How to Be Kind In an Unkind World

Nurse Mel Canavan reflects on kindness in trying times.

How to Prioritize Kindness In an Unkind World
Photo by DesignerVN on Unsplash

‘As a nurse, kindness and compassion should be at the core of our work,’ Mel Canavan told me. ‘But the pressures of staff shortages, funding cuts and the like can make people stressed and irritable. It can lead to burnout.’

Mel is a qualified respiratory nurse who has worked across 12 GP practices to standardise their respiratory care. She also set up a social enterprise – Respiratory Care Solutions – to try and improve the quality of life for respiratory patients through education. She’s always had a passion and empathy for the local communities in which she worked and has made relationships a priority. 

A practicing Buddhist, Mel describes this as ‘a way of life, not a religion’. Through mindfulness, deep listening and a non-judgmental approach with patients, Mel believes being in the moment makes her a better practitioner. 

‘A lot of the time, people just want to be listened to. But we’re usually so busy thinking about all the things we have to do that we are never fully present.’ 

Mel Canavan
Mel Canavan

In the months leading up to lockdown, Mel was training to become a voluntary chaplain for the hospitals – those plans now delayed due to the COVID pandemic. But the time she’s gotten back has given her the opportunity to focus on a couple of other projects. 

One is Kinder Leeds – the first kindness, compassion and wellbeing festival that will be held – digitally – in Leeds this September. 

‘Most of us can be at our best, creative, generous, courageous and productive selves when we feel we belong, feel safe and secure. Kindness, compassion and wellbeing build individual and organisational capability and care-ability by creating a supportive environment for a good life that everyone can and should be part of.’

Tim Marshall, Unsplash

The Branch Foundation

The other project is The Branch Foundation, a natural healing and wellness centre being launched by one of her friends. Mel will be holding mindfulness and meditation classes once the centre is open – a step along a path she’s just started in becoming a spiritual healer and life coach. 

The past few years – and specifically the past few months – have been incredibly disruptive for us all.

We’ve seen the rise of populist governments in countries you wouldn’t have expected, Brexit drama, tensions between the West and China, the climate strikes, the COVID pandemic and lockdown measures and now the demonstrations against systemic racism that are happening around the world… 

I asked Mel what some of the risks are to our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing that we need to be aware of. And what we can do about it. 

‘During lockdown a lot of people might have been less active, eating junk food and drinking more alcohol than they might have done pre-COVID,’ she said. ‘This can make us feel sluggish and over time people are putting on weight. This is putting us at risk of health problems, but it also has an impact on our mental health. This can all lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.

Jude Beck, Unsplash

Making the Most of Each Day

‘Developing a daily practice of mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Doing things that you enjoy such as cooking, gardening, knitting, etc., are good mood boosters. Stay in contact with friends and family through WhatsApp groups, FaceTime or Zoom. And try to take some regular exercise, even if it’s just a ten-minute walk as this will help keep the happiness chemicals flowing in our bodies!’

Mel did say that if things get more serious – if you find yourself withdrawing from social interactions, having trouble sleeping, crying for no reason or lacking interest in hobbies – you may need to ask for help. 

The NHS have a list of mental health charities that adults can contact, and there is support available for teenagers as well

Whilst Mel acknowledges that social media can have its downsides, she found it a great way for people to come together during lockdown. And it’s the sense of community – of coming together to help and support each other – that she found incredibly moving through the past several months of the pandemic. 

‘We need to remember what it feels like to slow down and remember how precious our life is,’ Mel says when I ask her how to bottle up the lessons we learned during this time. ‘To remember that we are so lucky to wake up each morning, but we usually take that for granted. We need to try and make the most of each day and be as kind as possible, because it makes you feel good as well as the other person.’

Darius Bashar, Unsplash

Looking Ahead

As she looks ahead into 2021, Mel is drawing hope and inspiration from her faith and global collaboration. 

‘My Buddhist teachings help me to deal with life’s problems and give me the energy to keep going even when I have felt like giving up. Practicing things like patience (which is very hard!), generosity, morality and meditating all give me strength and help me be more useful to society. 

‘People are becoming more spiritual and more people have started meditating throughout lockdown. By 2021, I think a lot of people will have had spiritual awakenings and will be a lot happier and at peace compared to this time last year.’

You can find out more about Kinder Leeds, which kicks off from 6 September, on their website

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