Mental Health Moment with Nancy Bergeron, Registered Psychologist

“If you can be anything, be kind.”

info@nancybergeron.ca

This is one of my favourite quotes, for me, it’s inspirational and aspirational. What’s the point of being mean, bullying or negative toward others when we have the option to be a positive, caring and kind person? Some people become kinder, while others stay the same, and sadly, some become more ruthless and critical. Fortunately, many of us become softer as we get older. Is it aging, or is it because we choose to change? It’s true. People can change. It’s interesting how life experience can harden some and soften others.

Everyday life is stressful… even more so now that we have been dealing with an invisible threat lurking everywhere. More than ever we need to be intentional each day. Set the intention to be kind. Yes, it can be hard when it feels like the world is at odds and negativity is looming. This is the perfect time to practise kindness, the first cousin of empathy. Not sure you have it in you? I will hedge my bets and say you do… but, if you feel you don’t, I have good news… it can be learned.

Research states that empathy can be learned. You can be empathetic to someone you’ve just met. Studies show that it only takes a couple of positive experiences to become empathetic. Great news for those of us who are sure we’ve become jaded through life experiences. If we could practice a small bit of empathy each day, we could build bridges and find positive solutions. While empathy is an old concept, we don’t always put it into practice. Life gets busy and stressful. The person driving in front us who won’t go faster is an impediment to getting to our destination, aren’t they? We often see others as the problem—the root of our troubles—instead of, as individuals who are most likely dealing with as many difficulties in that given moment as we are.

There are many reasons to practice empathy and kindness. Here are some ways we can move away from negative and uncaring, toward more positive actions and interactions:

Recognize that our self-talk can be the fuel for negativity. Think about how we react to the news. Do we begin to think about “those people” who are wealthier, or poorer, or uneducated, or over-educated? Whatever our personal concern may be, do we ruminate over the people “out there” who can or want to hurt us in some way? We need to take notice of our thoughts—and then choose to stop. Yes, we can actually choose to stop a negative onslaught of thoughts and turn it around. Try these steps:

Have a plan for positive action. Is there a song that makes you happy? Can you list three things about your life that you care about deeply? Are there people in your world that you care about, whom you could call and (positively) talk with about something? You know, your support system. Those things and people who care about you and help lift you up. Create a positive preparedness plan to put into action when stress and negativity are threatening.

Learn to be objective. Every news source has its own bias. You could read three articles about the same subject and come away with three different interpretations. Instead of getting outraged or upset, consider that you might not be getting all of the information, and that there are probably things you don’t know. Be well-read, but don’t allow what you read to fuel your negativity. Perception is everything, and we all perceive things differently.

Steer clear of negative thoughts and negative people. You can catch your own negative thoughts and turn your attention elsewhere, but what if you are surrounded by negative people who want to draw you back into the negativity pit? Consider that it is sometimes best to physically remove yourself from the situation or person. Leave the room. Go for a walk. Close that social media site. Sometimes separation is the key to becoming more objective and calmer in the face of upset.

Do something nice for someone, (even if you think they don’t deserve it). The ultimate empathetic move is to be nice even when someone isn’t being nice to you. My mom always told me to pray for those I had complaints about. In my first sales job, my boss would encourage me to “kill them with kindness” when there was an exceptionally tough client. As a psychologist I now understand what they were teaching me… it’s referred to as disarming… doing the opposite of what’s expected. Compliment them. Give your attention to them. Send them a card noting something you truly like about them. Everyone is stressed out in one way or another, and if you can see through the hard wall of anger and negativity, underneath you will see the pain or distress. Respond to the person there. This is where you will unlock the key to being kind and empathetic.

As usual, I will leave you with a challenge: practise these 4 things for the next 30 days… I guarantee you will not only feel better, but you will be more likable. When I pass on from this world, I for one, want to be remembered as kind more than anything else.

Vanessa Gillard

Programming and community engagement coordinator at the Thorncliffe Greenview Community Association

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