Why kindness matters for our mental health

It’s mental health awareness week 2020, the theme this year is ‘kindness’ and I’ve just been asked to go to the BBC Radio Ulster afternoon show to discuss it with the ever-wonderful Nuala Mckeever. #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek2020 #KindnessMatters #Bekind

What will I talk about – Nuala and I could talk for hours about these wellbeing subjects – I want to make sure I get across a few key points.

  • Kindness is good for you – this is proven by science. Numerous research studies have shown that we get a ‘helpers high’ when we help others. This is why volunteering is good for us. We feel we’re making a difference and we feel better. When researchers at the University of British Columbia gave people money in the morning with instructions to either spend it on themselves or spend it on others they found that at the end of the day those who spent the money on others were happier.

  • Practising kindness can be an antidote to depression, when we focus on the needs of others it takes us out of ourselves allows us to see the bigger picture and get new perspectives, instead of spiralling down we can rise up.  The side of effect of kindness is feeling good. (This not to take away anything from the experience of depression where it can be hard to do anything positive because our brain chemistry is so depleted. When we have good days that’s when we can deliberately practice kindness to give ourselves a boost.) Kindness has physical effects on the brain, the heart, the immune system and thought the body.
  • Kindness produces happy chemicals in the brain. It also changes the brain for the better, the brain is plastic and just like building biceps we can build the kindness muscle in our brain.  Our empathy regions in the brain (the insula) and the left side of the prefrontal cortex our compassion region and seat of positive emotion will grown when we are kind. If you want to live a long life – a key factor is warm social connections i.e kindness
  • We all know about the negative effects of stress, fear and worry on our body and brain but did you know that the opposite of stress is kindness and that kindness produces the opposite physiological response. When you are being kind or you are the recipient of someone else’s kindness you feel warm and connected – your body is producing the ‘kindness hormone’, oxytocin.  So instead of adrenaline and cortisol – which are produced by fear, worry and stress you are being loved up and cared for by oxytocin.
  • Other hormones dopamine and serotonin are also produced when we are kind but oxytocin is famously known as the ‘cuddle chemical’, the ‘hugging hormone’ or the ‘hug drug’ or the ‘molecule of kindness’ or the ‘love hormone’.  It makes me so happy just to know about this because with so many people isolating right now and not able to give or receive hugs its really helpful to know that you can get your dose of oxytocin without physical touch.  Oxytocin is produced in abundance when we’re in love, when we hug and when we have a baby – it’s also known as the ‘bonding hormone.’ So many names because it’s such lovely hormone J Deliberately practicing kindness and meaning in from your heart will flood your body with this hormone 🙂
  • I forgot to bring this one up but kindness is a really attractive quality in a person. One study of over 10,000 young people over 33 countries, 6 continents, asked, ‘what would you most desire in a long-term partner?’ At the top in all 33 countries, over all 6 continents was someone who is kind! It came above a great sense of humour, it came above good financial prospects, it came above good looks. Someone who is kind, was the number 1, the top thing that people wanted, in a long-term partner. So if your single and looking to mingle – practice kindness. In fact, I found kindness to be one of the most attractive qualities in my boyfriend who became my husband. We had only just met but he came to an event I organised. Everyone was there to hear the speakers, but he was there for me. When he was leaving, he put £10 in the ‘dana’ collection box. He didn’t know but my friend saw that, and she came up and reported it to me. He has still never met this girl so he didn’t know she was my friend, but I felt really happy to know that he was kind and generous. It was a good sign. It’s def a top tip for dating – are they kind?
  • And finally, self-kindness is crucial. As the renowned meditation teacher Jack Kornfield says: ‘our compassion is not complete if it does not include ourselves.’ We must include ourselves in our circle of compassion. Self-kindness is not selfish – its an intelligent act, it is wisely selfish to care for ourselves. Once we have our own tank filled up, we are more able to be there for others. Looking out for ourselves putting our own oxygen mask on first we have more capacity to help and be kind to those around us.

So just don’t #BeKind – actively practice kindness. Take a seven-day challenge and do one random act of kindness everyday – report back to me how you feel at the end. I’m pretty sure your experience will reflect the results of world-wide research… You will feel happier, more contented and connected.

