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How Can Kindness Reduce Stress?

Rob Gent
May 15, 2020

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind and the third is to be kind.” ― Henry James

The American novelist Henry James made this astute observation about the concept of kindness in the late 19th century. Research has shown, for many years, how kind deeds or random acts of kindness not only enrich the lives of others but often bring increased joy to givers as well.

Learn more about kindness and how it can improve mental health and reduce stress in your or a loved one’s life.

Kindness and Its Impact on Stress

Stress is a common emotional, mental or physical response that will affect everyone at some point in life – whether it is a short-term occurrence or whether it happens repeatedly over time.

Stress exists (be it negative or positive) in everyone’s lives and is necessary for our development, growth and resiliency. Though stress is a normal part of life, it can, unfortunately, increase to overwhelming stress, which can harm our health by affecting our ability to regulate our:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Digestive system
  • Immune system
  • Nervous system
  • Sleep cycles

Thankfully, the remedy for these symptoms of stress is being kind.

Though most people believe that the opposite of stress is feeling calm, at peace or relaxed, these actions only describe the absence of stress – it is, in fact, the act of kindness, that counteracts the impact of stress on your mental health and physical health.

Kindness reduces stress levels by producing the hormone oxytocin, which can improve your mood and overall well-being by producing positive emotions.

Sometimes called the “love hormone,” oxytocin counteracts the effects of stress by:

  • Improving sleep cycles
  • Protecting the cardiovascular system
  • Protecting the digestive system
  • Reducing adrenaline and cortisol
  • Relaxing the nervous system
  • Stimulating the immune system

Ways to Use Kindness to Reduce Stress

As with anything, the key to using kindness to reduce stress is to move toward repeated acts of it.

These acts, even if they are small acts of kindness, will become facilitated by empathy if practiced daily or frequently. This then stimulates the release of additional endorphins and oxytocin for both those receiving and showing kindness.

The reason why, is because empathy is created through experiences of acceptance, attunement, commitment and security with others. This empathy then becomes facilitated by our experiences, memories and self-worth, which allows us to accurately empathize with others, thereby releasing additional oxytocin and creating rewarding and safe relationships.

This relationship is best captured in the words of Dr. David R. Hamilton, author and organic chemist who studies the act of being kind, who states, “Empathy is the path to knowing what kindness to show to others.”

When acts of kindness can meet an individual emotionally, physically and relationally, then the magnitude of the positive effects of being kind are amplified. So, in sum, though kindness often seems like a gift we selflessly give to others, it is, in fact, a bigger gift to ourselves.

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Written by Rob Gent
About
Rob Gent, MA, LPC, is the Chief Clinical Officer at Embark Behavioral Health in Tempe, Arizona. His primary focus is leading the organization in clinical development and in the growth of numerous programs, as a co-founder of Calo Programs and the developer of the proprietary CASA treatment model. He enjoys sharing his knowledge at Embark and at conferences and trainings across the U.S. In his spare time, Gent likes to spend time outdoors with his wife and two sons.