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The importance of kindness during COVID-19 ;

The importance of kindness during COVID-19

In this final blog of the series for Mental Health Awareness week on the theme of kindness, Professor Trudie Chalder talks about how we can learn from Commitment and Acceptance theory to help us be kind during this time.

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic can be overwhelming but also vary from person to person. For some, the virus barely registers, for others the impact is devastating for the individual, their family, and friends. And as we move forward through these difficult times, one can see the fall-out from this is going to be far reaching in this global village in which we all live.

The character Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’, A Streetcar Named Desire needed hospital care for mental illness after she had experienced many difficult life events and trauma, which left her feeling alone and isolated. When she finally gave in to the reality of her situation, recognising her need for professional help, she said ‘I have always relied on the comfort of strangers’. Kate Adie, the war correspondent adopted this quote for her first book, having found herself in dangerous places, potentially alone, but often looked after by people she had never previously met.

This week, Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme is kindness. There has never been another time in most of our lives where so many people are relying on others - family and friends, as well as strangers. Communities galvanise to help neighbours with shopping, prescriptions, even dog walking. Nurses, doctors, social workers, care home staff look after the vulnerable.

The benefits of being kind

Kindness, the effect of being friendly, generous, and considerate, costs nothing, but the impact of kindness on an individual can be immense. Not only does it affect how we feel but it also affects us physically. Hormones are released and stress levels are lowered in measurable ways. Mood is enhanced and anxiety and depression improve.

In the competitive world in which we live kindness at work is rarely prioritised. Success gets centre stage. Last month King’s was ranked top 10 in the world for societal impact, something all who work here can be proud of. What an achievement. It is difficult though to savour this achievement when people are struggling to manage working at home and juggling childcare, and the future is so uncertain. We are all adapting to a new normal, changing, and finding new ways of working at high speed. The energy going into this is hugely impressive. Just for a moment though, it is important to take the opportunity to stop for a minute; slow down a little and reflect on our achievements collectively. How rare it is for us to give ourselves credit, so let us be kind to ourselves and each other!

the importance of kindness 2

Adopting Acceptance and Commitment Therapy philosophies

Not everybody will need or indeed want therapy. However, one type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) may be helpful to us all. The philosophy that influences ACT is drawn from Eastern cultures and helps us to accept what we cannot change. A variety of strategies are used to help us understand what feelings and thoughts influence us and how we respond to them. It helps us to be kind to ourselves and others by being more accepting of the turbulence that affects everyone day to day.

ACT also helps people to pinpoint what is important to them, what they value. This will be different for everyone but may include connectedness, contribution to society, being creative, as well as many others. It then helps people to focus on how they spend their lives and encourages them to focus on living a valued based life, despite the turbulence that may be going on internally. Although we have so little control of many aspects of our lives we can consider being kind to colleagues; show appreciation, be supportive to those in need, check in on colleagues, friends and family here and abroad, celebrate our differences. Perhaps be more proactive than you might ordinarily be - seek out the quiet ones, offer help if someone is struggling and be kind.

Research suggests that when people at work are treated with kindness, energy levels are increased, biological markers of stress such as blood pressure are lowered, and people feel more satisfied with their job. Production also increases. And in the words of Maya Angelou ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel’.

Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 18-24 May 2020. The theme is kindness.

The Author:

Trudie Chalder is Professor of Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London. Her research is focussed on epidemiological and aetiological studies of fatigue and distress in adolescents and adults with long-term conditions, and evaluating the efficacy of CBT. 

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Trudie Chalder

Trudie Chalder

Professor of Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy

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