We have a health epidemic on our hands. It’s contributing to a plethora of physical injury as well as chronic disease (heart disease, asthma, stroke, cancer and more), and mental health problems (PTSD, anxiety, depression) and it’s contagious. And you can stop it. I am talking about the known effects of violence. In the United States, violence claims an enormous $450 billion toll and nearly 60,000 lives annually. (cureviolence.org)
Using physical force to cause harm or damage to someone or something has become a mainstay of how we express our opinions and even how we entertain ourselves. Watching violent images has led to a numbing effect that has built up our tolerance of some pretty awful actions. In addition, using social media to air our darker more violent tendency has the same effect. We are seeing this behind the scenes practice of meanness and hatred on social networks spill out into the world of actions. And yes, these not only causes physical injury to those involved, it causes harm to all of us in the form of poorer health. It makes it easier for all of us to be violent and thus it spreads.
The antidote is quite easy and no cost and has equally strong positive health benefits. That is the practice of kindness. Descriptors of kindness include gentleness, caring, compassionate action, and going out of your way for others. These can simply be a smile, or opening a door for someone.
Scientific research has shown that kindness has measurable health benefits and is also contagious. Performing or watching an act of kindness causes the body to release a hormone called oxytocin which lowers the blood pressure and can protect your heart. Oxytocin also reduces inflammation levels and can therefore slow the aging process. Acts of kindness also increases the release of dopamine, your body’s natural opioid. With more dopamine, you will feel happier and even reduce pain.
Here are some actions you can take today to improve your health and the health of those around you.
- Perform a random act of kindness regularly.
- Print out this pdf about the health effects of kindness and share it with people you know. https://www.dartmouth.edu/wellness/emotional/rakhealthfacts.pdf
- Be kind to yourself. Rest, eat nourishing food, spend time in nature, laugh, and move!
- If you find yourself overcome with anger, rage or bitterness; if the view point of another different than yours enrages you; consider working with a counselor.
- Envision and practice the hypothesis of compassion. Think the best of others, rather than the worst. Put yourself in their shoes, imagine what life is like for the other person.
- Learn about how you can help prevent violence. For more information check out this website: http://cureviolence.org/understand-violence/violence-as-a-health-issue/
- Don’t support violent entertainment, seek out entertainment that supports positive human qualities.
- Practice kindness in your language on social media. If you disagree, find a way to express that with respect and seeking to understand.
Kind words are ever more mighty than swords.
– Peter Burn