Simple acts can have an impact on mental health, says clinical psychologist
It’s been eight long months of public health restrictions, disrupted routines and the loss of connection with colleagues and loved ones. With COVID-19 cases spiking as winter sets in, grumbling about the pandemic is also poised to peak.
That’s why NAIT is asking students and staff to help each other cope with the extra stress through kindness. A new awareness campaign, “Kindness is Contagious,” launched in early November and aims to do just that.
“In stressful times like these, extra moments of kindness can make a lasting impact on our well-being and help to support our efforts to remain resilient,” said Sandra Marocco, NAIT’s vice-president of industry partnerships and chief marketing officer, in a recent note to students and staff.
“In stressful times like these, extra moments of kindness can make a lasting impact on our well-being.”
Marocco’s office is spearheading the initiative, which involves sharing weekly stories about and tips for showing support. Those acts can be as simple as sharing mental health resources with someone who needs it, expressing gratitude on social media or sharing a special thank you with a colleague.
“Together, we can turn the corner on COVID-19 by following public health precautions and making kindness an important part of our new normal.”
Why kindness matters
Dr. Tanya Spencer, a clinical psychologist and lead of NAIT Student Counselling, says showing kindness is especially important now, when people might be suffering from mental health issues related to the pandemic.
Anxiety and stress are the top reasons why people seek support, she says, and are often exacerbated by factors such as social isolation, finances, changes to learning delivery or family issues.
“When someone is in the depths of despair, they’re pretty good at putting on a brave face for the world,” Spencer says. “Offering those little bits of kindness is just a little bit of confirmation that the world is still a good place and that people are still, deep down, good people.”
“Offering those little bits of kindness is just a little bit of confirmation that the world is still a good place.”
Although Spencer notes that while demand for student counselling has not increased during the pandemic, the “intensity” of what people are feeling has. In some cases, that can amplify negative feelings. A simple act of kindness can sometimes make people feel less alone at a time like this.
“Their level of social support may have been poor to begin with and now with the government constantly telling us how important our social support is, how you need to talk to people and they’re like, ‘I don’t have anyone to talk to.’”
Evidence supports that kindness creates a sense of belonging and connection. Given the avalanche of bad news lately, people want to participate in bettering the world, Spencer says. Even simple actions like showing genuine interest in how someone is feeling can make a difference, especially if someone is suffering in isolation.
“It might seem superficial but it can be a gateway to some really important help.”
Being kind helps everyone, including yourself
If being kind and giving someone else a boost isn’t enough of a reward, research shows that it can help those displaying the behaviour.
Doing something nice for someone else, anything from sharing a compliment to giving a gift, can increase the amount of dopamine and serotonin in the brain – endorphins that help fend off depression.
“Not only are you less vulnerable to depression, you feel good about your place in the world,” Spencer says.