Kind Acts that Reduce Stress

Susan Cooke

We don’t often think about these things, but if we all practice them, daily life, especially in cities, will feel so much less stressful, and will actually be healthier. The most benefit comes from all people practicing these kindnesses, not just a few people. But if you’re the first, that’s still a good start. We can help if we:

1. Use as few loud pieces of machinery as possible, both indoors (when windows are open) and outdoors

2. Use electric or battery-powered outdoor equipment–the quietest we can afford–to not only lower noise levels but also stop adding to pollution. Gas-powered leaf-blowers especially are now known to emit particulates highly suspected of causing cancer, endangering anyone (or any animals) who breathe near them, and adding them to soil and groundwater

3. Try not to slam car doors (or house doors), especially at night. Kids, moms, and many other people must sleep in the daytime too so quieter door-closing all the time is helpful.

4. Play music at home softly when windows are open, especially in the city where homes are so close. In an apartment that doesn’t have soundproof walls the same thing applies–we invade others’ rest space or their own sound space when we blast music. Of course they ideally will do the same for us.

5. Play music in the car softly if parked and waiting for someone, on residential streets, or even at a stoplight. Other people want to hear their own music or at least not to be assaulted by our music which they might not like, or they might have a headache, etc. Again we invade their space if we blast the car radio. We all need to help each other with noise issues, because we can’t close our ears the way we close our eyes.

6.  If we own or manage a business we can help many people by playing music more softly than is currently common. Unless a place is known to be a loud nightclub, many customers don’t want to be blasted with loud music. Many who want coffee or a meal or to shop don’t want to be hit over the head with a sound system, especially if they don’t even like the music (and businesses can’t possibly know which music everyone likes). Some people do enjoy loud music in a store or restaurant, but it’s likely they’d suffer less without it than those who can’t take the loud sound suffer when they can’t get it turned down. It’s especially stressful when they want very much to be in a place such as a cafe because they live alone and want to be around people for awhile even if they’re reading or writing at their own table (more people are now living alone). If they have to stay in some places awhile such as a doctor’s office it ‘s tough too, especially since some now even have TV which drives a lot of people nuts since they get plenty of that at home already. People sensitive to loud sound often tell me they’re afraid to ask that it be turned down since they’re often ridiculed or scowled at. They say they just don’t return to those places (so the places lose what might have become a longtime customer). But they miss going to many places they used to love now, all because of loud music, and in many cities this is making people lonelier and more isolated. This is happening in the UK in many pubs as well.

Often the “upbeat mood” managers want from loud music is made by customers on their own, no music required. Some managers are told by marketers that loud and fast music brings in more money, but how can they know for sure since people whose nervous systems can’t take it (an estimated 20% of the population) can never come in? Sometimes it’s staff that wants the music loud, but even if the customer isn’t always right anymore, you’d think she could have a say once in a while. (However, I understand that staff often find the music too loud too. Waiters in two different places told me the boss would fire them if they ever asked again that volume be lowered for a customer!) I read one article that said marketers tell owners we chew faster when the music is fast. Maybe so, but I say to both restaurant owners and marketers, the notion of secretly trying to make us chew faster for more profit is just…Ew, creepy.

Some people try to use headphones to block loud music, but that’s isolating too if you like to go to a coffee shop to be around people. This new cause of even more isolation contributes to depression and isn’t good for building the sense of community that’s so healthy for humans. So loud sound systems are contributing not only to more stress and early hearing loss (especially in employees), but also more isolation and depression.

7.  We might think more about outdoor grilling if we do it often. A lot of people do, adding a large volume of pollutants to the air, contributing to global warming, and making it hard for nearby neighbors with asthma, lung or heart disease or smoke allergy to be outside in their own space. We can try to find cleaner ways of grilling or at least do some of it without smoke, indoors or out, so on a lovely day neighbors too can be in their own yards (or on their own decks or balconies) without suffering. We can ask neighbors if smoke bothers them–they’ll appreciate it and be kinder to us about other matters later. The best part of an outdoor party is the people gathering to meet and eat, isn’t it? (You probably know this already but grilled foods contribute to cancer, and meat today is quite unhealthy too due to toxins, even in pasture-raised and organic meat.)

8. We can think more about our fireplaces. We might consider some other way of heating that’s cleaner and smokeless. Sadly, it’s now known wood-burning fireplaces are really bad for us (see, and people with asthma won’t be able to visit for long even if they too love the idea of a fireplace. They’ll start coughing and their eyes may begin to sting, Many people won’t be able to take walks in neighborhoods where most houses use fireplaces (I only have mild asthma but can begin coughing within seconds of walking by a couple of houses burning wood, even though I love the smell!) You’ll again help decrease global warming if you use a different method, You might try to substitute for some of the lost coziness by simmering apples, orange peels, cloves, cinnamon, etc. on the stove, and there are other good fireplace choices, some on the site of the link I just placed above.

