Happy fall!

This is the beginning of one of my favorite times of the year, and I am focusing my own self-care on ways that get me outside to enjoy all the season has to offer.

I was blessed to spend a wonderful and beautiful weekend with my husband in the mountains of Vermont. The views were breathtaking, the air was cool, the sun was warm, and there is no way I can paint a picture that does justice to all that we saw and experienced. It was an incredible!!

And yet, as incredible as it all was, I had to work really hard to not allow the beauty around us to be marred by the way we were treated by business proprietors and their employees in the city where we stayed. It would have been easy to allow their poor attitudes, their rigidness and lack of caring, to overshadow our trip; but what would that have done for my self-care?

I understand we are living in difficult and uncertain times.

I understand we need to follow rules and be part of the solution, not create problems. However, I also understand we need to BE KIND in doing so. After all, isn’t the Golden Rule still a thing?

As we checked into our hotel, the woman at the desk could not have been any more rude to the person in front of me. By the time it was my turn to check in, I said as kindly as I could, “Hi! How are you today?” She responded, with no energy, “I’m fine. Can I help you?”

“We have a reservation and I’ve already checked in via the app, so I just need to get room keys,” I responded, smiling behind my mask. My smile faded quickly as she became really rude. I won’t go into the details, but I will say I have never been made to feel so unwelcome or like a criminal simply for traveling somewhere. Great way to begin our weekend getaway!

As we took our things into what would be our home for the next four days, I was shaking and very upset. I did some deep breathing and paced the floor a few times to calm down, and my husband finally encouraged me to let it go, be kind and not let the incident ruin our trip.

He was right; kindness begins at home.

I know that when I am kind, it can start a movement. I took a deep breath, changed my attitude, and set my sights on being kind. Little did I know I would have to do that exercise multiple times during our stay in this beautiful little town.

Again, I understand that we are living in uncertain times and the need to wear masks when going into a store or restaurant is real; I am respectful of that requirement. However, it was very uncomfortable in several stores when someone rudely demanded me to put on my mask even though it was clear that’s what I was doing. Again, it was awkward in more than one store when someone chased me with chemically-based hand sanitizer and chided me when I used my own instead. Believe it or not, we were actually refused service at an ice cream shop because my husband’s mask slipped below his nose as he was placing our order.

I was completely perplexed. Were these places of business or not? We tried to ask questions as to why there was such a militant, uncaring tone throughout the business community, but no one wanted to talk with us. At home in Pennsylvania we have not encountered anything like this, yet here in Vermont we were met with an unkindness that was simply dumbfounding.

As a small business owner doing my best to stay afloat after a forced extended closure, I really wanted to support small businesses while on our trip. Unfortunately, the manner in which we were treated in several of the quaint shops made me rethink my purchases and in some cases leave empty handed. I was very grateful for the restaurant owners we met on our first afternoon and their invitation to return for dinner one evening. We did, and what a contrast! They went over the top for us and couldn’t have been kinder!

As we began our drive home, I thought about the overall experience of the weekend.

I loved the beauty all around us and was grateful for the adventures we experienced; hiking down the mountain was absolutely amazing, even though my legs were talking to me for a couple of days afterwards. (Even that’s all good!!!) And yet at the same time I was deeply saddened by the lack of kindness. As I came to a stop light on the way back to the interstate, the car in front of me had a bumper sticker that simply read BE KIND.

And that’s when it hit me – being kind is a self-care tool I need to employ all the time, regardless of how others treat me. Being kind to myself allows me to be kind to others which in turn may lift someone’s spirit so they can change their kindness meter, and so on. Yes, kindness begins at home and needs to be paid forward.

As I thought about this on that long drive home, I realized kindness is a gift you give yourself. It has to be part of your self-care toolbox every day, for only when you are kind to yourself can you be kind to others.

Did you know there is actually a science to kindness?

Me neither until I started looking into the health benefits of kindness. I always knew kindness was contagious, kind of like a smile, but I never knew it was teachable with actual health benefits. Here’s what I found:

Practicing kindness:

  • Lowers blood pressure, improves overall heart-health and increases optimism because of increased production of oxytocin (aka the love hormone)
  • Makes you feel stronger, calmer and less depressed when your energy levels rise; can also bring about increased feelings of self worth
  • Increases generosity, both financially and in random acts, which leads to happiness
  • Expands opportunities for volunteering which leads to more activity, overall health and longer lifespan; it also leads to more pleasure
  • Stimulates healing, calmness and happiness through the production of serotonin (aka the feel-good chemical)
  • Decreases pain, stress, anxiety and depression

In my book The Gift of Loss: Transforming Tragedy (available here) I have an entire chapter devoted to ARKs – acts of random kindness. An ARK could be something as simple as letting another car enter the road in front of you or allowing someone with just a few items to get in front of you at the grocery store. An ARK could be something bigger, but it’s not really about the size at all. It’s about doing something for someone else with no expectation of anything in return. It’s about the kindness that comes from performing the ARK in the first place.

Kindness is something you have to practice every single day.

Although I did not like the way I was reminded of this, I am grateful that kindness is back in the forefront of my self-care toolbox. I appreciate the reminder because it will help me practice kindness more often. It’s amazing how simply thinking about sharing kindness lightens my mood.

Kindness has to begin at home, and what better way to begin than with your self-care. I encourage you to think about sharing kindness today and every day. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be kind to the earth. Be kind and see how your world changes. I’d love to hear how you are practicing kindness during these times and how it is benefiting your self-care practices. Until next time, be well…