe you and your spouse have different work styles: one of you needs peace and quiet to write while the other is on calls all day. Be considerate and ask how you can accommodate each other. Carve out specific times and places for each to do his or her work.
Actively listen to your children’s and partner’s words and thoughts so everyone feels like they’re facing this hurdle as a team. Kindness at home means cultivating an atmosphere of respect—especially when life throws challenges and frustrations our way.
3. Kindness to Friends, Neighbors, and Colleagues
With people we don’t know well, we often put up a tough front so we don’t appear vulnerable or weak. And perhaps we aren’t as friendly, generous, or thoughtful as we could be. We think of these traits, which are associated with kindness, as conveying weakness or naivete, but in fact, that is not the case. Being kind often requires courage and strength. Kindness is compassion in action.
How to do it:
Friends & neighbors: Sometimes when we get busy we lose touch with friends, so call or text to make sure they’re okay. Conversations that make us feel appreciated and supported are kind. If you’re looking for some smart, meaningful ways to stay connected, you can find them here, in our Cup of Calm on “How to Stay Connected During Social Distancing.”
Colleagues: Maybe you’ve skipped the last few office happy hours. Take this opportunity to reach out on slack or email to connect with your coworkers. It will mean a lot. Ask how they’re holding up and how the rest of their family is doing. Encourage them to share a photo. Small gestures go a long way and will be remembered, and personal connections will strengthen professional bonds when you’re back at the office.
4. Kindness to Community
People quarantined in Spain, Italy, France, and Israel coordinated times to applaud healthcare workers from their homes. The sounds of cheering and clapping in expressions of gratitude for doctors, nurses, and others who are tirelessly treating the sick filled the air. Pulling together in times of crisis helps ensure the stability and well-being of local communities.
How to do it: Check with your local food bank to see whether they need food donations or delivery volunteers. Organizations that run errands for the elderly always need a hand. Give blood at your local hospital or order takeout from a treasured local eatery. Apps such as nextdoor.com connect community residents and share information about neighbors or businesses in need. Help out your local animal shelter by fostering a dog or cat if you can.
You can also support your community by adhering to your state government guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. At the grocery or convenience store, don’t buy more than you need. Stockpiling goods deprives others, especially those living paycheck-to-paycheck, of items they need now. Put social media to good use by sharing useful, newsworthy information.