These first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic have been really difficult for all of us. Some of us know people who have been infected, or we may have been infected ourselves. And many have lost their jobs or have experienced a decline in income. Hearing the constant drum of difficult news is hard. So how can we get some relief?
Sometimes, even when we have our darkest moments in life, changing our perspective can make a difference. Earlier this year, I had a very rough patch. My 13-year-old son got quite sick and needed to be hospitalized. Just a few days after he came home from the hospital, my father had a fall and was rushed to the hospital, where they found a large bleed in his brain that required surgery. And if that wasn’t enough, a couple of weeks later, my husband needed to go to the emergency room. It was probably the worst month of my life.
But as I was going through this, I heard from my friend who had just lost her mom after a long battle with cancer in December – she was reaching out to tell me that her father was now hospitalized with a serious illness. She had been through so much with her mom, and now her dad was sick. The following week, my neighbor lost her dad to pneumonia suddenly and was devastated. My heart ached for my friend and her family. And then for my neighbor. But when I started to think about their situations and how I could possibly help, something happened – my own troubles seemed a little less burdensome.
When we focus our attention on helping others, it not only takes our mind off our own worries, it reminds us that we’re not the only ones who have them. We remember that we are not alone and that bad news happens to everyone – no one in life is exempt from troubles (no matter how happy their social media posts may seem). Offering kindness and help to others also helps us by providing a sense of purpose. It helps us ‘do something’ to bring comfort and peace to another person. And, another lasting benefit? It helps us to connect with someone else on a deep level. By lending a hand when someone needs it, we move beyond everyday small talk, and step into their lives in a meaningful way.
Our acts of kindness benefit us on a physical level, too. Research has shown that even just witnessing an act of kindness can be helpful – it releases the hormone oxytocin, which dilates the blood vessels and can lower your blood pressure. It is also the same hormone released when you get a hug, calming our stress levels as well. A study at Yale University looking at people doing small acts of kindness showed that those people processed stress differently, feeling less stressed on days that they opened the door for someone or did another positive (”prosocial”) act. There have been significant studies on the effects of kindness, so much so that several universities have created courses for learning about compassion, including Stanford and Yale. I’ve been taking a compassion training course (for healthcare workers) at Emory University, and it’s made a big difference in how I feel.
Recently, I was invited by the Born this Way foundation to participate in their 21 Days to Be Kind campaign. Each day from September 1st through the 21st, I will do an act of kindness. Whether that is checking on my friend who just went through a divorce, posting an inspirational quote on my social media account, or texting my neighbor because she has been stressed out about her kids starting virtual school. It all counts, and frankly, I benefit from the empathy, too.
So, as we all cope with COVID-19 and the stressors that have come with it, try to reach out and help a friend, family member, or members of your community. Call your elderly neighbor to see if she needs anything from the grocery store when you make a run. We are all together in this journey, and we will all get through it. Helping each other along this road will make it easier for all of us.