How Practicing Kindness Positively Impacts Mental Health
Georgetown Counseling and Wellness are proud to support Random Acts of Kindness Day 2020. We share in Kindness.org’s vision that small acts can have a big impact, and create a kinder world for all.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. These figures are likely to rise without compassionate, forward-thinking intervention.
In recent years, random acts of kindness have risen to the forefront of this important discussion. The “kindness approach” might be an effective and readily available alternative to address important social and mental health issues on a global scale. There has never been a better time to investigate the power behind random acts of kindness.
Today we shine a light on how kindness, both toward the self and toward others, can greatly impact feelings of well-being and connection.
The Science Behind Kindness
Most of us know through our lived experience, that when we are kind to others, we feel better in ourselves. Science actually mirrors this sentiment. In a 2006 study of Japanese undergraduates, a correlation was found between kindness and happiness. The study highlighted that kinder people were found to be happier. Also, when participants counted their weekly acts of kindness, their happiness not only increased, they became even kinder. It was noted that those who witnessed acts of kindness, were more likely to practice them too.
Psychology Today expands upon the science further. Stating that practicing kindness creates a “helper’s high” by releasing dopamine, serotonin, and endogenous opioids. These feel-good neurochemicals increase mental wellbeing, decrease stress and reduce physical pain. Humans are wired to connect, and the bonds we form with others can positively impact our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. The release of oxytocin is increased when kind behavior is shared between people. Meaning the personal bonds in these cases become strengthened and the wellbeing of all involved is improved.
A true and meaningful act of kindness means to put compassion for others above our own interests. It is perhaps one of the most undervalued and under practiced behavioral responses today. Acts of kindness toward others don’t have to cost the earth, or even be that time-consuming. Often the most simple acts resonate the longest. Random acts of kindness to others could include:
Setting time aside to contact an elderly relative
Pick up litter in your community
Stand, so someone else can sit on public transport
Getting involved with a local community project
Letting someone go ahead of you in a traffic jam
Actively listening to a friend, family member or acquaintance who is struggling
Thank someone who has positively impacted your life
Building the Foundation for a Kinder World Through Self Kindness
Although it might seem counterintuitive, practicing self-kindness is often the best place to start. When we take time to notice how we're talking to ourselves, especially when we fear making a mistake or have made a mistake, it opens up opportunities to choose different ways of responding to negative and judgmental self-talk. When we are more centered and settled in our own mind-body systems, we are able to respond to others in kinder ways.
For instance, imagine you're waiting in line at the grocery store check-out. You're short on time and have a work meeting to attend soon and might be late. The person in front of you is checking-out, has forgotten an item and walks back to the correct aisle to get it. We've all been there! Take a moment to:
Breathe deeply for 5 breaths
Tune into body sensations and feelings
Perhaps move to a different aisle
Then remind yourself that everything will be ok
Even if you're a few minutes late you'll be likely to respond in a kinder way when the person comes back. Additionally, you may be more attuned to what could be happening in that person's world - that maybe they have a lot going on in their life and really needed that item.
One fact about the brain is "what fires together wires together." When we practice catching ourselves in negative self-talk and turn it around with kinder, gentler and more comforting statements, we're building the foundation for longer-term change in how we think and respond to life challenges, fears, and disappointments. This practice will also improve our interpersonal relationships, whether at home, work, or within the wider community.
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., a leading researcher in the area of self-compassion, defines self-kindness as stopping the self-judgment and disparaging inner dialogue that many of us come to see as normal. Taking it a step further, self-kindness involves actively comforting ourselves and responding to ourselves as we would to a dear friend or family member in need. When trying to soothe a negative inner dialogue about ourselves, Neff suggests a strategy of asking 4 simple questions:
What am I observing?
What am I feeling?
What am I needing right now?
Do I have a request of myself or someone else?
At Georgetown Counseling and Wellness, our mission is to help members of our communities reconnect with the things that are truly important and thrive, both in their own lives and in their relationships. We are extremely proud of the important work we do with our clients and in the wider community. If you would like to know more about the services offered at Georgetown Counseling and Wellness, please don’t hesitate to reach out on (512) 400-4247.