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How Do Acts of Kindness Benefit Your Mental Health?

Kindness Matters: How Acts of Kindness Improve Your Mental Health

“If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind”, said American philosopher and internationally renowned author Dr. Dwayne Dyer. And as it turns out, there are science-backed reasons why you should treat people with kindness

Apart from it being the right thing to do, kindness also benefits your physical and mental health, boosting your happiness and overall well-being. You can also seek help from the Nashville Mental Health center.

So, what is kindness?

Kindness, essentially, is defined as the quality of being generous, friendly, and caring. Other words associated with it include warmth, affection, concern, and understanding. 

Kindness, however, can mean so much more, especially in the way you choose to show it. It can be through empathy, acceptance, acts of generosity, or kind gestures. 

Kindness also goes beyond being nice. The latter is more about being pleasing to others or doing something agreeable, like smiling and saying hello. 

With kindness, however, there are concrete actions involved. Kindness is intentional and voluntary, which could also mean doing nice things without expecting anything in return. 

Mental health benefits of being kind

Being kind benefits everyone involved. It doesn’t just brighten the day or lift the spirit of the recipient, but also benefits your mental well-being. Here are some mental health benefits of being kind as supported by research and science. 

Kindness releases feel-good hormones 

Ever wondered why you feel blissful or uplifted after doing something good for others? These euphoric or positive feelings are said to be attributed to the mood-boosting hormones and chemicals released in the brain after doing a good deed. Engaging in an act of kindness is said to boost your: 

  • Oxytocin – the hormones that regulate our emotions and influence our social behaviors. Oxytocin is associated with warm and fuzzy feelings and has anti-inflammatory properties that can relieve pain and stress. Higher oxytocin levels also increase generosity in humans. 
  • Serotonin and dopamine – the neurotransmitters that promote positive feelings like happiness and pleasure. They also cause the reward or the pleasure center of the brain to light up, making you feel better mentally and physically.
  • Endorphins – the same hormones released when exercising and act as a happiness booster and pain reliever. A rise in endorphin levels can lead to a phenomenon called the “helper’s high”, which refers to the positive emotions after doing a selfless act.

Kindness helps reduce stress and depression

When it comes to reducing anxiety and depression, meditation, deep breaths, online talk therapy, and exercise are among the most popular recommendations. But did you know that acts of kindness can also produce the same effect? 

It turns out that being kind or lending a helping hand can also help ease the symptoms of anxiety. A 2018 research also suggested that acts of kindness can reduce depression. 

A study from the University of British Columbia found out that participants who engaged in acts of kindness displayed major increases in their positive affect (PA) levels. PA refers to how much an individual experiences positive moods like joy and interest. This increase in PA levels was maintained during the duration of the study. 

Kindness reduces stress

Doing something nice for others doesn’t just make the world a better place. It can also make you feel better by boosting your happiness and reducing stress levels. It enables you to take a break from your daily stressors, which can then help you recharge and reduce stress. 

In fact, even a small gesture like holding a door for someone may also help lower stress levels.

Random acts of kindness, according to a study from Yale and UCLA, can dampen the effects of daily stress and improve mental health. The study, which involves 77 adults (ages 18 to 44), suggested that helping behaviors seemed to buffer the negative effects of stress. The participants who reported doing more acts of kindness also have a lower increase in negative emotion due to stress. 

Kindness can boost self-esteem 

Volunteering, which is a great way to show kindness, is not just linked to higher levels of oxytocin and empathy. It can also build and boost your self-esteem and give you a sense of purpose and achievement. It is also beneficial if you’re feeling isolated and are looking for an opportunity to meet new people. It can help build your confidence around people, allowing you to make real friends. 

In fact, a 2017 study involving 681 adolescents found out that both small and big acts of kindness had a positive impact on self-esteem. It helped the participants engage with people, which is beneficial in building a sense of self-competency. There have also been previous studies that link helping others or volunteering to more enthusiasm towards school, as well as academic success. 

Kindness helps build positive relationships

Acts of kindness allow people to engage in more empathetic ways with each other, as well as appreciate the value of helping others. These can pave the way in building positive relationships, as well as deepen the bond between two or more people. 

Being kind also allows you to show others that you mean something to them, which also promotes feelings of being understood, validated, cared for, and loved. 

A study discussed in The Atlantic suggested that kindness is what glue couples together. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean buying each other presents or giving one another massages. While these things can help, kindness is about being generous and respectful in how you interact with your partner. It does not mean that you shouldn’t express your anger, but informs you how you choose to express it. 

How to practice more kindness

Volunteering or helping others is a great way to engage in kindness. You can choose to volunteer your time at an organization that does the kind of cause you support or work you’re interested in. Just make sure to find something that you are capable of doing and would seem to enjoy.

Other ways to cultivate more kindness into your life include: 

Practice random acts of kindness and write about your experience

Even small acts of kindness can make a difference in someone else’s day. These could be anything from letting someone go ahead of you in a line to helping a friend with a chore and speaking words of kindness to buying a cup of coffee for a stranger. You can also consider doing the acts of kindness you received or witnessed in the past.

It also makes sense to write about your experience after doing so. How did it happen? What did you do? How did it make you feel? 

Do take note that these random acts of kindness can lift your spirits and change the way you feel about yourself. 

Be kind to yourself

Kindness should also extend to yourself. This means taking care of your body and overall health by eating right, exercising daily, and getting adequate sleep. Being kind also means taming your inner critic, not engaging in negative self-talk, and treating yourself like how you would treat your best friend. 

Here are other ways you can be kinder to yourself:

  • Develop self-compassion by forgiving yourself and practicing mindfulness.
  • Listen to your body. If you’re tired, rest or take a break.
  • Treat yourself by ordering food from your favorite restaurant, booking a massage or facial, or any other thing that makes you feel special.
  • Surround yourself with positive or like-minded people. 

Listen carefully and attentively

Active listening, which means giving full attention to the speaker and listening to understand (not to respond), is also an act of kindness. When someone opens up to you, keep an open mind and don’t turn the conversation back to yourself. Give them your full attention and set aside distracting thoughts. This shows that you value and respect the other person’s needs and ideas.

Be friendly

Friendliness allows you to be happy, while also making a positive impact on others. You can do so by starting conversations with new people or getting to know someone new at work or school. 

The same is also true for reconnecting with an old friend by texting or chatting with them and spending time with an elderly family member who could use some company. Being friendly creates a sense of belonging, while also reducing isolation and loneliness.

Seek out therapy

Therapy can help improve your mental health by teaching you to be gentle or kind to yourself. This is particularly beneficial if you have a tendency to be very hard on yourself. 

Therapy can also teach you to create and set boundaries, which can positively impact your self-esteem. Besides, it allows you to tackle difficult emotions and unravel the past to help you develop a loving and healthier relationship with yourself. 

Don’t hesitate to consider therapy on Calmerry, whether or not you’re dealing with mental illness. Working with a mental professional can help you to be kinder to yourself and more compassionate to those around you.