It’s hard to stay positive at the moment. Just five minutes watching the latest news bulletin is enough to raise anxiety and stress levels. While the strict lockdown is starting to be eased, in England at least, life is a long way from being back to normal. The prospect of freely socialising with friends or family, and workplaces and schools fully reopening, seems a distant dream.
All this is having a deep impact on the mental health of the nation. New research shows that effects of the pandemic are causing a significant rise is anxiety levels, particularly in young adults. 70% of 18 to 24-year olds say they are experiencing more anxiety than usual. 62% of this age group also said they felt more lonely than normal.
So, what can people do to help boost their mental health and make themselves feel better? One simple thing is being kind to each other.
We are programmed to feel better through kindness
Doing something kind for someone else makes you feel better. That’s a fact. Why? Because it releases chemicals into the brain which give us a boost. Scientists have found that helping someone else produces the following three hormones, all of which have a positive effect:
Oxytocin – also know as the “love hormone” as it helps us to build social bonds and trust. Mothers produce it when they are breastfeeding to help them bond with their babies. It’s also released through physical contact, something that is at a shortage at the moment.
Dopamine – also known as the “feel good” hormone. It produces feelings of pleasure and reward and entices us to repeat the action again and again. Regular exercise can also produce production of dopamine.
Serotonin – also known as the “happy chemical” as it boosts feelings of happiness and wellbeing. A deficiency of serotonin has been linked to anxiety, depression and insomnia. Sunlight provides a natural boost to serotonin levels, something that people may be struggling to get enough of at the moment too.
In short, we are built to feel better when we do something for someone else. Humans are social creatures and the current situation where we are forced to be physically apart from one another is difficult to cope with because it goes against our nature.
Now it can be very easy to become very insular, focused on your own isolation, troubles and challenges. Making a conscious effort to think about other people and how you can help them, shifts your attention away from yourself and your own anxieties. Thinking of others and their challenges helps to put your own problems into perspective. It builds a connection and brings people closer together, even if they can’t actually be together in the same place.
The kinder the better
Acts of kindness are like exercise. The more you do them the better you feel. Thinking about how you can build kindness into your everyday life has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. Some mindfulness therapies build kindness into their treatment, encouraging participants to think about how they can be kind to others and how to appreciate the kind acts other people have done for them.
Researchers have also shown that kindness is contagious. One single act of kindness can influence dozens more. People who receive kindness are much more likely to do the same for other people. Observing what other people do and copying them is a natural human instinct. The more people see kindness the more they feel compelled to mimic it.
Everyone can do it
Kindness is not hard. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Just taking a moment to text a friend to see if they are OK or checking in with a colleague can make an enormous difference. Most people who are working from home have a little more time on their hands than before. Think about how you can use this time to spread a bit of kindness. It will make you and others feel better and spread a bit of happiness.