We are far enough away now from the start of the pandemic to assess the lockdowns more objectively. The growing consensus is that the patchwork of different responses has created more than its share of damage. For example, simmering just beneath the surface of recovery is a looming mental health crisis. But what if I told you that the mitigation tactics for this situation would have nothing to do with masks or isolation? How would you feel to learn that a big mental and physical health step that everyone can take right now is embracing kindness? Here’s how it breaks down.
The “Helper’s High”
I’m sure you’ve noticed that when you do something kind, you just feel better about yourself. That is what’s known as the “helper’s high.” It has a lot to do with the release of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. This chemical affects you much in the way exercise does when it sparks the release of feel-good endorphins. Brain studies have found that when you do something nice — with no expectation of anything in return — your system is rewarded with a flood of happy chemicals. Can you say win-win?
Related: “7 Days of Intentional Kindness”
Antidote to Anxiety
Anxiety is the number one mental health disorder in the world. In the past year or so, it’s become even more prevalent. Kindness offers you a powerful counterbalance to all this stress. A recent study on happiness found that participants who engaged in kind acts experienced a measurable increase in what’s called “positive effect.” This relates to an individual’s mood and overall wellbeing. Simply put, making a habit of kindness keeps you more resilient against anxiety and stress.
Release the Love Hormone!
Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone.” When present, it increases feelings of trust, empathy, relaxation, positive communication, and emotional stability. Not surprisingly, kindness triggers the release of oxytocin into your body. Not only does this mean that you turn into a cuddle bug, but oxytocin reduces inflammation in the body. Research discovered that volunteering is directly associated with lower levels of inflammation. This can translate into lower incidences of conditions like:
- Chronic pain
No Pain, Everyone’s Gain
There is a direct cause and effect between giving to others and experiencing less pain. A fascinating study tested people’s reaction to a mild electric shock. Those who spoke of donating, giving, and volunteering were less sensitive to the shock. Researchers believe this is because the brain shuts off the regions that react to pain during the commission of a kind act. Living with less pain increases the quality of your mental health, too.
Heart to Heart
There’s a reason why we invented a term like “heart-warming.” And we can thank our friend oxytocin for this one, too. As mentioned in Benefit #3, the love hormone turns you into a happy camper. It also triggers the release of nitric oxide into your blood vessels. This chemical expands those vessels thereby lowering blood pressure and protecting the heart. In medical terms, oxytocin is called “cardioprotective.” Perhaps this is why we say that the givers of the world have big hearts?
So, let’s recap: The world is still brimming with uncertainty and division with no end in sight. When you perform acts of kindness, you help counter these dangerous trends and you lead by example. In addition, you reap powerful and sustainable health benefits for your mind and body. No prescriptions or side effects. The bigger the dose, the better. Kindness is contagious — in the best way possible — so do not stop this spread.