I am wishing you well 🙂

If you missed it, you can listen again to my chat with Nuala on Radio Ulster here. I’m on about 38 minutes in, after the brilliant song from Jason Mraz Living in the moment…. I go on till the show ends and they play another fab track ‘try a little kindness’ by Glen Campbell.

Next week is Nuala’s last on the show as she has been filling in for Lynette Fay who’s been on maternity leave. Why not send her some kindness and appreciation for the past seven months? You can call the show on 03030 805555  or text on 81771 or tweet them @bbcradioulster  

And while I’m at it HUGE thanks to the brilliant producer Cathy Quinn for booking me again. X

You may have heard me mention about the power of ‘loving kindness’ meditation in the Interview. I have two FREE tracks of loving kindness meditation available here on the Insight Timer app. You can access them here: https://insighttimer.com/bridgeen/guided-meditations/bridgeens-oxford-befriending-practice

https://insighttimer.com/bridgeen/guided-meditations/bridgeens-traditional-loving-kindness-meditation

Also just to note the accompany picture here is Page 17 of Dr David Hamilton’s book ‘The little book of kindness’. Dr Hamilton is a kindness expert and advocate I highly recommend his work x

Go practice kindness now and generate some of that lovely oxytocin x

A mindful approach to COVID-19. My top tips for dealing with the Global Pandemic as featured on the BBC Nuala McKeever show

If your feel fearful, anxious or panicky at this time of a global pandemic – just know this means you are totally normal and human. It’s your limbic system reacting to a real or perceived threat (the brain doesn’t know the difference), adrenaline and cortisol the stress hormones are releasing around your body so you can’t think clearly or concentrate… I’ve more tips on this below, first the story of how I came to offer these tips.

The effects of COVID-19 had affected my business all my public classes cancelled. I had to refund customers, I lost income. All my corporate jobs were all cancelled. My holiday was cancelled… (still wondering if easyJet will refund me a flight), my social life affected… I was feeling very worried and concerned about my parents, my friends and clients… Just like you I was feeling angry, annoyed and inconvenienced by the whole thing when I was called by the producer of the BBC Radio Ulster Nuala McKeever Show, (actually it’s the Lynette Fay Show but Nuala is filling on for Lynette who’s on maternity leave until June), Cathy Quinn about 5 days before they wanted me to appear on the Nuala’s radio programme on St Patrick’s day – 17 March 2020.

You can listen to the full interview here I’m on about 35 minutes in but the whole hour is a great listen (unfortunately it’s only available on iPlayer for a month so get in quick). Listening to Nuala’s daily show on Radio Ulster is definitely a tonic in these ‘too much bad news’ days. She really is full of the craic and upbeat tunes. So that’s an extra tip for you – 🙂

In that moment when Cathy asked me if I would come on and speak about how to stay calm in a crisis I realised that I had to step-up, that actually people would be looking to me for help, support and advice. So I reframed it, I let go of my petty, personal annoyance and saw the bigger picture, we are all in this together and we can all do our best to support each other. How to practice mindfulness, stay calm and be kind to ourselves is something I teach and practice every day.

I sat down and thought what exactly I should say. Normally when I’m on the Radio or TV (I’ve been on a few times see this page) I just talk in the moment responding to questions. This time I felt the weight of responsibility to help people at this time. I really hope these tips are helpful.

These tips are not in the order of the chat I had with Nuala but I think I got most of them into our conversation.

1. Change your perspective

You can’t control what’s happening outside, but you can control your response… Instead of saying ‘this is a nightmare’ say ‘it’s a challenge’.

Look for ‘What’s not wrong?’ There are many things we still have to be grateful for, they may even be hidden benefits or sliver linings to this unprecedented time. Can you notice any good things today?

One listener definately got this point:

2. Focus on the present – practice mindfulness meditation. Mindful breathing is knowing your are breathing in when you are breathing in and knowing you are breathing out when you are breathing out. It sounds simple but the results are profound. When we are aware of our breath we become fully present – not thinking of the past or the future… I am now running FREE meditations every morning and evening via the online video platform Zoom. One local GP who has been attending some of the meditations this week said:

“I slept so much better last night after our meditation, thank you. Zoom worked brilliantly Bridgeen. Sound was spot on. This is an amazing way to truly connect with others at a time when social distancing needs to mean closer connections. If medical backing would help in any way let me know. I’m sad to say this but breathing meditations will help those with more severe symptoms to cope. Take such good care of yourself, Lv Janet

Mindfulness practice has been shown to boost the Immune Systemsome more studies on this here.

