How Acts of Kindness Help Heal Depression

Unlike some therapeutic techniques, it relieves symptoms and boosts social connection: study
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 12, 2023 10:03 AM CST
How Acts of Kindness Help Heal Depression
Acts of kindness can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety and boost social connection, research shows.   (Getty Images/Daisy-Daisy)

People experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression will likely feel better in performing acts of kindness for others, which distract from their own feelings, new research shows. "Social connection is one of the ingredients of life most strongly associated with well-being," study co-author David Cregg, a PhD candidate in psychology at the Ohio State University, says in a Tuesday release. "Performing acts of kindness seems to be one of the best ways to promote those connections." Researchers compared the effects of performing acts of kindness—like baking cookies for a friend or offering words of encouragement—against therapeutic techniques used to treat depression or anxiety, finding the former had an advantage.

Splitting 122 Ohioans with moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress into three groups, they asked one group to plan social activities for two days a week for several weeks. They asked another group to adopt the emotion regulation strategy of cognitive reappraisal, which asked them to reinterpret negative thought patterns and keep a record for at least two days a week, while the third group was asked to perform three acts of kindness—"big or small acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to you in terms of time or resources"—for two days a week.

All three groups reported better life satisfaction and a reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms, according to the study published last month in the Journal of Positive Psychology. But the acts of kindness group showed greater improvements than the cognitive reappraisal group, and unlike the other two strategies, acts of kindness made people feel more connected to others, Cregg says. "It's not enough to just be around other people, participating in social activities," adds his co-author, OSU psychology professor 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." (More random acts of kindness stories.)

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