For the media

Being kind is good for your mind

By The Health News Team | April 11, 2023
Happy friends outdoors doing a high-five

Sure, being kind to other people often makes them feel good. It can be as simple as holding the door for someone or as meaningful as offering to drive a friend with cancer to every chemotherapy treatment. Being on the receiving end of an act of kindness can improve everything, from a person’s mood to their overall quality of life.

However, a recent study has found that kindness can also help the person who is being kind. According to researchers, people with depression and anxiety found a reduction in their symptoms through performing simple acts of kindness. In fact, acts of kindness may more effectively improve feelings of well-being than some common mental health treatment techniques.

In the study, participants were randomly assigned to three groups for two weeks: a control group; a kind acts group, who performed one act of kindness a day; and a gratitude list group, who kept a daily list of things for which they were grateful. Only participants in the kind acts and gratitude groups reported significant reductions in their anxiety symptoms, whereas the control group showed no significant change.

What’s more, engaging in kind acts and expressing gratitude led to improved social connection among participants. Social connection, they found, plays a key role in well-being and recovery from anxiety and depressive disorders.

The benefits of kindness for both parties

According to Leah Berman, LCSW, a supervisor of outpatient care at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, such findings are not revolutionary, but welcome. She often witnesses the power of both people receiving and offering kindness.

“Practicing kindness cultivates increased positive energy that moves us beyond our habitual ways of being,” Berman says. “It opens us up to a more vital and connected life experience.”

Being the recipient of kindness, Berman says, can also be lifechanging. When working with patients on improving and maintaining their mental health, she and her colleagues often focus on both gratitude and kindness. “We teach patients that slowing down their daily lives to find even the smallest moment to appreciate someone or something actually fosters one’s own inherent yearning for connection and joy,” she says.

Berman recalls a former patient with debilitating depression who identified as cisgender (their gender identity corresponded to the sex they were assigned at birth) when they began their treatment. As with all patients, Berman says this person was met with warmth and support from the care team as well as connection, acceptance and kindness from peers.

As they moved through treatment, Berman and colleagues noticed a lift in the patient’s depression. Not long after, they came out as transgender.

“The patient explained that both staff and peers made noticeable efforts of connecting with them, supporting them and genuinely investing in their well-being,” Berman says. “They explained it was this kindness that led them to being vulnerable about their identity and allowed them to present their preferred identify in a kind and supportive environment, lifting their depression significantly.”

How to cultivate kindness

To gain the benefits of kindness, which also include lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, reduced stress and lower risk of disease, Berman offers three simple tips:

  • Slow down. Slow down, make eye contact and smile. This is simple kindness and may give you and someone else a boost!

  • Lean into vulnerability. When you find yourself caught up in your own world, try to step outside of yourself and reach out to do something kind for someone. This can open up both you and the recipient to connection, which ultimately fosters vitality.

  • Schedule it. If you’re significantly out of practice with kindness, make a plan. Commit to two daily acts of kindness and write down your intentions and what your kindness will look like.

“With practice, kindness will evolve into a natural way of being,” Berman says. And this, both research and anecdotal evidence has found, can lead to better mental and physical health for all involved.

Learn more about mental health; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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