KINDNESS – YOUR WEAPON AGAINST STRESS
Can kindness really improve your stress levels?
Hi, and welcome to video 3 in my stress busting series. In this video we’re going to be looking at kindness, and how it can be an effective weapon against stress.
The chemical make-up of stress
Stress has a major effect on the brain and body. In times of stress, we produce what are known as stress hormones, the most common being cortisol, adrenalin and norepinephrine. Think of cortisol as nature’s inbuilt alarm system. We need lots of it in us when the alarm goes off because it fuels the fight/flight response. It’s also important for things like controlling our sleep/wake cycle and helping our body process different foods.
But too much cortisol, over a long period of time, and our stress levels will increase. This can increase our anxiety; affect our weight; increase sleepless nights and can lead to memory problems and difficulty concentrating. It will also increase our blood pressure, which can ultimately contribute to heart disease.
Remember, it’s our reaction to events that causes the brain to release these hormones. It’s how we feel about events. Which means that changing how we feel about things can help us lead happier, healthier, stress free lives.
So, we need to release different hormones and one of these is Oxytocin – sometimes referred to as the love drug.
Oxytocin cannot be obtained through diet, so we need to produce it naturally. There is only one way to do that, which is through warm connection. It’s as if nature has built this within us to encourage us to connect with, and be kind to, one another.
How oxytocin beats stress
It’s so good in fighting stress that every time we’re kind, we produce oxytocin. When we think of everything which stress causes in the body – high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, faster breathing – the exact opposite is what we get when we show kindness, love and affection towards others. Feelings associated with kindness, love, affection and emotional warmth are the physiological opposite of stress.
Scientists have also found that even being kind to animals has exactly the same effect. For every minute of warm, playful interaction with a pet, oxytocin levels increase by 10% over a half hour period. So, it’s how we feel about things and the intensity of that feeling, which helps us produce more of it.
Its physiological properties are also now being understood. In the last decade alone, research has shown how powerfully oxytocin acts on the heart, speeding up its recovery from stress. It softens the walls of the arteries, causing them to dilate, so that the heart no longer has to work as hard to get the blood through our body, causing our blood pressure to drop.
Other ways of increasing oxytocin
It’s not just being kind which helps. Any way of accessing that feeling has precisely the same effect. You get the same effect whether you’re:
- In a physical situation or
- Remembering a time when someone showed you kindness or
- When you remember showing someone else kindness or
- Even imagining a time in the future, the effect is more or less the same on the body because of how you feel.
This is one of the ways we can harness a powerful mind body effect, simply by directing our mind in a particular way away from stressful things. It feels good to think nice thoughts about people. It’s not always easy but we can always find some way of thinking a nice thought about someone we love or about a time when that person showed us kindness. If we dwell on that thought just for a few moments, we get a squirt of oxytocin in our body. It is the exact opposite of stress.
In the next video, we’re going to be looking at seeing our way out of stress through visualisation, so don’t miss it.