We hear it all the time: Life is stressful. Relationships are stressful. The political situation is stressful. The pandemic is stressful. How can we possibly not feel stressed out?
Sometimes you’ll see a checklist of things to do, which allegedly will help you reduce stress. The list looks something like this:
Cut things off your to-do list
Take a walk
And maybe some of them work to some degree. But—and this is just my opinion—there’s a much better, faster way to knock the wind out of your stress.
It’s to be kind. Now hold on, that doesn’t sound like new advice, does it? But it works amazingly well. Let me break this down for you.
Let’s say you, like billions of other people, have a tendency to judge others. Maybe you don’t say anything out loud, but you look at certain people and frown. You size them up, draw conclusions, and choose to avoid them if possible. Seems like harmless quiet thinking, right? After all, everybody does it.
But here’s what happens when we negatively evaluate someone else: Our energy gets zapped. We don’t feel invigorated; we feel like sighing. Our pride, our elitism, whatever we’re encouraging, has now distracted us from making forward progress. And that progress could have brought us contentment and satisfaction. But instead we’re in the comparing-and-competing game. It’s a game where the only way to win is to dislike someone else. Yikes. Sounds like the opposite of Christ’s teachings. And it is.
So, the first step in becoming a kinder person is to catch yourself judging and stop it. Martin Luther King once said, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Sometimes, when we’re judging, we rationalize it or shrug it off. But if we want to truly eradicate it, we need to apply painstaking excellence.
But what about situations when you have to make judgments, such as for safety? In True to the Faith we’re told, “Approach any such judgment with care and compassion. As much as you can, judge people’s situations rather than judging the people themselves… Always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, who can guide your decisions. Remember Alma’s counsel to his son Corianton: ‘See that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually’ (Alma 41:14).”
So, when you feel an unrighteous judgment sneaking in, try assigning a noble motive to what you see in others. Maybe those are the nicest clothes he owns. Maybe that driver is heading to the hospital with an emergency. Maybe this rude person was mistreated her entire life. Maybe that’s the best this parent can think to do. Maybe he has no idea how he’s coming across.
Recognize that judging is like a sudden side trip down an alley. It really does block our focus on worthy, righteous goals. It convinces us that, at least, we’re better than that guy. We can now take as vacation from self-improvement, because after all, we’re ahead. Right? Wrong. That alley is like a bad commercial that you can’t fast-forward through. It has now eaten up a chunk of your time, and has poisoned your outlook as well. This kind of judging is usually selfish as well, which wears us out and elevates our stress, anxiety, and angst.
Why is being kind such a big deal? Well, first of all it’s what Christ told us to be. But it also replenishes energy, rejuvenates and invigorates us. Adrenalin from doing good activates the delighted parts of your brain and gives you a rush a joy.
But it does even more than that. Being immersed in kindness is actually like attending a fabulous party of sorts. You love everyone there, and they love you back. You celebrate and express thanks for the good in others. You feel wildly blessed. You even feel closer to God. Wow!
This isn’t ignoring the adversity others bring to us at times. It’s seeing the trial but loving them anyway. And, ironically, now you have even more energy to solve the problem. And you’ll do it with a great attitude, without any temper or disdain. Your ideas for dealing with difficulties will even be more creative. Having a core of kindness actually makes life more fun and enjoyable. Not only that, but a compassionate mindset, and a willingness to serve others can positively impact your health. For scientific studies and proof, check out a TED talk about stress here.
If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute—if I help others then that’s just another thing on my list!” But there’s a difference between things that drag and things that catapult. Everything on your list either saps strength, or replenishes it. Look at your to-do list, your schedule. Or tonight, write down everything you did today. Now put a plus or a minus sign beside each item. If it wore you down, give it a minus. If it made you feel better, it gets a plus. About 20 years ago I wrote an article for Family Circle Magazine called “Blessedly Stressed,” about this very sort of thing.
True, altruistic serving with a genuine heart of kindness always makes us feel better, stronger, smarter, happier. And here’s where we need to think hard about our service. If we’re just serving to be seen, or out of begrudging duty, or because we’ll get something back—it’s not genuine and it won’t replenish our reserves. The phoniness, the maintaining of an act, will be exhausting. But if we serve cheerfully, we wind up with more energy.
Another key component of kindness is to be forgiving. This takes a huge burden off our shoulders and makes our step lighter. We feel freed from bondage in a way. Forgiveness is truly for us. And this includes forgiving ourselves. We should also watch for those times when we judge ourselves unfairly. Stop in mid-step. Rewind. Reframe. Allow yourself to be human. This doesn’t mean we don’t make needed changes; it means we don’t shame ourselves over it, or compare ourselves negatively with others. Rejoice in your good traits. This loving self-evaluation absolutely reduces stress.
Surround yourself with people who do the same—who have given up judging and have moved towards celebrating the good in others. If you’re trying not to judge, but you’re hanging out with people who constantly put others down or make snide remarks, it will be much harder to rise above that.
Consider volunteering. Many therapists prescribe this for depression because it forces you to care about others and be outward-focused. You’re less likely to be judgmental or resentful when volunteering. Instead, you’re thinking how you can help. You’re feeling love. You’re becoming someone you like to be around!
This same technique works beautifully in our homes. If you choose to be welcoming and kind, soft-spoken instead of yelling, less uptight about every little thing… ahhh… it feels warm and validating. You can actually picture yourself as a better person. Kids can be taught kindness at a very young age, and can continue to reap its benefits all their lives.
We all want to be happy. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “Kindness and pleasantness and faith-based optimism are characteristics of happy people.” Let’s make kindness one of our signature traits. Then, no matter how much stress comes into our lives, even the stress of politics or the pandemic, we’ll deal with it better and resolve it sooner. Now watch that stress melt away.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.