3. Look after yourself – Try to do one thing each day which brings you joy, whether it is going for a long walk, reading a book, gardening, cooking, playing games with the family or just watching a funny film on TV.

4. Talk about it… A problem shared is a problem halved. When you are faced with this crisis, talking about it with a friend or family member can help gain perspective. If you live on your own or are seperated from friends and family use the online resources like faceTime and the old fashioned telephone to help you connect. Allow children to talk about how they feel. Confide in those close to you if you feel your worries are getting the better of you. As well as yoga and meditation classes going online, lots of NI counsellors have now switched online services so you can get sessions if you need. But really what we need is to be there for each other.

I also offer 1-1 sessions and can now offer these by Zoom if you are interested please get in touch.

Or don’t talk about it. In situations like this international panic, excessive talking, news programmes and catastrophising are common. Step away from conversations /programmes/social media that are increasing your fear. Do other things, do what’s right for you. Not everyone wants to talk and that’s ok too.

5. Make time to relax

True relaxation is a strange feeling for many of us. We need to take time out to dedicate to relaxing our mind and body, and now all of a sudden, we have the perfect time.

Sleeping well will also help! If you can! I have a blogs on the importance of sleep here.

Relaxing activities such as a slow-paced online yoga class are so helpful. Yoga with Adriane is great on YouTube and local yoga teachers like Keshav from Namaste (where I teach my in person classes) are offering online classes too. I intend to make some free mindful movement videos at some point if this lockdown lasts AND I have lots of free meditations on the app or website Insight Timer – I also intend to add some more on there soon.

Guided meditation stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – the body’s ‘rest and digest’ mode. This helps to reduce the feelings of stress and its impact.

The more you are able to actively relax, the more you will be able to maintain a state of calm in your daily life. When we are calm, we can see and think more clearly. Over time if we keep practising calm it will measurably boost the immune system (see links above).

6. Have fun! a good laugh also boosts the immune system. sharing funny memes on ‘what’s app’ with friends and family groups (I’ve been doing this ALOT)- there’s some great ones out there already, works for me. Watch funny movies – tell each other funny stories – reminisce about the good times.

7 – I’ve saved the best to last: be kind to yourself and others. In helping others, we help ourselves. We are always the first recipients of our own kindness. In my stepping up to be on the Radio or be in the Belfast Telegraph or make my nightly videos (it takes courage to do this) I have helped others but it’s actually helped me too. To know we’ve helped someone gives us a great boost. Everyone can do what they can to offer something.

I see people are making masks at home, I see people offering to get older people’s groceries, I see people phoning their friends, I see Gary Barlow offering ‘crooner sessions’ on YouTube, (this is my fav today) I see Joe Wicks offering free PE to 100s of thousands of homeschooled kids… There are many creative ways to help and support. If you haven’t already check out my ‘Corona Jackanory’ videos on my YouTube Channel – I’ve been making one every day to provide a helpful and inspiring distraction to people- 10 so far…

Even if your kindness is ‘just’ staying at home and not buying all the toilet rolls you are doing something to help others. Well done you! Appreciate yourself 🙂 . We are all in this together. Never before has our interconnectedness been so real, so felt. As Brene Brown said ‘We’ll all be well together, or we’ll all get sick together.’ Let’s stay safe and stay well.

Bridgeen xx

P.S. I was also on U105 Radio this past week talking to Frank Mitchell about the benefits of mindfulness. One of my dear mindfulness student’s Marie phoned Frank to tell him what I was doing to support people – she is very enthusiastic! Marie phoned me to tell me she was going to do this (all her idea!) so I tuned in to listen. He was getting it and shouted ‘who is this hippie Bridgeen?’ He was saying things like you need a kaftan and incense to meditate. So – of course! I phone the show and put him straight – I said ‘Frank your stuck back in the 1960’s, mindfulness is actually the science of working with the nervous system these days and you don’t need to wear anything special or even light a candle in order to practice 🙂 ‘ Then I made him do a meditation. He loved it! He especially LOVED my voice! It was such fun 🙂 I think I converted him. And I will have to put it down as one of my ‘unexpected benefits’ of the Corona crisis – ‘talking to Frank Mitchell’ 🙂

