Here’s a challenge: Embrace World Kindness Day and begin to rewire your brain. It sounds impossible or peculiar, but it’s totally possible! And here’s how you do it.
First, let’s look at the day that’s being celebrated. World Kindness Day is November 13th, and it’s designed to remove you from the stressful world you live in and help you jump into the idea of boosting the morale of someone else. In the process, being kind to another person can have some positive results for you as well.
How Your Brain Responds to Kindness and Words
While there are a variety of ways you can practice random acts of kindness on this day, the real change in your life might come from simply speaking kind words or just thinking about them.
Neuroscientists Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman have written a book entitled “Words Can Change Your Brain.” In this book, they prove that a single word, spoken or thought, has the power to influence the expression of your genes, which are responsible for regulating stress responses.
They posit that positive words improve cognitive reasoning in the frontal lobe and prompt activity in the motivational centers, while negative words increase activity in the fear center of the brain.
When discussing genetic changes, it’s important to note that the idea of influencing your genetics refers to the process of turning them on and off or what’s referred to as epigenetics. Not all genes can be “changed,” and some lose their ability to be changed after they’re set in place.
Another very interesting thing was learned when scientists looked into altruism and the brain. Three volunteer groups were asked to win rewards for someone they know who needed it, for a charity, and themselves.
The group performing targeted altruism for people they know felt their support was more effective and that they were more socially connected. Beyond their reported feelings, MRI scans showed that the two regions of the brain linked to nurturing parental care were affected. The part of the brain associated with stress and fear showed diminished activity.
The conclusion from these experiments was that social connections are important, and people benefit when they believe they’re acting to help the well-being of others. If you’re interested in your well-being, follow LiveWell on Facebook @livewelllabsnutrition and Instagram @livewelllabs.
Hormones and Kindness
While your brain is busy figuring out how to respond to the kindness you give as well as the kindness you receive, there are hormones at work.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and a hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. It affects your entire body and is key to how you feel.
The interesting thing about serotonin is too much and too little both can leave you feeling depressed or anxious. This means that taking an anti-depressant medication with serotonin can overload you with the hormone, while naturally stimulating this neurotransmitter is less likely to have that effect.
Every time you have an encounter with another person, you have a chance to be nice to them, which in turn can stimulate serotonin production for both of you. An article in Psychology Today suggests using a “nice journal” as a way to track how often you’re nice to people and to reinforce kindness as a habit.
Because being kind has an incremental impact, you not only reap the rewards, but you pass them along to others. Kindness has the potential to make a positive difference in those around you, your family, your community, the environment, even the world.
Acts of kindness prompt the body to release the hormone oxytocin. This hormone is sometimes called the love hormone, and it’s responsible for that warm feeling you have when you’re forming social bonds with others. It makes us more open, trusting, generous, and kinder. Yes, by being kind, your body is prompted to keep being kind.
Scientists have discovered that this hormone, which is also a protein, is also responsible for lowering blood pressure and treating some health conditions such as therapy and anxiety. They found it may be connected to pain relief.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. This hormone is often associated with being the “bad” hormone, which is far from the truth. Cortisol plays an important role in the body by regulating the most crucial bodily functions during stress. The problem is when there’s no real threat to the individual, yet high levels of cortisol are running through their system.
A study looking into prosocial behavior and mitigating stress found that being kind is an effective way of relieving stress and reducing cortisol. In fact, they suggest that this is so crucial to stress management that people who are stressed out actually look for ways to show kindness to others. Whether they know they’re doing it or not.
Language is one of the key forms of communication that humans have to express and define themselves. Using positive and kind words can have an incremental effect on you and other people.
Referring back to “Words Can Change Your Brain,” the authors point out that the longer someone focuses on a positive word, a larger area of the brain is affected. This can lead to changes in your perception of yourself and others.
On this World Kindness Day, try offering words of kindness to everyone you meet. If you don’t come in contact with many people throughout the course of your day, try thinking of positive things.
When you look back at the end of the day, how did you feel? Was it a good day? Are there things in the day that stood out or kind moments you’re proud of? If so, you can see how it’s easy to get swept up in the benefits of kindness.
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