Mental Health Awareness Week: Why kindness is good for the mind
Whether it’s offering your place in the queue to someone who’s in a rush, donating money to a friend’s charitable cause or even just making a cup of coffee for someone who’s cranky without caffeine in the morning, nothing feels better than performing a simple and random act of kindness.
And with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) focusing on the power and potential of kindness, it feels like a particularly poignant time to think about how we can be a kinder ally to our friends and neighbours.
With the psychological and social impacts of our ‘new normal’, being kind to ourselves and others feels like a matter of public duty – and one that we should all take steps to undertake.
The good news is that going the extra mile for other people isn’t totally selfless – it has some benefits for you too, and you don’t have to spend lots of time and money to achieve them.
Here are three science-backed benefits of being a kind and conscientious person…
Kindness can reduce stress
After a particularly hectic day at work, you might think about running a bath or cracking open a bottle of wine as a self-care method – but research shows that volunteering your time to others, even in the smallest ways, is secretly a super effective way to beat stress.
A 2015 study published in the journal Sage asked 77 people to keep a mental health diary on their smartphones, charting their mood and stress levels over a number of weeks. The researchers then asked participants to note down how many ‘prosocial behaviours’ (acts intended to benefit others) they completed each day. These behaviours included little acts of kindness like holding the door for someone or giving an honest compliment to a stranger.
The researchers found that when the participants were stressed, it would have a markedly negative impact on their mood. But on the days when when they performed more prosocial behaviours, the participants found that their moods weren’t as negatively effected by stress, and they tended to rate their mental health as being more positive on the whole.
It can help with isolation
A study by the Co-op and the British Red Cross found that over nine million people in the UK – more than the population of London – are either always or often lonely. And with social distancing rules set to last for some time, feelings of disconnection are sadly on the rise.
As well as scheduling in regular Zoom calls with friends and family, taking intentional steps to be nice and help other people could help to tackle feelings of isolation, as studies have found that those who make time to help others actually stop feeling lonely themselves.
For instance, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine looked at elderly residents in a retirement home, 85% of which felt lonely often, even while participating in communal living.
While studying coping methods, the researchers reported that compassion was key for preventing loneliness, citing it as a proactive way to stay connected to your community.
Kindness can boost your self-esteem
On a day where nothing seems to be going quite right, it’s easy to look in the mirror and pick fault with yourself, but science has found that being kind to others can help you to be kinder to yourself – and lift your mood.
A study published in the Journal of Adolescence looked at questionnaires from 681 adolescents, analysing how self-esteem was associated with acts of kindness toward strangers, friends and family.
The researchers found that any act of kindness – regardless of whether it was performed for strangers or friends and family – had a positive impact on self-esteem.
However, the acts of kindness towards strangers, such as helping someone with their shopping or volunteering for a charity, had a greater positive impact on self-esteem than any other, no matter whether the act was big or small.
Random acts of kindness you can try at home
In challenging times it’s common to want to help those around us. We need to distance ourselves to stay safe right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the benefits of being kind.
Try these five ideas for spreading some positive vibes this Mental Health Awareness Week:
1. Check in via text or email with a friend or family member who may be lonely. Especially those who you haven’t heard from in a while. You could send them some photo memories of happy times or a link to a song that reminds you of them. Even the smallest gestures can make a difference.
2. Give someone a compliment. Whether it’s a remark on your partner’s new DIY haircut or a comment on your friend’s latest selfie, an honest compliment can really brighten someone’s day – and yours too.
3. Run a 5K for charity. You don’t need a big event, fancy finish line or winner’s medal to raise some cash for a worthy cause. Simply plot your route in a local park and set up a donation page for friends and family to pledge to electronically.
4. Join a local Facebook group and offer your expertise. There could be someone in your area who needs help with picking up their shopping or collecting their post. If you don’t offer, you’ll never know.
5. Smile. One of the easiest ways you can make the world a kinder place is to smile often. Make it your mission to acknowledge the cashiers, delivery drivers and neighbours who you come across day-to-day. A little positivity can go a long way.
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