February… Valentine’s Day. Whether those two words spark joy or dread for you, there’s something to be said about the relationship between love and mental well-being. Many of us are lucky enough to have experienced the rush of feel-good hormones in an early stage of an exciting new relationship. We know the deep unwavering love a parent has for a child. We might know the joy that comes from loving a pet. We have friends we love. Some of us love God and know we are loved by Him in return. If you ask my husband what he loves, he’ll likely mention “Mexican food” and “pizza” on his list! I love the beach (and coffee!) What do you love? Who do you love?
Now, here’s a question for you. Did YOU make your list? Do you love yourself?
Love is not a stationary thing. Love involves a relationship – an interaction. Love (a relationship) that isn’t nurtured will be unfulfilling at best and die out at worst. So this month, I encourage you to SHOW and BE love to yourself and others. Your mental well-being will thank you!
Why Kindness Matters to Mental Health
Need help with this? Start by practicing kindness. It shouldn’t be a surprise that our positive and negative emotions affect our health, both mental and physical. Studies have shown that practicing kindness can boost serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain, which are known as the “feel good, happy hormones.” And who doesn’t want more of that?! On the contrary, arguments, anger, jealousy, feelings of guilt and other negative emotions over a long period of time can increase cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) which over time can have adverse effects on the body including weakened immune function and weight gain.¹
A smile, holding the door open for another, bringing food to someone, paying a sincere compliment, connecting with a stranger, and saying “I love you” are all acts of kindness that can be practiced on a regular basis. So often we hold back from being kind because we don’t know what to do or we don’t think our actions will make an impact, but they do and the research proves this. Maybe there’s something to be said after all for all the times we’ve heard about the importance of “having a positive attitude!” It brings to mind the old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Who knew keeping silent could make you happier in those instances?
Thinking Kind Thoughts
A recent study² shows that even thinking kind thoughts about yourself and others can drop your heart rate and boost your mood. A daily habit (even just a few minutes) of practicing compassion and kindness strengthens the brains wiring for pleasure and feeling good (remember those “feel good happy hormones?”)
The steps are simple – any of us can try it. This might sound quirky, but what do you have to lose but feeling good?
Close your eyes, picture people who are important to you, and repeat silently to yourself phrases like, “May they be safe. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering. May they be well. May they have wisdom. May they have peace.” Those of us with faith could turn this into prayer. “Keep them safe. Grant them health. Grant them prosperity.”
Then do the same for yourself! Try doing this for people you have difficulties with, you may be surprised at the peace and inner calm it gives you. As with any ‘fitness program,’ the more you practice, the stronger the benefits seem to be.³
Kindness might not equal love, but kindness leads to relationship and being in relationship leads to love!
Here’s to love in February and always!
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of distress, please reach out to a mental health professional or get confidential, free support and text LOOKUP to 494949 or chat online here.
If you live in Indiana and need help finding a behavioral health provider, visit Find Help or call (800) 284-8439.
Start the conversation. Silence the Stigma.