9. Driving kindness:  we help others a great deal if we use signals, pass politely, don’t drive on others’ bumpers (and start out earlier so we don’t have to speed), don’t run red lights just because we can get away with it (my friend was killed by such a driver), are kind to cyclists and pedestrians and expect them to make mistakes and unexpected moves at times, and remember that many drivers are new–we all have to start sometime!–and they can’t handle our unexpected or un-signaled moves, or our talking on the phone and not paying attention.. Pushing lost or new drivers will just frighten them and make an accident more likely. It’s good to assume most people on the road aren’t paying enough attention. When driving where people live we can be extra careful not to speed, especially up and down hills and in bigger vehicles since this is very noisy and stresses people and pets–especially at night. Finally, it’s better if we can control our outrage when something stupid or rude happens. Rage tends to make most people feel worse afterwards and will probably raise their blood pressure!

10. When cycling or walking we have to remember drivers can’t stop on a dime just because we dashed into the middle of the street unexpectedly. It’s best to use lights and reflective clothing, signal when we can, and try to get one of those new helmets with turn signals you control from the handlebars. (When I drive I often see cyclists and pedestrians dressed in muted colors at dawn or earlier, with no lights, and it’s nearly impossible to see them until I’m so close it’s hard to stop in time.) Also, ditto the last two lines of no. 9.

11. We can think more about phone kindness:  most people don’t want to hear others’ private but loud (even shouted) conversations either in person or on the phone, and lately there’s a lot of shouting going on for some reason. In my city, coffee shops often become personal private offices in a lot of customers’ minds, where they carry on loud business calls right next to some poor Joe who just wants to read a little in peace before going to work. People want to enjoy the space where they’ve gone for coffee, reading or writing some or talking quietly to their own friend. If some other person is shouting, the first person can’t do any of those things. Recently I’ve experienced a number of people shouting on phones while sitting by themselves next to me in a coffee shop, and somehow it’s even more disturbing than when they shout at a live person sitting with them when there is one (which is pretty unpleasant too compared to if they just talk to that person in a reasonable voice, and why are they shouting?)

It’s kind also not to talk loud on porches or in our yards if we can be heard by neighbors trying to enjoy their own porch or yard. They just want some of that quiet time outside we all need. One of our neighbors used to sit on his balcony and shout long business.  calls, and another did the same on his screened porch. They both did it often so when I was in my garden trying to have some calming time I felt like I was in the middle of an angry business conference, and the one on the porch was all the way across the street–now that’s shouting! (Again I ask, why do they do that?) When it’s that loud in the garden I can’t relax so I just have to retreat back inside. The garden gets no attention and I don’t get the dose of nature I crave. After enough days like that I get depressed. (But the the loud neighbor does get to enjoy seeing my garden. That’s fine–I love when others enjoy it–but there won’t be much to see for long if I can’t get out there and work.)

If we don’t protect each other from such disturbances we’ll all have to drive long distances to the country just to find even one hour of calm, if we’re to stay sane, and most of us could do with some calm in nature every day. I can’t manage that drive to the country often enough. That’s why I grew the garden! If we want others to grow gardens–great for their health and for our city’s air quality–we have to help them by not making it miserable to be outside.

We can also help others find badly-needed calm by not making a park bench our personal office either, so others can enjoy the park and the sound of birds or the whisper of leaves in the trees.

12. We’re kind when we decide we won’t ever leave butts, trash, gum, receipts, plastic bags, or dog poop in other people’s yards or sidewalks, or put the poop in their trash cans, forcing them to do constant clean-up. About the dog poop, they often don’t know it’s there in the trash, so after a while the bag degrades, the poop dries out, stinks, and sticks like cement to the bottom of the trash can. Then it’s a huge clean-up job. (So would whoever is dropping it in our trash can please cut it out?)

13. Before throwing a party it’s really nice if we talk to neighbors, tell them we’ll try to keep the noise down, and ask them to let us know if it’s disturbing them. They will LOVE this. Even if it gets a little too noisy they’ll feel they have some control–which we’ve given them–and they know we won’t be angry if they ask us to turn down the volume. So they’ll probably put up with more noise than otherwise just because we’ve given them some control. And hopefully they’ll do the same for us.

14. If we do end up having to sometimes hire loud yard work or construction teams at our homes, we can apologize  ahead of time to neighbors, tell them we hate all that noise too (so they know that for when they have to make noise and will then take care of us), tell them we’ll ask workers to be as quick and quiet as possible, and tell them to tell us if they’re going nuts so we can try to time things a little better depending on their sleep/work schedule. Or we can ask ahead when they need it the quietest and tell them we’ll at least try to keep it quieter then. We can tell them we’ll instruct workers not to play loud radios outside or with windows open. If we make such efforts, showing we care, neighbors will likely do the same thing for us or help us in other ways that are equally kind.

15. Write to me about other ways you’ve discovered to be kind or in which you need more kindness and consideration so we can all learn more.