During times of crisis, our initial response is often to focus on ourselves. “What about me?” is a normal question! This basic instinct helps us take proactive steps to mitigate negative consequences.
Another powerful way to calm the mind is to activate the heart by engaging in acts of compassion. It is good for the brain and overall well-being of both the provider and the recipient. It also helps reduce and even halt the mind’s tendency to ruminate on all the bad possibilities. Now that is powerful potion!
Practicing kindness also builds our social support systems—which has been highly correlated in numerous studies to improved health. According to Julie Fratantoni, PhD, lead research scientist for the Kindness Initiative at the Center for BrainHealth, acts of kindness benefit the brain by:
- Lowering blood pressure and stress hormone levels
- Reducing depression and anxiety
- Improving sleep
- Releasing brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin which help calm the mind and increase feelings of happiness
I invite you to test it for yourself by becoming a citizen scientist:
- For the next two weeks, keep a log of acts of compassion you perform as well as when you are the recipient.
- Start and end your day with an act of compassion.
- Expand who you are kind to: immediate family, neighbors, front-line healthcare workers, grocery employees, police officers and others.
- At the end of two weeks, take stock of changes in your general levels of stress and happiness.
In a similar research study, participants became generally happier, more grateful and more satisfied with their lives through increased self-awareness about their acts of compassion. And compassion is contagious: another study demonstrated that recipients paid it forward with 278% more prosocial behaviors than controls.
Each of us can become the salve against despair by doing something within our control – acts of compassion. These acts bring healing, hope and courage to those around us, while building greater brain health and resilience for all. I can’t think of anything more welcome or timely.
P.S. Check out my previous brain health tips here—and look for more insights and practical ideas next week. I encourage you to share my posts on the Center for BrainHealth LinkedIn page with others who may benefit.
Published April 17, 2020
See more messages from our Chief Director, Sandra Chapman, PhD here.