Right out of the gate let me say that what I’m going to share about the power of kindness does not mean you should not take your meds and, or, see your therapist. Those things can be vitally important for mental health, as they have been for me. Instead, consider this just me sharing a bit of my story with you, in hopes that you might add another useful tool to your mental health toolkit.
I’ve had a lifelong struggle with anxiety. Yes, there have been times where it’s so overwhelming that getting through the day feels impossible (most often due to major life changes), but it usually just appears each morning as a slight tightening in my stomach that continues until I fall asleep.
When you constantly feel on edge it’s harder to think about helping people. In my experience however, doing acts of kindness in service to others when I’m feeling extra anxious, stressed, or sad, has been a powerful, life-changing experience.
One of my favorite things to do is to fill up a post-it note pad with positive sayings, and then stick them all over the glass in the freezer aisles at my local grocery store. While I’m doing this I imagine that the messages reach exactly who needs to read them. Another favorite is picking up a bouquet of carnations, and giving out the individual flower stems to strangers while telling them I hope they have a good day. I cannot count the number of people who have cried, asked for a hug, or told me that receiving a flower was the best part of their day.
Acts of kindness help take me out of my own head, even if for just a few minutes, and sometimes that shift is enough to loosen the tight hold of anxiety.
When I do acts of kindness that include interacting with other people, like giving out flowers, walking around with a “free hugs” sign (because I have totally done that several times), or giving out little love notes, those moments of genuine connection help me remember that we are all human beings doing our best. That we all have something we are struggling with. That we have no idea the burdens other people are carrying around. And that by looking into someone else’s eyes and wishing for their happiness, my own mind feels more relaxed and at peace.
I’m not going to make a generalized statement that helping others is the best way to cope with mental health struggles, because I know it’s not always true. When depression makes it hard to just get out of bed, or anxiety grips you so tightly that the idea of interacting with others is unbearable, those are times to focus on taking care of yourself in whatever ways work the best for you.
But during the moments that your mind has a little bit more space to consider doing something kind for someone else, try it out. You just may find that bringing a little joy to someone else brings a little bit of joy to you too.