“Ever been told that kindness is contagious?” Well, the good news is it’s not only contagious; it’s therapeutic too! A recent study has revealed a fascinating link between performing acts of kindness and easing symptoms of depression and anxiety. This insight could unlock an exciting new pathway to mental well-being and help many people find relief from their struggles. So, let’s dive deeper and explore this power of kindness.
Kindness – The Unexpected Hero in the Battle Against Depression
The research, led by David Cregg as part of his Ph.D. dissertation in psychology at The Ohio State University, discovered that practicing acts of kindness had a significant impact on individuals suffering from depression and anxiety. What’s even more intriguing is that these acts of kindness outperformed two other therapeutic techniques commonly used to treat these conditions.
What sets kindness apart? It appears that this technique was the only intervention that helped people feel more connected to others, a crucial element strongly linked to overall well-being.
The Science Behind Kindness
Now you might be asking, “But how does being kind to others help alleviate my depression or anxiety?” The research provided a rather simple and intuitive answer: It helps distract you from your own symptoms. By doing nice things for others and focusing on their needs, you might find yourself worrying less about your own troubles.
However, this counters the common belief that people with depression have enough on their plate, and it’s best not to burden them with helping others. Contrarily, it seems that stepping outside oneself and extending a hand to others can actually make a positive difference.
Putting Kindness to the Test
The study engaged 122 people from central Ohio experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. These participants were divided into three groups. Two groups were assigned techniques frequently employed in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): planning social activities and cognitive reappraisal.
Meanwhile, the third group was tasked with performing three acts of kindness each day for two days a week. These acts of kindness were defined as gestures, big or small, that benefit others or make them happy.
After five weeks of following their respective instructions, the participants were evaluated again. The researchers then checked in with the participants after another five weeks to assess the longevity of the interventions.
All three interventions demonstrated some level of effectiveness, with participants showing an increase in life satisfaction and reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms. However, the kindness intervention had a distinct advantage: it made people feel more connected to others, an essential component of well-being.
Furthermore, the acts of kindness group showed greater improvements in life satisfaction and symptoms of depression and anxiety than the cognitive reappraisal group.
Interestingly, merely participating in social activities did not enhance feelings of social connection, underscoring the unique benefits of performing acts of kindness.
The Broader Implications
While the study utilized techniques of CBT, it’s important to note that the intervention is not a replacement for formal CBT or psychotherapy. But it does demonstrate that even limited exposure to these techniques can be beneficial.
Moreover, it reveals that something as simple as acts of kindness can supplement other treatments and play a pivotal role in alleviating depression and anxiety symptoms.
This compelling research reiterates a powerful message: Kindness matters. It’s not just about how it impacts the recipient but also how it can foster well-being in the giver. While there’s more to explore and understand about the relationship between acts of kindness and mental health, this study surely opens a promising avenue for mental health interventions. So, next time you’re feeling down, try lending a helping hand. It might just make you feel better!
David R. Cregg & Jennifer S. Cheavens (2022) Healing through helping: an experimental investigation of kindness, social activities, and reappraisal as well-being interventions, The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2022.2154695