Kindness Science at Santa Maria
Fundamental to human survival is our belief in community. It keeps us safe and it helps us prosper. When there is a threat we look after one another because instinctively we know that we are stronger together. In case we forget that fact, Mother Nature has developed a most surprising solution…kindness.
Acts of kindness release in humans three main chemicals; oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. Together they have a profoundly positive impact on our bodies and our mental health, they also provide a lovely, natural high. This chemical shot is enjoyed by not only the kind deed-doer but also the recipient of a kind act AND anyone who witnesses the kind act. The good feeling is contagious.
The chemicals of kindness
Oxytocin is sometimes called the love drug. We get our first hit when we are breast fed by our mothers. That closeness fires a chemical hit that bonds us and ensures our mothers care for us despite the lack of sleep, nappies and screaming! Throughout life we are topped up with oxytocin when we touch or hug others, when we have sex and surprisingly, even when we are just kind to one another. Oxytocin not only makes us feel good, but it lowers our blood pressure and reduces anxiety.
Serotonin has a huge range of functions in the body, however, it is known as the happy chemical because of its role in stabilising mood. If a person has too little serotonin they may suffer from depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. One of the ways you can increase your serotonin levels naturally is through acts of kindness.
Endorphins are also released when we participate in acts of kindness. These are natural painkillers. You know that feeling when you stub your toe and it is incredibly painful for a couple of seconds but then suddenly there is a rush of blood and the pain seems to be blocked? That relief is the endorphins kicking in.
So, if we know that these three very helpful chemicals are released through acts of kindness, it makes sense that we employ acts of kindness as part of our daily practice to feel better and to make us happier and healthier.
Even though acts of kindness help us feel better, the effects are not long lasting. For this reason, we need to make a point of turning kindness into a deliberate practice. We need to do it daily. Many counsellors encourage their patients to keep a kindness journal so they can be more mindful about their kindness practice.
At Santa Maria College, kindness practice is part of our Mental Health Strategy. Some of the strategies put in place by our Deans this year have included:
- Years 5 and 6 classes have a jar in each classroom where the girls anonymously write down acts of kindness that they witness their peers perform. These go into the jar and once a week they read one out to acknowledge one good example of the kindness expressed.
- The Year 7 group have a kindness and friendship focus throughout the year. They are upskilled in Pastoral Care Time as to how to navigate friendship challenges with kindness and compassion.
- Year 8 girls wrote kind messages on rocks during Pastoral Care Time. These were placed around the College to be taken, re-gifted, and re-hidden around the College. The student leaders have created a poem to explain to others what they are to do if they find one of the kindness rocks. Kindness rocks…get it?!
- The Year 9 group has a focus on kindness in conjunction with the English Learning Area. Together they are examining how humour can be used and also misused. They are also looking at acting kindly to one another and being the right kind of ‘first follower’.
- In preparation for the Year 10 exams, notes of inspiration and encouragement were placed on the girls’ lockers, together with the gift of a pen. A lot of those notes are still stuck on the girls’ lockers.
- Year 11 students have a focus on the College’s A-Z of Mental Health which is printed in all the girls’ planners. They also completed an activity on “relationship bank deposits” as part of their kindness initiative.
- Our Year 12 leaders are currently working on a video production about diversity and the Black Lives Matter movement. They are taking the kindness to a more global level.
We know that as adolescents, our girls are beginner learners when it comes to social skills and managing their emotions. Consequently, they are not always kind. Conscious focus on social-emotional learning is vital at this stage in their development. Santa Maria College’s consistent focus on kindness will help build their skills and resilience.
It is good to know that we are not doing all the teaching alone. Mother Nature will reinforce these lessons throughout the girls’ lives. She will reward them with good mental and physical health, strong connections with others, and those little chemical highs.