Thriving Together Series

Thriving Together Series: Use the Science of Kindness for Stress Management

Thriving Together kindness stressBy: Celeste DiMilla, MS, LMFT, CAPP and Louis Alloro, M.Ed., MAPP, CWB Senior Fellow 

“Helping others is the way we help ourselves.” – Oprah Winfrey

If you’re feeling stressed out from juggling school, work, family responsibilities, and other commitments, you’re not alone. In modern times, we all feel overwhelmed once in a while. But if you’re regularly under stress, then your physical and emotional health can suffer. It’s vital to your well-being to have a stress management plan that includes self-care practices you enjoy, such as mindfulness meditation and yoga. But one powerful stress management tool may surprise you: kindness. Did you know that a growing body of research suggests that being kind might be an effective stress management practice?

What the Research Shows

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. A recent study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation also found that over half of adults (51 percent) who felt stressed reported feeling depressed, and 61 percent reported feeling anxious. While acute reports of stress can be okay, chronic stress impacts your physical and emotional health as well as your relationships, schoolwork, and work contributions.

In a study led by Elizabeth Raposa of Yale University School of Medicine using the experience sampling method, those who reported performing more daily acts of kindness experienced fewer negative emotions and less stress. Even when some of them reported a number of stressful events, those stressful events had little or no impact on their emotions or sense of well-being when they also reported a lot of small kindnesses on the same day. Also, when it came to those days when they didn’t report as many kindnesses, they experienced more negative emotions in response to stressful events. Even with the same challenging events happening, kinder people found less stress as a result.

You don’t have to donate a lot of money or spend hours and hours volunteering to give (and receive) the benefits of kindness. Even small acts of kindness – a kind word, listening to someone, or even a smile – can have a big impact on others and reduce your stress and theirs. For example, when Maria, a teacher and mother of three (including two boys with autism), is stressed, she reaches out to other moms with kids with autism. It’s a small kindness, but she shares that it “… always reduces my stress and makes me feel better.”

In our book, Live Kind Be Happywe link with the science that shows even tiny acts of kindness – a kind word, listening to someone, or even a genuine smile – can have a big impact on others and on your own state of mind.

Acts of Kindness Ideas

Why not give it a whirl? Here is a list of simple acts of kindness you can do for others and through them decrease your own stress and boost your overall well-being!

  • Send a message of appreciation to a friend.
  • Call your mom, dad, or another family member just to say “I love you”.
  • Make dinner for a neighbor who has just had a baby or is recovering from surgery.
  • Write an encouraging note and put it in your child’s lunch box.
  • Give a sincere compliment to someone.
  • Let someone cut in front of you in line.
  • Mentor someone.
  • Make a double batch of the cookies you’re baking and bring some to a neighbor.
  • Give a friend a book you think he or she would like.
  • Give someone your seat on a crowded bus or subway.
  • Do chores for a family member who could use some extra time.
  • Let someone else take that prime parking spot.
  • Give blankets, food, and/or towels to an animal shelter.
  • Donate your old cell phone to a charity.
  • Buy a meal for someone in need.
  • Bring in a favorite treat and leave it in the office break room.
  • Give a generous tip and write an encouraging note along with it.
  • Send someone a care package.
  • Participate in a charity walk or run.
  • Slow down so someone can merge in front of you in traffic.
  • Give up your seat on a plane so other travelers can sit together.
  • Tell your boss one thing you appreciate about him or her.
  • Send a handwritten thank-you note.
  • Give away stuff for free on Craig’s List.
  • Smile at five strangers.
  • Write a positive comment on your favorite website, blog, or a friend’s social media account.
  • Compliment a neighbor on a feature of their home.
  • Write a friend or your partner a list of qualities you love about them.

Which act of kindness will you try today?

Additional Resources

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