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A Surprising and Simple Way to Treat Anxiety and Depression

How Random Acts of Kindness Can Help With Anxiety and Depression

Mental health issues and especially depression and anxiety are at an all time high among young people. One of the impacts of Covid for many schools has been an increased number of students who are too anxious to even come to school, never mind to put forth their best effort at academics. School counselors are in a perfect position to teach children how to cope with anxious feelings and depression.

Most counselors focus on some form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). which often involves teaching students how to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and encouraging them to add more fun, positive activities into their day. One study shows that CBT  “for anxiety disorders is moderately effective for improving quality of life, especially in physical and psychological domains.”  However, another study shows that it may not have much effect on their sense of social connection—a central part of a happy, healthy life.

Now, a new study suggests there may be an additional easy and effective way for students to get all those benefits when feeling anxious or depressed. It’s a very simple technique that can easily be taught and that kids of all ages can understand and implement. What is it?

Random Acts of Kindness. 

In this study, individuals  with elevated anxiety or depression symptoms were randomly assigned to engage in acts of kindness
(AK), social activities (SA), or thought records, i.e., cognitive reappraisal (CR). Improvement was greater in the AK group than the CR and SA groups for social connection, and improvement was greater in the AK group than the CR group for depression/anxiety
symptoms and life satisfaction.

What were participants asked to do in the random acts of kindness group?

Perform three random acts of kindness on two days of the week. These were defined as “big or small acts that benefit others or make them happy, typically at some cost to yourself in terms of time or resources.”

Why would kind acts help with mental health symptoms? It’s not certain, says Cheavens, the author of the study. “It doesn’t take a lot of time to get the hang of doing something kind for other people, but it takes time to get the hang of thinking about your own thoughts differently and evaluating the evidence for your negative thoughts,” she says. “I was surprised it was not a particularly hard sell. The people in the acts of kindness group had better uptake in some ways than the people in other groups.”

The Surgeon General has been talking about the importance of belongingness and socially connecting to other people, and acts of kindness may be one of the best ways to address this social isolation in a positive way. For children this might involve doing something thoughtful for a friend, a family member or even someone they don’t know. Some examples might include: inviting a new student to sit with them at lunch, sharing a toy or a treat with someone else, writing someone a thank you note or completing a chore at home that they aren’t required to do. The list of possibilities is endless.

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