New studies show that practicing kindness, whether it is in the form of compassion or gratitude, can boost our brains’ serotonin and dopamine levels, the “feel good, happy hormones”. According to NAMI, kindness promotes compassion, empathy, closeness, gratitude, and a sense of community—which are all qualities needed to help combat mental health disorders.
Given the mental health stats listed below from NAMI, we need kindness more than ever:
Nearly 1 in 4 Americans (62 million persons) are affected by mental illness annually.
1 in 25 adults in the United States live with a major mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder.
Close to 20 percent of teens from 13 to 18 cope with mental illness annually and about 30 percent of adults cope with anxiety disorders.
Can kindness really make a difference? The experts believe it can. According to NAMI, kindness promotes compassion, empathy, closeness, gratitude, and a sense of community—which are all qualities needed to help combat mental health disorders. Psychotherapy and medications are also necessary, but therapists advocate for positive environments with a strong support system in order to be successful in recovery. Collective compassion is what society needs to break down stigma and improve the lives of people with mental illness and their families. What do we mean by kindness, exactly?
According to Dr. Kristen Fuller, “Kindness is a behavioral response of compassion and actions that are selfless; or a mindset that places compassion for others before one’s own interests. Kindness is a value that is often undermined and forgotten because we live in a society where we are rushed, stressed, and spread too thin. Kindness has been linked directly to internal happiness, yet we spend years striving for happiness and ignoring kindness to then wonder what we're doing wrong.”
Anna Pirkl, MA, MFT, shares the following ideas to spread kindness:
Just as tiny mean exchanges can leave someone feeling hurt and alone, tiny acts of kindness can leave someone feeling seen, connected and a part of. According to Daniel Siegel in his talk on interpersonal connection*, “Energy and information flow that happens relationally in the social world directly effects the molecular structure of the body.” So sticks and stones may break my bones but words can seriously hurt me.
Daniel Siegel* defines relationships as a “sharing of energy and information.” Sometimes it’s the smallest gesture of kindness that can help people feel a part of; holding open a door, smiling as you pass by, just saying hello, or writing a kind note. No need for fancy words. It could be as simple as reminding someone that “we are all in this together.” Or maybe it’s a drawing representing a positive intent. Use your imagination and the kindness spreading possibilities are endless.
According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study**, stressors early in life can lead to serious medical problems. As a result, I would suggest that you consider carefully what you want to create. You are powerful in shaping both your’s and other people’s worlds. Do you want to leave a legacy of making people feel lonely and isolated, or would you rather leave your mark on someone’s heart with a kind note. You choose.
More kindness ideas to come in our next blog.