The Things I Don’t See When I’m Anxious: Random Acts of Kindness

For many people around the world, day-to-day lives have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Countless families have had to face illness and grief. The fear surrounding the virus has been palpable in our communities and especially for people who have underlying conditions and close family members who are at risk. Financial hardship has affected many individuals and industries. Lack of social interaction and shielding has highlighted to many the negative effects of lonliness which is a reality outwith this very strange situation we are in, particularly in the elderly. Surveys have shown that 6-13% of older people feel lonely some or all of the time 1. I dread to think what the levels are at the moment in all populations and hope that going forward as a society we will take loneliness more seriously and consider the vulnerable people in our communities.

I would never wish to detract from the difficult experiences that have been faced during 2020 so far, but I think there is a lot of learning and reflecting that can be done and also some positives that have emerged. To name a few, the healing effect of reduced transport on emissions levels has allowed the world to breathe fresh air2. The slower pace of life has given many the time to reflect on what they really want from life. It has forced many of us to take time out of the rat race. We have been prevented from going on holidays and deprived of many other relative luxuries which we value for our happiness and well-being. Nevertheless we have survived. Some have even thrived. We have come to the realisation that we really don’t need as much as we think to be happy.

In my own community I have noticed the small things that people are doing in these strange times. Like many, I have been walking on nature paths a lot more during lockdown. I have noticed that people in general are more likely to smile whilst passing or exchange a small greeting. To some, this may seem insignificant but in a world where we know isolation is rife at the best of times a smile might mean the world to someone and may be the only interaction one may have within a day (or even a week). It all matters.

The idea of Random Acts of Kindness has been on my mind lately. I would like to share an experience that I had at a time when I was struggling to see positivity. I was working as a Junior Doctor in a hospital and it was probably only about 11am but already my nerves were jangling, my brain filled with mental lists of patients to see, worries about mistakes I might have made, anticipation of my pager vibrating on my chest signalling a potential emergency (on some occasions, it wasn’t vibrating, I was just having palpitations due to anxiety but interestingly enough, a phenomenon known as “phantom vibration syndrome” is highly reported in medical staff3). I remember feeling like my head was surrounded by a thick cloud, with lightning strikes of fear going off every few minutes and no sunlight penetrating through. When I am writing this I am very aware that my sentences are long and never ending and I imagine when you are reading this you might have actually sped up a little bit. I feel this is very illustrative of my thought patterns when I am anxious.

Anyway, the Random Act of Kindness happened when I went to the coffee shop for a relaxing cup of caffeine. I was standing in the queue when a woman approached me, smiling and wordlessly handed over a loyalty card with 6 stamps on it. I said thank you and she walked away. When my brain actually started to kick in I looked again to the woman and asked “Are you sure? That’s very kind”. She just smiled and nodded. At the time I was taken aback, it made me smile but I never gave it much thought. I got my coffee and headed off to deal with my list of tasks.

It wasn’t until a few months later when I had a particularly deep meditation that I realised the significance of this. The guided meditation prompted me to think of a random act of kindness and this came to mind. During this visualisation I felt more present in the coffee shop situation than I did when it happened in real life. I could recall the environment, the woman and this strong sense of gratitude I felt (albeit hidden underneath all the anxiety and foggy-headedness that I was experiencing on the day). During that meditation, powerful emotion flooded over me and I found myself in tears. By this point I had decided to pursue another career. I think my reaction was due partly to the relief that I did not have to go back to that situation but also my feelings of gratitude towards the woman who gave me the card. She will never know how much it meant to me and how much of a kindness it was. Maybe she felt I looked like I needed it, maybe she just randomly chose anyone in that queue but I think I will remember it for the rest of my life, it had such a profound effect on me. So to the stranger at the coffee shop, I can’t tell you how thankful I am.

This has felt somewhat self indulgent (I shouldn’t be surprised should I? I’m writing a blog?!) and may sound insignificant but Random Acts of Kindness have been proven to have many beneficial effects on the giver and the receiver4. They can be free, easy and quick to do and in this ever complicated world, that’s something to be valued.

References

  1. Campaign to End Loneliness, Safeguarding the Convoy. Campaign to End Lonliness, 2011.

    Available from: https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/campaignpublications/ [Accessed 14th June 2020]
  2. Watts J. Clean air in Europe during lockdown ‘leads to 11,000 fewer deaths’. The Guardian. 2020 April 30; Environment.

    Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/30/clean-air-in-europe-during-lockdown-leads-to-11000-fewer-deaths [Accessed 14th June 2020]
  3. Rothberg MB, Arora A, Hermann J, Kleppel R, St Marie P, Visintainer P. Phantom vibration syndrome among medical staff: a cross sectional survey. BMJ. 2010; 341: c6914.

    Available from: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6914
  4. Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. The Science of Kindness

    Available from: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-science-of-kindness

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