You’ve tried it all. From deep breathing to taking a nap, to venting to your friends, and yet you still feel stressed. Why not try a little kindness?
Stress seems to be an epidemic these days. And if you’re not careful, today’s stress can become tomorrow’s anxiety, depression, or worse. But as we seek ways to help ourselves, perhaps the solution actually lies in helping others.
It turns out that when we put our own troubles aside and focus our energy on being kind and helping others, our stress levels decrease. Kindness positively impacts hormonal levels in our bodies, leading to both mental and physical health benefits.
For example, those who strive to be kind have 23 percent less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population. Kindness also stimulates the production of serotonin (the feel-good hormone), helping calm the mind and elevate mood.
Not only do stress levels decrease, but so does blood pressure and pain level. Being kind to others releases chemicals like endorphins and oxytocin. Oxytocin dilates blood vessels, which in turn helps decrease blood pressure, while endorphins act as your body’s natural pain killers.
And if you’re feeling a little sluggish, try spreading some kindness for a natural energy boost.
One study reported about half the study participants felt stronger and more energetic after helping others, with many participants saying they felt calmer, less depressed, or had greater feelings of self-worth.
But when helping others, it turns out that motives matter. A study published in Health Psychology found that people who volunteer with some regularity live longer, but it’s interesting to note that these benefits were seen only if they were volunteering to truly help others, rather than to make themselves feel better or look good to others. In other words, their motives had to be altruistic rather than self-serving.
So what if you find yourself a little rusty at flexing your kindness muscle? Don’t despair. Kindness can be learned, just like going to the gym to train the muscles.
And the great thing is, kindness is contagious. Good deeds catch on like a yawn, which means kindness in a crowd can spread like ripples through a pond.
Why not give it a try? Just one act of kindness can make the difference between a good day and a bad day. So make it a good day, not just for yourself, but for the person you’re helping and those witnessing your kindness.
In the words of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, the purpose of life is “to serve others and do good.” If research is any indication, acts of kindness and serving others may also be the recipe for combating stress and maintaining good health.
Tatiana Denning, D.O., is a family medicine physician who focuses on wellness and prevention. She believes in empowering her patients with the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain and improve their own health.