If you turn on the news or read any major online media outlet, you will find no shortage of bad news. While not new by any means, 24/7 access to technology has only amplified this phenomenon. Bad news provokes shock, anger, sadness, and any number of strong emotions; and, unfortunately, it sells.
For people with anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions, a constant influx of negativity can deepen feelings of worry or hopelessness. To avoid the pull of a negative-thought or anxiety cycle, you can first limit your exposure to bad news. That might mean turning off the TV or computer, or it might mean limiting time with negative friends.
You can also seek out positive news sources, such as The Good News Network or Upworthy, to remind yourself that the world and your fellow human beings aren’t all bad.
Acts of Kindness Can Boost Your Mood
Next, you can create your own good by practicing everyday kindness. It sounds simple on the surface, but research shows that treating others with kindness can have a profound impact on both the receiver and the giver. Here’s how:
From smiling at a stranger to bringing a coworker a surprise coffee, simple kind gestures can improve the recipient’s day – and they can improve your mood.
In fact, smiling sparks a chain reaction in your brain that gives you a mood boost almost immediately. Get this: Even if you fake a smile. The act of smiling produces dopamine and serotonin – two brain chemicals pivotal in mood and stress regulation. In addition, when someone smiles at you, it triggers mirror neurons in your own brain that prompt you to match the other’s mood. Hello, positivity loop! (It works for negative emotions as well, which is all the more reason to seek out happier, more positive people.)
The academic publication The Conversation, highlights a number of studies on the mood-boosting benefits of kindness, including research that kind acts can make the giver happier. Giving to others or treating people with kindness activates your brain’s reward center, the striatum. This same brain region responds to good food and even addictive drugs, and it causes you to feel a sense of well-being in response to your action.
So, while you might be thinking of the other person when you do something kind, you stand to benefit as well. Win-win.
Thinking of Others Reduces Social Anxiety
Social anxiety stops many people in their tracks. This condition can make it difficult to function at work; not to mention in social situations. Some people with social anxiety have trouble leaving the house.
Well-meaning friends might tell you to get out more or find ways to seek have more social contact. But for many people with social anxiety it’s easier said than done. A study at the University of British Columbia however suggests a strategy that might have more positive results: Acts of kindness.
In the study, researchers divided 146 people into three groups with different assignments. The first group was instructed to perform acts of kindness. The second group sought out more social interactions, and the third simply journaled their social encounters.
In the study, acting kindly created a sort of positive feedback loop. The recipient of the kindness reacted to the giver (a person with social anxiety) in a friendly and positive way. That in turn helped the person with social anxiety expect positive reactions from others; thereby reducing his or her fear of social situations.
In short, doing something nice for someone helps your brain break a negative thought cycle and replace it with new expectations based on new, positive experiences.
Kindness Begins with You
Taking the idea of acts of kindness a bit further, it can become an overall mindset in how you approach your day and the people around you. It can also shape how you view yourself.
Before you begin to look for ways to share kind acts with others, work on showing yourself a little kindness as well. The Buddhist tradition refers to this mindfulness practice as loving-kindness, and GoZen offers this meditation for viewing yourself and everyone around you more kindly.
“May I be happy, healthy and peaceful.
May I let go of sadness and bad feelings.
May I be free from anger.
May I be free from pain.
May I be free from difficulties.
May I be free from suffering.
May I be healthy, happy, and peaceful.
May I be filled with loving-kindness.
May I be at peace.”
And then it extends those thoughts beyond the individual to all creatures on earth.
People from all traditions or faiths can follow this example of self-care or loving-kindness. In therapy, we often refer to it as your “inner dialogue.” How you speak to yourself can impact your overall sense of self-worth, and you can transform a negative inner dialogue into a positive one.
Once you have shown yourself kindness, both in words and in actions, it’s even easier to spread that positive feeling to those around you.