New Study Suggests Acts Of Kindness May Be The Best Medicine For Depression And Anxiety

January 13, 2023

A new study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that performing acts of kindness can heal depression and anxiety.

acts of kindness cure depression
Credit: Steve Foran via a Kindness experiment

Researchers from The Ohio State University split 122 people into three groups.

Two of the groups were assigned to techniques often used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression: planning social activities or cognitive reappraisal (identifying negative thought patterns and then revising the thoughts).

Members of the third group were instructed to perform three acts of kindness a day for two days out of the week.

Participants followed their instructions for ten weeks.

The findings showed that participants in all three groups showed an increase in life satisfaction and a reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms.

However, the group performing acts of kindness led to improvements not seen in the two other groups.

"These results are encouraging because they suggest that all three study interventions are effective at reducing distress and improving satisfaction," the study's co-author David Cregg said.

"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 acts of kindness technique was the only intervention tested that helped people feel more connected to others.

"Social connection is one of the ingredients of life most strongly associated with well-being. Performing acts of kindness seems to be one of the best ways to promote those connections," Cregg said.

In addition, the acts of kindness group showed greater improvements than the cognitive reappraisal group for life satisfaction and symptoms of depression and anxiety, results showed.

The authors noted that just participating in social activities did not improve feelings of social connection in this study.

"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," said co-author Jennifer Cheavens.

Some of the acts of kindness that participants later said they did included baking cookies for friends, offering to give a friend a ride, and leaving sticky notes for roommates with words of encouragement.

"Something as simple as helping other people can go above and beyond other treatments in helping heal people with depression and anxiety," Cregg added.

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