“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” –The Dalai Lama
The turmoil we are currently experiencing as a nation and world is impossible not to internalize to some extent. Stress, Anxiety, Depression, loneliness, and fear have become all too familiar during these uncertain times. Because many of us have been more isolated during the pandemic, we are becoming increasingly self-focused. Not because we are selfish, but because we are overwhelmed with trying to manage the chaos of juggling work, childcare, virtual schooling, household chores, and self-care – all while carrying the emotional burden the pandemic has brought into our lives.
One way we can begin to relieve our stress is by offering kindness to others. Research shows that altruistic behavior activates neurotransmitters in the brain that alleviate stress and bring forth a sense of calm and positivity. You might be thinking “I can’t possibly be there for anyone right now, I’m too overwhelmed!” or “I don’t even know how to manage my own problems, how can I possibly offer comfort or support to someone else?” These thoughts are completely normal. But you may surprise yourself with your ability to extend kindness, even when it feels like your tank is empty. Kindness can refill your emotional tank by removing focus from yourself and putting positive energy into the world, which in turn brings positive energy back to you. This kindness can be demonstrated through actions and through our thoughts.
Actions: Even small acts of kindness can go a long way in showing someone else you care about them. Try checking in on a friend you haven’t heard from in a while. Or send a card or care package to an out-of-state friend or family member who you can’t visit due to travel restrictions. Consider smiling and waving at the strangers you pass on your walk, instead of staring straight ahead and avoiding eye contact. These actions will remind others there is kindness and compassion in the world, and it may inspire them to pay it forward. You will also notice that you feel lighter just simply by putting positive energy into the world instead of focusing on the stress/frustration/fear/etc. that occupies so much of our time and energy throughout the day.
Thoughts: In addition to kind actions, we can also reduce stress by sending loving kindness to others through our thoughts. It can be very powerful to hope and wish that someone else is happy, rather than focusing solely on our own happiness. In Buddhism this is called Maitri, or unconditional friendliness. When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, think of someone you know who you’d like to send some kindness to. Picture that person in your mind and choose a phrase that expresses your kind wish for them. For example, “May they find joy.” “May they be happy.” “May they not suffer.” “May they be filled with loving kindness.” Repeat these phrases as you think of this person, and notice the change in your body, mind, and heart.
As you extend kindness to others in your life, you will notice a reduction in your own internal distress. Kindness has extraordinary healing power. It helps us recognize that our pain and suffering are shared, and the more we support one another through these challenging times, the more manageable it will feel to overcome what we are facing.