The study, which was conducted by Ohio State student David Cregg and professor of psychology Jennifer Cheavens of the same institution, found that performing acts of kindness could improve one’s anxiety or depression in a way which varies from other therapeutic techniques.
A new study from Ohio State University has shown that acts of kindness can help people alleviate themselves from feelings of anxiety and depression. That study also found that acts of kindness towards others resulted in their studied subjects feeling more connected with others when compared to other therapeutic techniques used to treat anxiety and depression.
“Social connection is one of the ingredients of life most strongly associated with well-being. Performing acts of kindness seems to be one of the best ways to promote those connections,” said Cregg, who led the study as part of his PhD dissertation.
Cheavens, who helped Cregg conduct his research, adds that when people help others, it allows them to have a positive distraction from their own depression and anxiety symptoms. That discovery may change the way people might approach those suffering from the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“We often think that people with depression have enough to deal with, so we don’t want to burden them by asking them to help others. But these results run counter to that,” she said. “Doing nice things for people and focusing on the needs of others may actually help people with depression and anxiety feel better about themselves.”
“There’s something specific about performing acts of kindness that makes people feel connected to others. It’s not enough to just be around other people, participating in social activities,” she added.
For the study, which was conducted in central Ohio, participants with moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress were divided into three groups: those who would plan social activities/social get-togethers for two days a week, and those who would perform cognitive reappraisal two days each week—a form of therapy in which a person identifies negative thought patterns but revises their thoughts so as to reduce depression and anxiety.
The third group, however, would perform three acts of kindness per day for two days out of the week. Those acts of kindness could be “big or small” but would have to benefit others or make them happy. Some participants chose to bake cookies for their friends, offer a friend a ride, or leave sticky notes with words of encouragement for housemates.
After a 10-week period the researchers found that participants across all three groups showed a drop in symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as an increase in life satisfaction.
“These results are encouraging because they suggest that all three study interventions are effective at reducing distress and improving satisfaction,” Cregg notes, adding that this study is not the same as actually being in therapy, despite the study using cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.
“But acts of kindness still showed an advantage over both social activities and cognitive reappraisal by making people feel more connected to other people, which is an important part of well-being.”
“Something as simple as helping other people can go above and beyond other treatments in helping heal people with depression and anxiety,” Cregg concludes.
Image credit: RODNAE Productions