For the past ten years, Bernadette Russell has been researching, thinking, and writing about the positive and life-enhancing benefits of kindness and the power of hope. Small, manageable, doable acts of kindness are part of her daily practice, and she has learned first-hand the huge benefits of this.
Bernadette Russell is an expert on hope and kindness and her latest book, ‘How to Be Hopeful: Your Toolkit to Rediscover Hope and Help Create a Kinder World’ is out in paperback in May. She shares with us a few reflections on stress, hope and kindness.
Kindness makes us feel good, releasing oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin often referred to as our “happy hormones”
Being kind towards ourselves and others, noticing kindness in the world, and allowing ourselves to enjoy the kindnesses we receive can lead us back to hope if we have drifted into despair: we experience the simple power of kindness and the warm glow it brings.
We feel more hopeful too as we see that the world is full of good people and that we can make powerful and effective positive changes in the world, simply by being kind. Hope is vital: it’s the fuel that drives action, reminding us that anything is possible and that once we allow ourselves to recognise what we want, be that large or small, we can move in the direction of our hopes, one small step at a time.
Fight or flight mode
Despite the many benefits of everything I have learned during the last ten years, like most people, I have experienced so much stress and uncertainty in recent times. When we experience stress, our brains release cortisol, a hormone that raises our heart rates, and we are suddenly in “fight-flight or freeze” defence mode. Research has shown that we can combat the effects of stress by being kind to ourselves. By turning negative thoughts around to positive ones, we allow ourselves to experience joy and pleasure and feel hopeful about our current situation and the future.
I wanted to share some of the very simple actions and experiences I use daily to combat stress and make me feel hopeful again.
I work very long hours in a challenging and exciting job. Many of my friends are stressed and busy with work, home, kids, chores. We find ourselves wired and unable to sleep because of this, exhaustion making us even more stressed. I found myself thinking: one day it’ll be different- I’ll be stress-free and relaxed.
Then I realised I couldn’t wait for a day which might never arrive. I had to try and find a way of reducing stress now, as much as I could.
How to de-stress
Here are a few things I do every day to bust stress, making me feel more hopeful that I can manage my life and look after myself at the same time. I invite you to try them- I really hope they work for you.
- However much I have to do, I take a ten-minute break every hour– with a 45-minute lunch break too. These breaks give me a chance to check in with myself. In your break ask yourself how you’re feeling emotionally- if the answer is “not great”- ask yourself what you could do right now to make things better for yourself? What do you need?
- Do a quick body scan for aches and pains, stretch, or get more comfortable if you need to. You might want a glass of water, a quick walk around the block, or a snack.
- If you notice you are stressed: take ten deep breaths in and out. Repeat as often as necessary.
- Make a to-do list for the day that you can realistically achieve, with the aforementioned breaks scheduled too. If you have massive tasks to undertake then chop them up into manageable chunks and don’t try to do everything at once
- Go to bed and get up at the same time. As a stress-busting insomnia-curing method, it worked for me
- Have something to look forward to that is doable and affordable for you in your current circumstances. Doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just something that brings you pleasure and joy. Fix a date for it and make a plan.
- Notice one beautiful thing every day. This simple pleasant task is a stress buster and can make us feel hopeful too, revealing to us the truth that beauty is everywhere, every day, and available for free.
You can live a life with less stress trying these simple adjustments – remember, small is beautiful. In these uncertain times, being kind and re-connecting with ourselves, and our thoughts and feelings is a way of restoring hope in difficult times.
What's Your Reaction?
Since 2012 she has toured the US and UK speaking about the importance and life-changing experience of practising hope and kindness, including for BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live, Action for Happiness, Birmingham School of Philosophy and the Southbank Centre, where she was nominated as one of sixty-seven change-makers for her project 366 Days of Kindness. She has been a columnist for Balance magazine since 2016, and her previous books include The Little Book of Kindness and The Little Book of Wonder. She is currently working with the Southbank Centre on their Art By Post project for people most isolated during the time of social distancing. She also plants a lot of trees, and helps others do the same.