Kindness can be a cognitive therapy for mental health issues. Here's how - Hindustan Times

Kindness can be a cognitive therapy for mental health issues. Here's how

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Jul 28, 2023 11:38 AM IST

Kindness is often viewed as a simple act of compassion but it can actually have a profound impact on our cognitive processes and mental health. Here's how

Mental health issues have become increasingly prevalent in today's fast-paced and interconnected world and as a result, there is a growing need for effective interventions that can complement traditional treatments where kindness is an intervention that has demonstrated promising results. Kindness is often viewed as a simple act of compassion but it can actually have a profound impact on our cognitive processes and mental health.

Kindness can be a cognitive therapy for mental health issues. Here's how (Unsplash)
Kindness can be a cognitive therapy for mental health issues. Here's how (Unsplash)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Rituparna Ghosh, Clinical Psychologist at Apollo Hospitals in Navi Mumbai, explained, “Kindness has a remarkable ability to promote positive cognitive shifts by altering one's perspective and emotional state. Engaging in acts of kindness can activate areas of the brain associated with positive emotions and empathy, leading to the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and oxytocin, which are known to enhance mood and well-being. By redirecting the focus from negative thoughts and self-criticism toward acts of compassion and empathy, individuals can experience a shift in their cognitive processes and develop more adaptive thinking patterns. Many mental health issues are accompanied by feelings of low self-worth, helplessness, and a lack of control.”

She elaborated, “Kindness interventions, whether directed towards oneself or others, can significantly enhance feelings of self-worth and empowerment. When individuals engage in acts of kindness, they experience a sense of purpose, competence, and connection with others. By recognizing their ability to positively impact the lives of others, individuals with mental health issues can develop a stronger sense of self and regain a feeling of control over their lives. Kindness acts as a catalyst for building social support and connection, which are essential for psychological well-being.”

Dr Rituparna Ghosh added, “Whether through volunteering, offering support to a friend, or engaging in random acts of kindness, individuals with mental health issues can cultivate a support network that provides them with a sense of belonging, understanding, and acceptance. By integrating acts of kindness into cognitive therapy interventions, it can help individuals with mental health issues develop more adaptive thinking patterns, enhance their self-worth and empowerment, build social support networks, and reduce negative self-focus. Incorporating kindness into treatment plans can provide a holistic approach that addresses the emotional, cognitive, and social aspects of mental health, ultimately contributing to the well-being and recovery of individuals facing mental health challenges.”

Dr Meena Kumari M, Consultant Psychiatrist at Manipal Hospitals in Vijayawada, revealed that according to mental health experts, acts of kindness can stimulate the release of dopamine and serotonin, a hormone associated with positive emotions. This can lead to a number of benefits, including:

• Increased feelings of well-being

• Reduced stress levels

• Improved self-esteem

• Enhanced social connections

• Reduced loneliness and isolation

Dr Meena Kumari M highlighted that in addition to these direct benefits, kindness can also have a positive impact on our cognitive processes. For example, it can help us to:

• Reframe negative thoughts

• Increase our resilience

• Improve our problem-solving skills

• Enhance our empathy

Hence, kindness can be a powerful tool for promoting mental health and well-being. Dr Meena Kumari M said, “Kindness, even in small acts, can make a difference in promoting mental well-being, as recognized by Manipal Hospitals, which integrates kindness as a complementary therapy alongside evidence-based treatments to empower individuals and address their mental health concerns.”

Bringing her expertise to the same, Ishita Goyal, Assistant Psychologist, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences - MIND at Max Super Speciality Hospital in Dehradun, said, “Kindness can indeed play a significant role in cognitive therapy for mental health issues. While it may not be a standalone therapy, acts of kindness and cultivating a kind mindset can have a positive impact on mental well-being.”

According to her, here are some ways in which kindness can be beneficial -

  • Self-Compassion: Kindness starts with being compassionate towards oneself. Individuals struggling with mental health issues often experience self-criticism and negative self-talk. By practicing self-kindness, individuals can cultivate self-compassion, which involves treating themselves with understanding, patience, and acceptance. This shift in mindset can help alleviate feelings of shame, guilt and worthlessness.
  • Building Positive Relationships: Engaging in acts of kindness towards others fosters positive relationships, social support and a sense of belonging. These connections can be crucial for individuals with mental health issues, as they provide emotional support, reduce feelings of isolation and contribute to overall well-being.
  • Shifting Focus: Kindness redirects attention away from negative thoughts and emotions. By engaging in acts of kindness, individuals can focus their energy on positive actions and experiences, which can help break the cycle of rumination and negativity associated with many mental health issues.
  • Enhancing Self-Esteem: Engaging in kind acts can boost self-esteem and self-worth. When individuals help others or contribute to the well-being of their community, they develop a sense of purpose, accomplishment and value. This can counteract feelings of low self-esteem or inadequacy.
  • Promoting Gratitude and Positivity: Kindness practices can encourage individuals to appreciate the positive aspects of their lives. Expressing gratitude for acts of kindness received or performed can foster a positive outlook, increase happiness, and improve overall mental well-being.

It is important to note that while kindness can be beneficial, it is not a substitute for professional mental health treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, it is essential to seek support from qualified professionals such as therapists or counsellors who can provide appropriate interventions and therapies.

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