Using mindfulness during coronavirus: Northern Ireland expert’s tips on lowering anxiety

This was the headline of the Belfast Telegraph I featured in on 16 March 2020. Here is the full article as published on their website: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/life/features/using-mindfulness-during-coronavirus-northern-ireland-experts-tips-on-lowering-anxiety-39049374.html

I’m also making FREE videos every night on the Immeasurable Minds YouTube Channel and running FREE meditations every morning and evening via Zoom. Plus all my regular classes including the 6 week Namaste mindfulness class, the monthly self-compassion workshops and 8-week courses are now running as normal only via Zoom. See the classes tab to book on the regular classes or the new daily ‘corona response’ sessions.

And here is the list of ‘top tips’ I sent to them for publication. I really hope it’s helpful. We WILL get through this together. #washyourhandsandmeditate.

My Top Tips for staying Calm through the Corona Crisis

  1. Breathe. Put your hand over your heart, take a big deep breath and say to yourself a mantra like ‘breathe, it’ll be ok’ repeat x 3

2. Sit in meditation for 5 minutes every morning and every evening. This is not as hard as you think. Just sit without distractions no devices, TV or radio. Sit, upright and comfortable in the quiet, listen to your own breathing. Let everything be. If anxious thoughts arise, say ‘not now. Right now just sitting, just breathing.’ You can set a timer for this or log on to the free app (and website) Insight Timer. Bridgeen has several free meditations on there and will add more soon. She also has meditations on the Immeasurable Minds YouTube channel.

3. Go outside every day. Walking is not cancelled. We can still enjoy stretching our legs. On our walk ‘take notice’. What can you see, smell, hear and feel? When you see, hear, smell or feel something pleasurable take time to savour it.

4. Do some gardening. Getting our hands dirty in the soil watching things grow is found to be very therapeutic and calming. Even if you live in an apartment without a garden as I did for 11 years you can get some planters and put things on windows or the balcony. Or go to an allotment or visit a park and notice different plants and trees. Nature has a lot to teach us.

5. Remember attitude is very important to help us through this difficult time. If we can all try to let others of the hook a bit, it will help us stay calm. It’s really easy to get annoyed (and add to our own stress in the process) by feeling critical of others who either aren’t taking it as serious as we are or are doing things we wouldn’t. – It’s best to remember that everyone is doing what they think is right for them. As Brene Brown said recently: “Surviving this crisis will take a shift in mindset, and that’s tougher than we think – especially when we’re afraid. Fear and anxiety can drive us to become very self-focused. This global pandemic is a real case of ‘getting sick together’ or ‘staying well together.’ Our choices affect everyone around us. There is no such thing as ‘individual risk’ or ‘individual wellness.’”

6. Eat well. It’s going to be really easy to stay home and eat and drink too much but this will also affect our mental wellbeing. Doing on line movement videos will also help.

7. Make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep hygiene (having a good sleep routine) is really helpful. If we get enough sleep we are more resilient and more able to handle stress – meditation can help this too.

8. Use this extra time or downtime to do all those things you keep putting off – seize the opportunity.  That song, poem or book you always wanted to write. The cupboard you wanted to Marie Kondo? The paperwork that’s piled up, the sewing, the baking, maybe the jigsaw you got for Christmas. Now’s the time to enjoy these old forgotten hobbies as well as catching up on the novel reading or the Netflix shows.

9. Look for the good. Even in the worst situation there is always something positive. Take inspiration from the Italians singing to each other on their balconies. Maybe at last we have a chance to spend more time with our loved ones, maybe at last a chance to rest. There is always something good if deliberately look for it. This is a practice. Find something good in every day. Write it down if you can.

10. Practice gratitude. The moment we stop being grateful is the moment we stop being happy. We can’t be anxious and grateful at the same time. Practice counting your blessings every day. Maybe start a gratitude journal or just pause every day and remember what you feel grateful for. It will make a huge difference.

Hop over to www.immeasurableminds.co.uk/classes to book onto a class or a free morning or evening meditation session. X