Psychological First Aid: The Power of Kindness
with Brian Forbes, PhD, R.Psych.
Forbes Psychological Services
The legal profession is a demanding profession that takes its toll on lawyers, particularly in terms of their mental health and well-being. We know from multiple surveys that upwards of 60% of lawyers report being stressed, distressed or burned out. There are numerous articles and studies focusing on how to cope more effectively with the stressors in our lives and build resiliency. Yet few lawyers actually engage in these activities. Indeed, in a national survey, lawyers reported that they do not have time for physical exercise, hobbies, volunteering or vacations in order to establish a balance between work and personal life. The demands of the job are so great, that for many lawyers the job takes precedence over all other aspects of their life.
According to author and palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, studies have shown that the five most common life regrets at the end of life are:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had given more time to my family and friends.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
This all being said, there is a very simple strategy that does not require a good deal of time, commitment or effort that each and every one of us can apply to enhance our mental health and well-being. What is it you ask? The answer is simple: spreading kindness. Acts of kindness are one of the important factors in building resiliency.
Research has found that performing acts of kindness reduces stress, increases happiness, reduces blood pressure, reduces pain, boosts health and increases longevity. In essence, spreading kindness not only benefits others by helping them to feel better, it also benefits the giver. Dr. David Hamilton reports that putting the well-being of others before our own, without expecting anything in return, stimulates the reward centres of the brain releasing endorphins, the feel-good chemicals which create a “helper’s high”. This is what happens when we engage in Psychological First Aid, stepping forward to connect with a friend, colleague or someone who appears to be stressed, distressed or burned out. We step up to the plate with the goal of helping the person help themselves.
More recently, research has indicated that random acts of kindness produce some brain changes and the release of endorphins even when we engage in activities such as:
- holding a door open for someone;
- donating food to the foodbank;
- giving a compliment to someone;
- making room for the car that wants to enter your lane;
- helping a colleague at work;
- helping someone who’s struggling with their groceries; or
- volunteering through the Lawyer Assist’s Peer Support Program, to name a few.
Acts of kindness can be done anywhere at any time and do not require a lot of time, commitment or effort. All it requires is opening your heart to others. In doing so, you yourself will feel happier, less stressed and more resilient.
Despite the research that clearly shows that acts of kindness have a strong beneficial effect on mental health and well-being and requires relatively little time and effort, some lawyers will say, “But I’m tired” or “I’m exhausted” and that is fair enough. They may be struggling to balance their work demands with the needs of the family and other demands. However, perhaps we need to take a step back and learn to be kind to ourselves as well as to others. Each and everyone of us needs to have a break.