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Tuesday Tip: Make Tuesday, November 3rd, a “Day of Kindness”

By The Healthy Minds Team

This week’s Tuesday Well-Being Tip explains how to plan for a day of kindness on the stressful event of the U.S. election.

Photo by Josh Carter on Unsplash by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

On November 3, 2020, many will experience a conflation of some of the mental health challenges of the last 8 months in one day. For individuals in the U.S., November 3rd is election day and may trigger feelings of being out of control, or a hyper-arousal state of fight, flight or freeze, or even despair. For individuals across the world, many may be drawn to the constant news cycle of results, watching from afar, like a stressful reality show.

So let’s make a plan. Let’s make November 3rd, a Day of Kindness. Instead of sinking into a habit of unhealthy support techniques (constant entertainment diet, binging food or alcohol, etc.), can you approach the whole day with the lens of promoting and feeling kindness? Try approaching the world with the understanding that all beings share the need to be free from suffering – and find ways that you can experience and support that.

Step 1 – Wake up with Kindness

Waking up with a little kindness can completely change the first few moments of your day. And this sets a new course for the next 24 hours.

  • The moment you emerge from that dreamy, half-asleep, half-awake state that happens in the early morning hours, pause for a moment. Take a few mindful breaths. Notice what’s happening in your body.
  • And then add a little kindness.
  • Start with yourself. How can you begin this day by doing something nice for yourself. Maybe a good stretch or a big glass of water. A special coffee or a morning yoga practice?
  • And before you dive into the day, turn your attention to the other people in your life. Think about where you’ll go and who you’ll see. Set an intention to be kind and caring. Be specific. For example, if you are voting in person at the polls today, tell yourself “When I go to the polls I’m going to feel warmth for everyone else practicing democracy with me.”
  • If you have the time, try out this practice.

There’s science behind it, as explained by Healthy Minds Innovations Founder, Dr. Richard Davidson:

When people engage in acts of kindness, networks in the brain associated with feelings of connection and other positive emotions become active. There’s now good evidence that we can train ourselves to respond this way more frequently. One recent study found that after just a few minutes of doing a kindness practice, people felt more positively and more connected to images of people they didn’t know. Now, in all likelihood, this kind of response wouldn’t last, but what we’re starting to understand is that when you do practices like this repeatedly, and when you apply these skills in everyday life, it makes lasting changes to the brain.

Dr. Richard Davidson. [Source: Harbaugh, W. T., Mayr, U. & Burghart, D. R. Neural responses to taxation and voluntary giving reveal motives for charitable donations. Science 316, 1622-1625 (2007)].

Step 2 –  Mid-Day  – Remember That Kindness Unites Us

There is a bond that we share as human beings. Something fundamentally good about human nature. We all want to be happy and free from suffering. Each and every one of us – even animals and other creatures – want to be safe, happy, and content. We all want to avoid difficulties, we don’t want to be in danger, and we don’t want to suffer or experience pain.

We do so many things in our lives with the hope they’ll lead us closer to well-being and happiness, and away from suffering and discomfort. As much as we may think we’re different from each other, we have so much more in common.

Photo by Randalyn Hill on Unsplash

We might not always act skillfully, we might not always do the right thing or say the right thing, but under the surface, wholesome impulses motivate our actions.

Research on this topic has discovered some interesting things about human nature. Again, per Dr. Davidson:

Scientists have discovered that babies are naturally drawn to caring interactions. When they observe someone helping another person, even when they’re just watching and the person isn’t caring for them directly, they seek that person out. They also tend to avoid people if they see them acting in an unfriendly, or unkind manner. These good-natured instincts are present long before we can think, plan, and reason. So it’s not that the babies are somehow calculating what’s good for them. It’s a natural impulse. There’s something incredibly wholesome that drives us. Keeping this fact in the foreground can completely change the way we view other people, even when they might be acting unskillfully or doing things we might find annoying or even harmful.

Dr. Richard Davidson [Source: Helliwell and Aknin, Expanding the Social Science of Happiness.]

