Performing acts of kindness may decrease symptoms of depression

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A recent study found that performing acts of kindness improved the overall wellbeing of people with depression and anxiety.  

The investigation, published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, was conducted by David Cregg, PhD, and Jennifer Cheavens, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. For their investigation, Cregg and Cheavens sought to better understand how performing acts of kindness compared to common cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques in improving feelings of social connection as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Included in the study were 122 people from central Ohio with moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Participants were split into three groups. The first two groups were assigned two techniques commonly used in CBT: planning social activities and cognitive reappraisal.

The social activities group was asked to plan social activities two days a week. Those assigned to cognitive reappraisal were asked to keep a record of their negative thought patterns for at least two days a week and try to rework their thoughts to encourage positive thinking. The final group was asked to perform three acts of kindness, two days a week. The authors defined acts of kindness as “big or small acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to [the participant] in terms of time or resources.”    

The trial period lasted for five weeks. Symptoms of depression and anxiety of the participants were evaluated at the beginning and end of the trial and then again after five weeks.

Results from all three groups showed an increase in life satisfaction and a reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms after 10 weeks. However, researchers found that the acts of kindness group had better outcomes in social connection than the CBT groups. In addition, study results indicated that, compared to the cognitive reappraisal group, participants who practiced acts of kindness showed greater improvements in life satisfaction and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

According to the study’s authors, these results suggest that performing acts of kindness is strongly associated with improved social connection and overall wellbeing.

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