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Art of kindness


Phone calls are a simple, important way to stave off loneliness when you or a loved one is spending more time at home. But after you’ve gotten off the phone, there’s more you can do to combat loneliness: Practice kindness.

In this post, Steve Siegle, a licensed professional counselor, explains the effect kindness can have on the brain and why it’s important to be kind to others as well as yourself.

Kindness is more than behavior. The art of kindness means harboring a spirit of helpfulness, as well as being generous and considerate, and doing so without expecting anything in return. Kindness is a quality of being. The act of giving kindness often is simple, free, positive and healthy.

Good for the body

Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. It can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone, which directly impacts stress levels. People who give of themselves in a balanced way also tend to be healthier and live longer. Kindness can increase your sense of connectivity with others, which can directly impact loneliness, improve low mood and enhance relationships in general. It also can be contagious. Looking for ways to show kindness can give you a focus activity, especially if you tend to be anxious or stressed in some social situations.

Good for the mind

Physiologically, kindness can positively change your brain. Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being, and cause the pleasure/reward centers in your brain to light up. Endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killer, also can be released. Discover ways you can create happiness.

Be kind to yourself

It is not just how you treat other people — it is how you extend those same behaviors and intentions to yourself as well. I believe you can be kinder in your own self-talk and practice gratitude. People are good at verbally beating themselves up, and rarely does that work as a pep talk. Rather, negativity often causes you to unravel and may even create a vicious cycle of regularly getting down on yourself. You wouldn’t talk to your neighbor the way you sometimes talk to yourself. This is what I call the “good neighbor policy,” which can be helpful. If you would not say it to your good neighbor, do not say it about yourself.

Take action

Simply asking “How am I going to practice kindness today?” can be helpful. For a homework assignment, I have invited some clients to pay attention and periodically document during the day their evidence of kindness to others and especially to themselves. This positive focus is like planting positive seeds in your mind garden. Where focus goes, energy flows.

I recently was talking about kindness to a young client who asked if I wanted them to get on the ark. I asked what that meant. The client said, “Acts of random kindness.” That was a great response from a young person. How about you? Are you willing to get on the ark?

Finally, I’d like to leave you with this quote: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” —Dalai Lama


This article originally appeared on Mayo Clinic Health System.

Steve Siegle, L.P.C.

Steve Siegle is a licensed professional counselor in Behavioral Health at Mayo Clinic Health Systems, Menomonie, Wisconsin.

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