Wednesday 13 May 2020

#MHAW - 16 Ways to Be Kind

“You can always give something, even if it is only kindness.” (Anne Frank)

We are sometimes called upon to provide long-term help or caregiving for friends, family members, or loved ones, but small acts of kindness are no less important and can make a huge difference to a person’s life, including ours. As individuals and as a society we have never needed kindness more than we do now, in the midst of a global pandemic. In recognition of this, the Mental Health Foundation chose kindness as the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) which runs from 18–24 May.

We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.

Here are sixteen ideas to bring more kindness into our lives and the lives of those around us.

1. Give People What They Need, Not What You Need to Give Them

Kindness is about offering help where it is needed, not satisfying a desire to “do good” for its own sake. It’s easy to imagine we know what’s best for someone but take a moment to check in with yourself before wading in to fix things. Even better, ask what they need most or would appreciate. Taking time to tune in to someone else’s needs is an act of kindness in itself.

2. Learn and Share

Next time someone asks a question to which you don’t know the answer, go out of your way to research the solution and pass it back in ways that are helpful to them. That is far kinder than replying “It’s on the internet, you can look it up for yourself.” Not everyone is confident wading through a multitude of often contradictory search results. Do the work for them and share your understanding, not merely information. You will help someone and expand your knowledge at the same time. Win-win. Kindness is like that.

3. Can I Help with That?

Each of us has a unique set of skills, resources, and experience. Make the most of yours by helping a friend with something they’re finding difficult that’s easy for you. Maybe you know how to set up a Zoom meeting, host an online movie night, or can help someone through hard times in some other way. Perhaps you have time in your schedule to keep someone company online who is self-isolating or shielding, or otherwise would appreciate the contact.

4. Kindness Is a No Judgment Zone

Did you ever see someone asking for help, on the street or online, and pass them by because maybe they’re not genuinely in need or you wonder what they might do with the money? Put your suspicions, judgements and counter-arguments on hold for a day and take the next person you meet at face value.

5. Be More Elephant

They say elephants never forget. I can’t remember if that’s true but if someone has trouble attending appointments, taking their medication regularly, or remembering birthdays in time to send a card, offer to remind them or help them set up an automated reminder on their phone. I call a friend first thing each weekday morning to make sure she’s awake and getting ready for work. I message another friend with a daily meds reminder. In both cases my offer was accepted because it was valuable to them. I’ve had similar offers declined because my suggestion was unnecessary or would prove unhelpful. Kindness is respectful always — which is worth remembering!

6. Hello There!

Sometimes it really is the smallest things that mean the most. Text, message or phone someone to ask how they’re doing, ask if they need anything, let them know you appreciate them, or just wish them sunshine in their day.

7. Pay Kindness Forward

If a person does something nice for us we tend to feel obliged to return the favour. Based on a movie of the same name, “Pay It Forward” invites us to pay good deeds forward to someone else instead. Check the Pay It Forward website for details.

8. Respect and Reliability

We all make mistakes but be someone your friends can rely on not to mess them around. Be punctual. Don’t change arrangements on a whim or at the last moment. When you do need to change plans let your friend know what’s happening as soon as possible. It’s not rocket science, but it is respectful and it is kind.

9. Thank You

Take a moment to acknowledge — and thank — the people in your life who are there for you.

10. No More Stigma, No More No Casseroles

Such is the stigma associated with mental illness that “No casseroles” has come to signify the lack of support that many people experience. Friends and neighbours simply don’t drop round with a prepared meal, offers of help, or ongoing support the way they do for people living with serious physical conditions. Challenge the stigma. Break the mould. Be kind.

11. It’s in the Post

Send someone in your life a handwritten letter, card, or small gift for no reason other than to let them know you’re thinking of them. If getting to the shops or post office isn’t an option there are online services such as Thortful, Moonpig, Funky Pigeon, and Papier where you can choose and customise a card and have it sent directly to your friend or loved one.

12. Kindness on Wheels

If you have a car there may be someone who would appreciate an offer to drive them to medical appointments, collect a prescription, or fetch groceries for them. Remember to follow the national guidance to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. There are specific guidelines on how to help others safely.

13. It’s Good to Listen

We all need someone sometimes to simply be there for us, to listen to whatever is troubling us without judging us or jumping in with fixes. Be the friend who will hold space and hear things that others won’t stay around to listen to.

14. Lemon Squares for the Soul

Invite a friend round (virtually, of course!) to cook or bake with you. Don’t let a little thing like distance get in your way! My best friend Fran and I have baked together even though we live 3,000 miles apart. (Okay, Fran baked and I encouraged!) If you don’t bake you could buy some nice cakes or cookies and have an online coffee morning with friends, or take some round to someone local who might appreciate them.

15. Kindness Isn’t Just for Other People

We all want to be there for our friends and loved ones, but self-kindness is also a thing! Here are a few ways you can be kind to yourself — see what works for you.  

  • Find a little space every now and then to chill out your way. Take a bath, put on a movie, read a book, or listen to music.
  • Celebrate your successes, even (especially) the little things.
  • Take care of yourself by paying attention to your eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Treat your body to some gentle exercise if you are able to. If you are self-isolating or shielding look for an online exercise or yoga class you can do from home.
  • Allow yourself to be less than perfect. It’s okay if all you did today was get through. It is enough. You are enough.
  • Sometimes the best medicine is a bit of silliness, so give yourself permission to be silly in whatever way works for you!

There are more ideas for being kind to yourself in this article by “recovering lawyer” Marelisa Fabrega at Daring to Live Fully.

16. Take Part in Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week (18–24 May 2020) is the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspire action to promote the message of good mental health for all. It has been run by the Mental Health Foundation since 2001. There are lots of ways you can take part. Visit the official FAQ and Resources pages for details, and sign up for the email newsletter.

We’ve shared a number of ways you can bring a little kindness into the world, but you will have ideas and examples of your own. We’d love to hear them! What does kindness mean to you? How has someone’s kindness helped you? What acts of kindness have you performed, heard about, or witnessed?


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.


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