Most of us grew up being taught to be nice and kind to other people, whether it be schoolmates, neighbors, church friends, etc.
Science shows that as children, we are biologically wired to be kind, and with practice and repetition we can hone in on this trait. Also, science shows that kindness is good for our health.
As we get older and with outside influences, some of us seem to lose this inherent trait.
When we are kind it affects our pleasure centers in the brain. Serotonin levels are boosted when we do nice things for others. This is called the "helpers high."
So How Does Kindness Help Your Health?
Here are four ways kindness helps your emotional and physical health:
1. Kindness eases anxiety.
Anxiety is very common, and there are several ways to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, such as meditation, exercise and mindfulness. However, being nice is an easy and inexpensive way to keep symptoms of anxiety at bay. When you're feeling a little anxious, you can smile at someone or call a friend and get together for lunch.
2. Kindness is good for your heart.
Besides affecting the chemical balance in our brain, kindness affects the chemical balance in your heart. Acts of kindness release oxytocin, which releases nitric oxytocin, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure; therefore, oxytocin is known as the "cardioprotective" hormone protecting the heart by lowering blood pressure.
Kindness strengthens the heart physically and emotionally.
3. Kindness can help you live longer.
According to Health.com, we are at greater risk if we do not have a strong network of family and friends. When we are kind to others we develop strong, meaningful relationships. So, make new friends or strengthen your kindness towards the family and friends in your life.
4. Kindness might prevent illness.
If diseases are associated with inflammation in the body and oxytocin reduces inflammation as mentioned above, then being kind could prevent illness.
Kindness is free, and it has healthy benefits. You can pay it forward while in line waiting for your order in a restaurant by paying for lunch or coffee for the next person in line. Smile more or volunteer, pay it forward and see how you feel.
By Delia Lopez, LCSW
EAP Therapist, Franciscan Health