With inflation, recession, and just numerous events going around in the world, it is normal to feel overwhelmed and even depressed. You might find yourself in an anxious loop, with constant heart beating and worries walking through your mind. A new study by the Ohio State University revealed that performing an act of kindness can actually help with depressive symptoms.
Co-author of the study David Cregg said an act of kindness was the sole technique that allowed individuals to feel connected, compared to the other two therapeutic interventions.
What is anxiety and depression?
People feel anxious all the time. Before giving a big presentation or going to your first job, it is normal to feel anxious. If you recently went through a breakup, it’s also normal to feel depressed and want to binge on Netflix and ice cream. However, those with more severe symptoms of depression and anxiety can go through more serious mental health complications everyday.
Anxiety can hinder daily activities, such as going to school or even going outside your house. You can be anxious about specific things, such as getting on flights or riding elevators, or just suffer with general anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety can include feeling nauseous, dizzy, having a fast heartbeat, constant thoughts, or even panic attacks.
Depression is another mood disorder that can severely impact one's life and interfere with daily tasks. Depression can bring immense sadness, emptiness, or even hopelessness. It can cause one to feel easily angry and agitated, and also bring fatigue. It can even bring physical symptoms such as headaches or muscle pain.
What did the study find?
"Social connection is one of the ingredients of life most strongly associated with wellbeing. Performing acts of kindness seems to be one of the best ways to promote those connections," Cregg said in a news release.
The study, published recently in The Journal of Positive Psychology, aimed to divulge into improving depressive symptoms and how we can do that. The research said displaying an act of kindness worked because it allowed them to ease their minds and forget about their depressive and anxious symptoms.
"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," said Ohio State professor and co-author of the study Jennifer Cheavens.
"Doing nice things for people and focusing on the needs of others may actually help people with depression and anxiety feel better about themselves."
They collected 122 participants in central Ohio who were suffering from moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. The participants were divided into three groups after the introductory session.
Two of the three groups were placed in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to alleviate symptoms of depression, and the other focused on social activities and cognitive revaluation. The social group was told to plan social activities for two days per week, and the CBT group had therapeutic techniques done.
All participants wrote their symptoms and recorded them for two days each week to determine negative thinking patterns and examine how they could diminish depression and anxiety.
The third group was instructed to show an act of kindness for two days per week. Displaying an act of kindness was identified as "big or small acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to you in terms of time or resources."
Some participants baked for their friends, gave friends a ride, or even left friendly notes for their roommates.
All participants followed their instructions for a period of five weeks, in which they were reevaluated. The study researchers checked with each participant to see how effective each technique was.
The result revealed that all three groups did indeed show positive response to their therapeutic techniques, meaning a depletion of depressive and anxious symptoms after a span of ten weeks.
"These results are encouraging because they suggest that all three study interventions are effective at reducing distress and improving satisfaction," said Cregg.
"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."
The third group displayed greater results compared to the other two, and Cheavens said merely joining social activities did not exhibit positive results.
"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," continued Cheavens.
Cregg also mentioned that although the CBT group did have positive responses, it is different than undergoing a full CBT treatment. Those who decide to engage in the full process might have better results than the participants in this particular study.
"Not everyone who could benefit from psychotherapy has the opportunity to get that treatment,” said Cheavens. “But we found that a relatively simple, one-time training had real effects on reducing depression and anxiety symptoms."
Even if one decides to undergo CBT or other therapeutic techniques, displaying an act of kindness can create supplementary benefits in generating social relationships.
"Something as simple as helping other people can go above and beyond other treatments in helping heal people with depression and anxiety," concluded Cregg.
- Mayo Clinic. Anxiety Disorders.
- Mayo Clinic. Depression (major depressive disorders).
- Ohio State News. Feeling depressed? Performing acts of kindness may help.
- The Journal of Positive Psychology. Healing through helping: an experimental investigation of kindness, social activities, and reappraisal as well-being interventions.