How to practise conscious kindness to improve mental health at work
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May 2020) is ‘kindness.’ In these stressful and turbulent times, we could all do with uplifting one another more. But how can we practise kindness is a more conscious way to improve our mental health?
How are you doing?
The simple act of genuinely asking a colleague or staff member how they are getting on is an act of kindness that has a far greater impact on our sense of wellbeing and connection than we think.
“Kindness has the potential to bring us together with benefits for everyone, particularly at times of great stress and uncertainty." These words from Mark Rowland, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation, no doubt resonate with us all – especially on Mental Health Awareness Week.
Kindness and mental health
Studies have shown that people who do more acts of kindness are happier and those who experience kindness feel more connected to themselves and others.
Despite this, The Kindness Report, published in December 2019, found that 60% of people believe that Britain has become less caring in the last 10 years. Will the current Covid-19 situation be a catalyst in turning things around? Indeed, there have been many heartfelt and unbelievable acts of kindness from people of all walks of life – inside and outside the workplace – in the past few months.
Being kind, friendly, open, appreciative and curious is an innate ability we all share.
Love (or kindness) and connection are two universal human needs. These, along with other values like trust, respect, appreciation, safety and acceptance, help us to thrive and feel fulfilled. But where do they fit in a workplace environment? Are leaders and managers leading by example and practising acts of kindness towards their employees during the pandemic?
A global study of over 2,700 employees by Qualtrics and SAP during March and April 2020 reveals that since the outbreak of the pandemic:
75% of people say they feel more socially isolated
67% of people report higher stress
57% are feeling greater anxiety
53% say they feel more emotionally exhausted
Nearly 40% of people in this study said that their company had not even asked them how they were doing since the pandemic began. The simple act of genuinely asking: ‘How are you doing?’ and being willing to listen deeply to your staff member and colleague is an act of kindness that affects our sense of wellbeing and connection much more than we think.
Being kind, friendly, open, appreciative and curious is an innate ability we all share – to be genuinely kind comes from the heart not from the head.
In bringing more kindness into our life, we bring about chemical and structural changes to our brain that help to establish ‘kindness circuits.’
Kindness makes us emotionally robust and positive
Being kind to oneself and others is far from weak and self-indulgent. Research shows that people who practise kindness, friendliness, respect and appreciation towards themselves and others are better able to acknowledge their mistakes, imperfections and negative actions – to learn from them and to change for the better – than those who hadn’t done so. This is because having a positive attitude towards themselves allowed them to admit to their failings and those of others without being overwhelmed by negative emotions. Kindness makes us more emotionally robust and positive.
What’s more, when we practise kindness something profound happens at the physiological level, in our body and hormone system.
In bringing more kindness into our life, we bring about chemical and structural changes to our brain that help to establish ‘kindness circuits’ – the creation of millions of new connections (neuropathways) in the prefrontal cortex of the brain – wiring our brain for more kindness.
This, in turn, increases the amount of positive emotion (mental and emotional resilience) in our day-to-day experience, which can help us better deal and move through difficult and rough periods in our life like the one we are all having to face and deal with now.
Tips for practising acts of kindness
It’s important to practise regularly to change the brain – just like we need to exercise regularly to change the muscles in the body.
1. Start with yourself
Practise kindness to yourself for 10 minutes or more daily using these three simple steps:
Awareness: Ask yourself... How do I treat myself? What critical, harsh or judgmental thoughts am I saying to myself? How does it feel in the body? What effect does it have on me? How do I feel emotionally?
Pausing: Take three to five slightly more extended in and out breaths. Feel the breath in your body and your feet on the ground.
Be your own best friend: Ask yourself... Is it true that I am, for example, not good enough, stupid, pathetic, an imposter, unable to do ‘x, y, z’, a wimp? The answer is almost always no. Turn your critical voice into a friend’s voice. For example: “I am enough, I do the best I can, I am human, it’s okay to have a difficult time…” Notice the effect of this practice.
2. Move onto others
Do one to three kind deeds for friends, family, colleagues or team members daily. We already do kind deeds but here we are making the kind actions more intentional, conscious and regular rather than keeping them random. For example:
Ask your staff and team members regularly and genuinely: How are you doing? Are you okay?
Listen deeply: with time, empathy and understanding without needing to fix anything or find a solution. Just listen.
Communicate regularly and consistently to ensure staff members feel supported and to provide and useful resources.
Regularly send out a survey to check how staff are doing, what they need and how you can best support them to stay ahead of any wellbeing/ill-being trend in your organisation.
Make time for colleagues: every week offer some time to a different team member to allow them to talk things through (including how they are feeling in themselves and how they are getting on with their work from home). You may wish to provide them with tips for practising mindfulness in stressful times.
Show appreciation for your colleagues (this can be done online too): It’s easy to moan, but how about a new tack. At the end of a meeting highlight some positives about all the participants in the room. For example: “I appreciate how you really listen to others.” Or “I appreciate how you ask helpful questions rather than telling us what to do.”
Wish someone well: throughout the day wish one of your colleagues well. It can be the same person or different colleagues. Notice the effect and how you feel.
The beauty of acts of kindness is that they benefit the giver and the receiver.
And remember, all you need to do to get started on your journey towards more kindness is ask that one simple question: ‘how are you doing?’
Karen Liebenguth is an accredited mindfulness trainer, mindfulness supervisor, certified coach and facilitator
She works with private and corporate clients to foster personal and professional development, self-leadership and mental resilience.
Karen offers tailored coaching and mindfulness programmes for the workplace including ...