Ben HaywardMay 18th
2020

With physical health at the forefront of people’s minds at the moment, it’s important that we remember to look after our mental health too.

Running from 18-24 May Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 is a chance for us to focus on what’s going on between our ears too!

As a response to the coronavirus outbreak, which is having a big impact on people’s mental health, this year's theme is kindness - which you don’t need to be trained professional to dish out!

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Mark Rowland, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "We want to use Mental Health Awareness Week to celebrate the thousands of acts of kindness that are so important to our mental health. And we want to start a discussion on the kind of society we want to shape as we emerge from this pandemic.”

And it turns out that what may seem like a small act of kindness can actually do a whole lot of good. 

In fact, a survey conducted by The Mental Health Foundation found that almost two-thirds of us say that when people are kind to them, it has a positive impact on their mental health.

When you couple that with the fact that almost two-thirds said being kind to others has a positive impact on their own mental health, you can start to see why it’s so important. 

Speaking about the research, Mark Rowland said: "At one level, kindness can be as simple as phoning a friend who is lonely or thanking a colleague for something they have done.

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“However, to have a major impact on improving our mental health, we need to take kindness seriously as a society."

But it turns out that being kind can even have positive effects on your physical wellbeing too! 

From helping your immune system and giving you energy to slowing down ageing, read on and you’ll see ‘being kind’ in a whole new light… 

Good for your heart

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Carrying out an act of kindness produces a hormone in the body called oxytocin - also known as the 'kindness hormone’. 

However, oxytocin also causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure - the main contributor to keeping our hearts healthy after exercise!

On top of that, oxytocin also increases self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we're feeling anxious, nervous or shy.

It's contagious

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We’re all acutely aware of how contagious a virus is, but it turns out kindness can spread quicklyfrom person to person too.

The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone - whether you are giving, receiving or observing - which in turn improves their mood and so on and so on.

One small act of kindness can improve the days of hundreds of people! 

Slows ageing

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Here’s one we’re probably all keen to learn about… 

So this is to do with our old friend oxytocin again. Scientists discovered that if you introduced the hormone oxytocin to skin cells put under stress, the levels of oxidative stress (a factor in ageing) got significantly reduced.

So ditch the face cream and smother yourself in kindness every day instead!

Reduces stress and anxiety

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Low levels of the chemical serotonin in the body has been linked to anxiety and depression.

But, it turns out that kindness can help increase your serotonin levels, to give the opposite emotional and physical effects on our body to when we are stressed.

A study by the University of British Columbia found that kind people have 23% less cortisol - the stress hormone - and age slower than average.

In their research, a group of highly anxious people did at least six acts of kindness a week. 

After one month, there was a significant increase in their positive moods, their relationships with other people had improved, and they avoided social situations less.

Supports your immune system

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Another important one right now. How you feel emotionally can have a physical effect on your immune system.

Either carrying out an act of kindness yourself, someone being kind to you, or even just witnessing kindness in action can spike your immune system into action, meaning you’re more able to fight off anything unpleasant that may be heading your way.

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