School holidays. It’s a time to enjoy moments with our families, a time to savour positive experiences and also, when to try not to tear our hair out when moments can be challenging and stressful. It is a chance to fosterkindness and compassion and to ensure we give kindly to ourselves.
Kindness may not be a word that is frequently used. Perhaps it seems archaic in our competitive social media-infused, politically contentious culture. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Today, more than ever, we need to cultivate kindness, not only for the sake of our society but for our own wellbeing. It is important to boost kindness in our world. We should never do an act of kindness to gain from it. We should always be kind because it is the right thing to do. But, when we are kind, there are positive side effects that come with it:
- Kindness makes us happier
- Kindness gives us healthier hearts
- Kindness slows ageing – yes, the science says this is true! Oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging at its source.
- Kindness makes for better relationships
- Kindness is contagious
As humans we are wired for kindness. It is part of our biological heritage, designed to support us to foster relationships, work together and survive in groups. When we are kind to others, it releases neurochemicals in our bodies that increase trust and give us a warm feeling. But, let’s face it – the holiday period can be a stressful time, and in all honesty, it can be hard to be kind, particularly when we are stressed out or emotionally spent in dealing with the rat-race. These are moments when we forget to notice others around us or be empathetic to their suffering. In fact, sometimes our stress leads to withdrawing from those who are close to us, or worse, reacting by lashing out at them. This kind of reactive behaviour tears at the heart of our relationships, making it harder to feel good and to do good for others. During the holiday period, this can be a challenge.
How exactly in times of stress, particularly when the children are home 24/7 do we live and breathe kindness when we are dysregulated, and in desperate need of a coffee, or…champagne?
Be Mindful and Reset your Stress
At times of stress, our bodies are flooded with neurochemicals that prepare our internal systems for fight and flight responses. All of these act against your desire to reach out and be kind to others. Step back and give yourself some time…try a breathing meditation.
The first stage of meditation is to stop distractions and make our mind clearer.
- Sit with your eyes partially closed and turn your attention to your breathing.
- Breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath, and try to become aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. This sensation is the object of meditation. Try to concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else.
At first, your mind will be very busy, and you might even feel that the meditation is making our mind busier; but in reality you are just becoming more aware of how busy your mind actually is. If you discover that your mind has wandered and is following your thoughts, immediately return it to the breath. Repeat this as many times as necessary until the mind settles on the breath.
Stopping and being aware allows us to be kind and practice empathy for ourselves, our children and others. When we are rushed, we often tune out what’s happening around us. By attending to the sensations in our bodies, our thoughts and what’s happening in our environment without judgment, we can strengthen the skills of attention. This also helps us become more attuned to our emotions which helps us to be more empathetoc towards others.
As humans we are naturally conditioned to pay attention to the negative things happening around us (crayon drawings on walls, spilt drinks, chaos, loud screaming and endless tears). In our modern world, media headlines take advantage of this predisposition, leading with stories bound to make us feel sad, enraged, helpless and fearful. And those emotions are antithetical to kindness. Counter this by purposefully creating opportunities for positive emotion and balance the positivity to negativity 3:1. This could mean something as simple as smiling at others that you pass on the street, giving your child a warm hug when you are with them and savouring the positivity that happens throughout the day through photographs. As you sit around your kitchen table, share three positive experiences you have savoured throughout the day.
Kindness is contagious
We are influenced by others around us, so it is important to influence our social networks and children to be more kind. One way to do this is by practicing gratitude; giving thanks to others for their kindnesses. Saying thank you to people augment their feelings of trust and goodwill and can inspire all to be kind in the future.
Live the Golden Rule – a great rule for the home
‘Treat others as you would want to be treated.’ The Golden Rule is the ultimate, all-encompassing principle for moral behaviour. To determine if our actions are moral, we should ask ourselves if we would like to be treated the way we are treating the other person if we were in their situation. Twenty-four hundred years ago, Aristotle made a logical point that if everyone lived by the Golden Rule, we wouldn’t need government. We would all get along nicely, without any human authority over us, if we all lived by the Golden Rule.
Enjoy the holiday school holiday period with your loved ones. Being kind to yourself is totally underrated. It will allow you to give to others. Cultivate a practice of radical kindness creates a ripple effect that changes every relationship in our lives. And allow yourself the coffee and champagne too!