“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
– Henry James
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 18-24, 2020) is kindness. Being kind, both to others and to ourselves, is more important than ever at this time of uncertainty. The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on many people’s mental health, with studies showing increased levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness as result of the lockdown.
Practicing kindness is known to bring benefits to our physical and emotional wellbeing – elevating our happiness and self-esteem as well as boosting our immune system and slowing down the ageing process.
1. Kindness is Contagious
Kindness really does make the world a better place. Research shows that kindness creates a ripple effect that inspires other to carry out acts of altruism of their own. People who benefit from someone’s kindness and compassion are more likely to spontaneously pay it forward by doing nice things for others.
In addition, those who simply observe acts of kindness or compassion often experience a warm, uplifting feeling known as “elevation”. It is humbling to think that one small act of kindness has the potential to uplift hundreds of people.
2. Kindness reduces isolation
One of the reasons why lockdown is such a struggle for many people is that we all have a need for social connection. Even before the pandemic, loneliness was on the rise in the UK with nine million people saying they “often or always” felt lonely and disconnected.
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine believe that one of the best ways to combat loneliness is to engage in acts of kindness. Extending a helping hand to others, while we are struggling ourselves, can bring us a sense of purpose and belonging.
3. Kindness breeds optimism
Kindness leads to an increase in feelings of joy, energy and optimism, all of which can protect us against anxiety. Research shows that an act of kindness increases levels of serotonin (also known as the “happy” chemical) in the brain of both the giver and receiver, making it a wonderful natural antidepressant.
As part of a study by the University of British Columbia, a group of highly anxious people were encouraged to carry out several acts of kindness a week. After a month, they all experienced higher levels of optimism, better relationships and were less likely to avoid social situations.
4. Kindness slows ageing
Kindness releases a hormone called oxytocin, which reduces free radicals in the arteries and slows down ageing at the source. Free radicals contribute to the formation of wrinkles so being kind has the added benefit of helping your skin stay smooth and youthful.
It also reduces inflammation in the body, high levels of which has been linked to conditions such as diabetes, cancer and obesity. Even small acts of kindness, such as sharing a smile or holding a door open for someone, can boost your immune system, reduce stress and promote healing.
5. Kindness is good for our hearts
We all know that regular exercise and a nutritious diet promote a healthy heart, but kindness also has a cardioprotective effect. The emotional warmth that accompanies kindness produces a chemical called nitric acid into the blood vessels. This helps to expand the blood vessels, which in turn reduces blood pressure and improves circulation. Research shows that in relationships where partners display kindness, empathy and affection towards one another, they both have healthier hearts and arteries.
These are just five of the numerous benefits that being kind can bring to our physical and mental health. Please feel free to share in the comments section how kindness has brought positive effects into your life.