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A State of Mind: Kindness to others can help our own well-being
Late winter, as the cold weather drags on, can be a challenging time. Christmas magic has worn off and the ball in Times Square is resting for the year. Many New Year’s resolutions have fizzled out. For some, Seasonal Affective Disorder continues to sap energy and replace it with depressed moods. But in the midst of reeling from Groundhog’s shadow and Super Bowl parties, we hopefully garner the strength to focus on the positive as we come together to celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week, highlighted by Random Acts of Kindness Day, which is today.
It has been said that everyone is fighting a battle that others know nothing about. In other words, from the coworker you’ve sat next to for years to the stranger you passed on the street, every person has experienced trials and perhaps even trauma of which we are completely unaware.
From this, there has been countless stories of lives being saved by one person making a seemingly inconsequential, but ultimately anything but, action that changed the course of a life. The single classmate that was willing to stick up for someone being bullied, the nearly forgotten friend that took it upon themselves to reach out to someone who is struggling or even the complete stranger whose kind words made someone feel relevant and noticed.
On the receiving end, the positive effects of kind acts are clear. But what about for those on the other side of the equation? In an idealistic sense, people would be kind for nothing other than the purely altruistic belief that everyone deserves to be treated kindly. Even so, research has shown numerous benefits associated with the exercise.
In fact, few things seem to have the power to positively influence both our mental and physical health to such an extent as practicing kindness, including the ability to:
- Increase the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which can help improve mood, emotional regulation, concentration, motivation and even help boost the immune system, improve sleep quality, aid with short-term memory and help regulate digestion, appetite and metabolism
- Increase oxytocin, which is a hormone that makes people feel more connected to others and less lonely or isolated, and decrease cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone
- Reduce anxiety, symptoms of depression, obsessive thoughts, anger and negative self judgement
- Increase feelings of happiness, confidence, self-worth, self-esteem, optimism and overall well-being
In today’s social media-driven culture, sometimes the authenticity of practicing random acts of kindness is replaced by performative attempts at boosting one’s own profile. Thankfully, there are endless possibilities for truly genuine acts of kindness that carry with them a ripple effect of positivity, as both the giver and receiver of kind acts have been shown to be much more likely to perform further acts of kindness. And while some can involve spending money, an infinite number involve nothing more than an effort to show compassion for others.
A simple internet search will return enough ideas to last a lifetime. It might be something as simple as holding the door, leaving a kind note, giving up your seat or telling someone you’re proud of them. Or maybe something more involved like volunteer work, donating to a charity, sending flowers or writing thank you notes to people who have positively impacted your life.
Regardless of how you choose to practice kindness, I encourage you to make it a conscious, intentional effort each day. And while Random Acts of Kindness Week is a noble cause in which to participate, hopefully we can all endeavor to find more opportunities to show kindness throughout the year ahead.
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.