Science has proven that kindness has side effects, and it turns out that all of them are beneficial.
In his latest book, kindness expert Dr David Hamilton writes: “Kindness is more than something we do. Kindness has physical effects on the brain, the heart, the immune system and throughout the body in many different ways.”
So how can kindness counteract stress?
Well, in terms of many of its physical effects, kindness is the opposite of stress. And it’s all to do with feelings, how being kind makes you feel versus how stress makes you feel.
It is the feelings of stress that produce stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones don’t just appear in our bodies when there’s a potentially stressful event impending. It is our feelings about the event that produce stress hormones. The same set of circumstances may be pleasing for one person, for example, but stressful for another.
When you are being kind or someone is being kind to you, it feels very different from stress. The warm and connected feelings that accompany being kind produce a different kind of hormone. They produce the “kindness hormone”, otherwise known as oxytocin.
The feelings associated with kindness produce the opposite effects in the body to those of the feelings associated with stress.
|What Stress Does||What Kindness Does|
|Increases blood pressure||Reduces blood pressure|
|Suppresses the immune system||Boosts the immune system|
|Tenses the nervous system||Relaxes the nervous system|
|Damages the cardiovascular system||Protects the cardiovascular system|
|Increases inflammation||Reduces inflammation|
|Restricts happiness||Increases happiness|
|Can trigger depression||Can be an antidote to depression|
Kindness produces happy chemicals in the brain
Kindness impacts the brain physically by increasing the chemicals in the brain that effect happiness – serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Stress is known to restrict happiness. Oxytocin works like a dimmer switch to turn down the stress regions of the brain. As we practise kindness instead of stress the stress regions of the brain shrink, like a muscle shrinks when we stop using it as much.
There have been numerous studies carried out on the effects of kindness. These have shown that the more acts of kindness we do in a day the more our level of stress and negative emotion goes down. This doesn’t mean that by being kind stressful things don’t happen. Rather, that being kind buffers the effects of stressful events and takes some of the ‘sting’ out of them. In effect, kindness provides an antidote to stress.
Being kind to yourself
This antidote isn’t just provided by being kind to others. It is very important that we remember to be kind to ourselves, to practise self-care. Being kind to ourselves is part of valuing ourselves and gives us more energy to be able to be kind to others. Self-care is about respecting your own needs and desires and is essential to counteracting stress.
This may mean saying “no” from time to time, or at least “not yet” or “maybe later”. The fact is if we don’t look after our own needs and our own energy levels we become physically and mentally drained through over-giving, just like a battery drains if overused. Being kind to yourself can also mean removing yourself from a job, a relationship or a set of circumstances that are no longer right for you. It may also mean dedicating more time to yourself, to relax and do something you enjoy.
If you are struggling with stress and find it hard to relax and enjoy life, hypnotherapy can help. To find out more call 07514 931 096 or email me using the contact form.