It is Mental Health Awareness Week and our colleagues from the Northern Ireland Victims and Survivors Service have been working to promote techniques to support positive health and well being.
In this blog, Nicola Nugent who is a Health and Wellbeing Case Manager with the Victims and Survivors Service. shares with you six science-backed ways to improve your health through kindness.
Science shows that as children, we’re biologically wired to be kind and we can further develop this trait with practice and repetition. Sometimes, however, due to outside influences and the stress of our day-to-day lives, we can lose this inherent ability. Kindness and empathy help us relate to other people and have more positive relationships with friends, family, and even strangers we encounter in our daily lives. As well as improving personal relationships, kindness can actually make us healthier.
Here are six science-backed ways to improve your health through kindness.
Kindness releases feel-good hormones
Doing nice things for others boosts your serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Like exercise, altruism also releases endorphins, a phenomenon known as a “helper’s high.”
Kindness eases anxiety
A recent study on happiness from the University of British Columbia (UBC) found that, “social anxiety is associated with low positive affect (PA), a factor that can significantly affect psychological well-being and adaptive functioning.” Positive affect refers to an individual’s experience of positive moods such as joy, interest, and alertness.
The UBC researchers found that participants who engaged in kind acts displayed significant increases in PA that were sustained over the four weeks of the study. So, the next time you’re feeling a little anxious, look for opportunities to help others. Even a small gesture can make a big difference.
Kindness is good for your heart
Making others feel good can “warm” your heart, but being nice to others can also affect the actual chemical balance of your heart.
Kindness releases the hormone oxytocin. According to Dr. David Hamilton, “oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure).”
It can help you live longer
According to Health.com, you’re at a greater risk of heart disease if you don’t have a strong network of family and friends. When you’re kind to others, you develop strong, meaningful relationships and friendships.
It reduces stress
According to a study on the effects of prosocial behaviour on stress, “affiliative behaviour may be an important component of coping with stress and indicate that engaging in prosocial behaviour (action intended to help others) may be an effective strategy for reducing the impact of stress on emotional functioning.”
Kindness prevents illness
Inflammation in the body is associated with all sorts of health problems such as diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, obesity, and migraines. According to a study of adults aged 57-85, “volunteering manifested the strongest association with lower levels of inflammation.” Oxytocin also reduces inflammation, and even little acts of kindness can trigger oxytocin’s release.
Our thanks to Nicola Nugent | Regional Health & Wellbeing Case Manager | Victims & Survivors Service