When it comes to dealing with stress, you know the drill. Activities like meditating, taking walks and spending quality time with those you love are all beneficial in your pursuit of a healthier, stress-free life. But new research shows that there’s another way to reduce stress, and it’s likely one you might not expect — practicing random acts of kindness.
Read on to learn how random acts of kindness could benefit you, plus what else you can do to release stress.
The Health Benefits of Helping Out
Spreading kindness is great for helping the people around you feel better about themselves. But practicing random acts of kindness can also boost the health and happiness of the person spreading the kindness.
“Practicing random acts of kindness is good for your mental and physical health in several ways,” said licensed counselor Dr. Lea McMahon, an adjunct professor of psychology and chief clinical officer at Symetria Recovery. “Kindness promotes positive feelings known to improve self-esteem and increase empathy towards others.”
Studies show that altruistic actions such as volunteering can minimize stress and improve depression. And among seniors who regularly volunteer, helping others has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and may even help extend lifespans!
“Being kind increases the sense of belonging and reduces the feeling of loneliness,” Dr. McMahon said. When we’re kind to others, it contributes to our feelings of community and belonging, which studies show are critical to living a longer, healthier life.
“Kindness also helps in longevity because of the benefits of having an optimistic view and attitude towards life in general,” said Dr. McMahon. Studies show that people who are happier and more optimistic in their outlook live longer and more enjoyable lives.
How Kindness Supports a Healthier Body
It’s clear that practicing random acts of kindness helps support a healthier, happier you, but what are the systems within the body that reinforce this wellness connection? Dr. McMahon said that practicing kindness benefits your physical health in a variety of ways by interacting with a number of systems within the body.
Higher Happiness Levels
Humans are a social species. That’s why when we practice prosocial behaviors, including behaving kindly to the people around us, our brains make sure we get a chemical reward.
“Important neurotransmitters in the brain known as serotonin and dopamine are boosted when performing random acts of kindness,” said Dr. McMahon. “These chemicals are in charge of feelings of well-being and satisfaction. After an act of kindness, the pleasure and reward parts of the brain show increased activity.”
And the randomness of those acts of kindness might even boost their positive impact. Researchers in the UK found that groups assigned to try a new kind of activity each day saw their happiness boosted in as little as three days. Researchers have found that people who do a variety of kind acts, rather than sticking to a simple routine, show greater increases in happiness and general life satisfaction.
Decreased Blood Pressure
When we act kindly, it lowers our stress levels, which can lead to decreased blood pressure. “Practicing random acts of kindness helps decrease blood pressure and reduces the release of cortisol, a hormone that is released when one feels stressed,” explained Dr. McMahon.
One study showed that prosocial spending, a fancy way of describing donating to others, lowered blood pressure in a group of hypertensive people. The control group that spent money on themselves had higher blood pressure than those who spent the money on others. In fact, over the six weeks of the study, the altruistic group experienced blood pressure reduction benefits as significant as those caused by a healthy diet and exercise.
Studies show that altruistic behavior helps reduce pain, lessening volunteers’ responses to receiving an electric shock, as the regions of the brain that respond to painful stimulation appeared to be deactivated by the act of giving.
“Random acts of kindness help produce endorphins that act as natural painkillers in the body,” explained Dr. McMahon. While hopefully, you’re not subject to random electric shocks, practicing random acts of kindness can help ease everyday aches and pains, creating a convenient feedback system that lets your body know you’re on the right track.
How You Can Practice Kindness Every Day
The evidence is clear — practicing random acts of kindness is one of the best things you can do for your body, brain and overall wellness. And if you’re experiencing telogen effluvium due to high stress levels, pairing a hair health routine with random acts of kindness is a great way to help get your hair growth back on track.
But where should you start when it comes to random acts of kindness? Planning out grand gestures are unnecessary. Your acts of kindness can be as simple as holding the door, helping someone cross the street or even boosting a stranger’s mood with a sincere compliment. Try texting a thoughtful message to someone you love, giving a generous tip and a sincere smile to your barista or waitress, or even writing a note of thanks. Still not sure where to start? The Random Act of Kindness Foundation has a list of suggestions you can browse.
While these ideas might seem like minor actions, research shows that they have the power to make a big difference in your health, wellness and happiness. Following your heart and being spontaneous as you face the world with a spirit of kindness can really make all the difference!
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