  • Before you start your next work task or meeting, commit to a mindful pause to reflect on our shared humanity.
  • Seek out opportunities to search for something kind to say, think or do with this interaction. Consider sending a message or a small gift to friends or family.
  • Try this meditation, to practice expanding kindness beyond your close circle.

Step 3: Afternoon – Early Evening – Remember your Motivation

Getting in touch with what drives your values is an important part of managing your own emotional reactions during a stressful situation. What values are you tuning in to on November 3rd?

Values define what we find important and meaningful. We are all capable of amazing things if we feel like what we do truly matters. And since values play such an important role in our lives, it should come as no surprise that they’re central to our well-being, too. The science, as Dr. Davidson explains, tells us that clarifying our values has some important benefits – not only for our mind, but even for our body’s ability to deal with stress:

When we get stressed out or reactive, we often find ourselves in a cascade of negative thoughts – what scientists call rumination. And all these thoughts then trigger the body’s stress response. It turns out that taking a few moments to bring an important personal value to mind can reverse this process. In one study, scientists gave participants negative feedback on an IQ test. As you might imagine, it was not a very pleasant experience. And not surprisingly, this triggered a lot of rumination and negative thinking. Next, participants were asked to remind themselves of an important personal value. This positive affirmation reduced their rumination, created positive emotions, and even decreased the stress hormones in their bloodstream.

Dr. Richard Davidson [Sources: Resilience: reflecting on personal values can keep neuroendocrine and psychological responses to stress at low levels. – Creswell, et al. (2005). Affirmation of personal values buffers neuroendocrine and psychological stress responses. Psychological Science, 16(11), 846–851. Koole, S.L., et al. (1999). The cessation of rumination through self-affirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 111–125.]
  • First, identify your values that are motivating you today. What values are motivating you to pay attention to the U.S. election? What values are motivating you to vote? What is it? Identify it and understand it.
  • Over the course of the afternoon, as news stories, or even your own experiences at the polls, might not go according to plan, can you take the opportunity to reflect on these values and choose one to use to reframe your take on the situation?
  • Try this particular meditation, which is an active practice that you can do as you take a short walk outside.

Step 4: Evening – Don’t Ruminate – Do Something

Around this time, you may be preparing to watch election returns. But before you do, shift your mindset. Do something positive, healthy and in-line with your values. Is this the time for exercise? Another walking meditation? Or is it a time for processing?

  • Make a plan for an activity before major polls are announced, and do it.
    • Journaling can be very powerful at this moment. This is a historic day, and it’s an important time to capture your emotions and feelings.
    • Exercise can help you deepen your breathing and sometimes get you outside. You can even do another meditation while exercising!
    • Or continue with your kindness by pre-arranging a phone call with a friend to support their well-being.
    • Still feeling anxious? Try this meditation – which is specifically for election anxiety.
  • Now you can watch the returns, but you’ll have refocused your mindset in preparation!

Step 5: Go to Sleep with Kindness

However your day ends, if you stay up with the news, or decide to get an early night, you can go to sleep with kindness. 

For example, when the day finally comes to a close, you might reflect on kindness as you drift off to sleep. How has your day been different or enriched by your intentional activities of kindness throughout? What will you take forward from this experience? What makes you grateful?

This is an excellent moment for a body scan relaxation practice.

  • All you have to do is slowly scan your body with your attention. Keep your mind loose and relaxed. Don’t concentrate too hard or it’ll wake you up. Start with your head, face, and neck, and move slowly through the body, from top to bottom. Rest your attention on each part of the body for a few breaths before moving on. Just notice whatever sensations are present, or if there aren’t any, simply notice that not much is happening.
  • Here’s the key to this: Don’t try to fall asleep. Forget all about trying to fall asleep. Just scan your body.

It’s a win-win. If you’re up, you’re training your attention and strengthening mindfulness. If you fall asleep, you’re falling asleep in a good frame of mind.

If you need some assistance, here’s our meditation for sleep

You did it. You got through a very stressful day with kindness. We hope having a plan and treating your day as a series of opportunities to express your kindness provided a beneficial experience. Now. On to the next one.

Get more practices and tips by downloading the Healthy Minds Program App, freely available thanks to the generosity of our donors wherever you get your apps.

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