Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Kindness Is Incredibly Good for Your Health

Little acts of kindness make measurable changes that benefit your overall mental and physical health.

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate. — Albert Schweitzer

Truth is often found in places we might not think to look. But some simple poems we teach to children can offer what we need to hear. This phrase is from “Little Things”:

Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Help to make earth happy
Like the heaven above — Julia Abigail Fletcher Carney

Kindness is often viewed as acts of charity derived from our sense of goodness or obligation toward others. But compassion and charity have benefits we haven’t heard about, and they re significant. Yes, altruism, but we receive a benefit from it.

Researchers know that anything we do can be quantified and modified with the right design, even kindness, and they’ve provided evidence of its effectiveness in our health.

Social relationships, such as charity and kindness, provide the recipient and the giver benefit. We know “that social relationship…moderates or buffers the deleterious influence of stressors.” Where is the benefit of modifying stressors?

Stress buffering (aka support) through “social relationships affect health through behavioral, psychosocial, and physiological pathways.” What pathways might kindness or social support affect?

Several recent review articles provide consistent and compelling evidence linking a low quantity or quality of social ties with a host of conditions, including development and progression of cardiovascular disease, recurrent myocardial infarction, atherosclerosis, autonomic dysregulation, high blood pressure, cancer and delayed cancer recovery, and slower wound healing.

Lack of human contact predicted mortality. The medical profession was stunned to learn that infants would die without social interaction. Seemingly this new evidence provided that what was expected for human health wasn’t sufficient. They found nurturing and physical touch to be vital to an infant’s mortality.

Those who wish to read the work of Rene Spitz on this topic and hospitalism, can find it here.

Video footage of Dr. Spitz’ research is here. A number of videos are available on that site. Ethics are of prime importance and should be questioned by anyone who watchs these videos. They bear a similar lack of ethical consideration as those of Little Albert.

Photo by Beth Tate

Kindness Knows No Color

Today, there was a New York Times obituary for Dr. Renee C. Fox, someone I’d never known or read about. She had created the field of bioethics in her writings and one of her books, Experiment Perilous: Physicians and Patients Facing the Unknown.

I was intrigued, and a few lines of her obituary caught my attention. I knew it had to be passed on in a Medium article. The subject was kindness and how someone had provided something no hospital can prescribe, kindness.

Diagnosed with polio as a college student, Dr. Fox was admitted to Sydenham Hospital in Harlem, which usually treated Black patients. It was here that she got the one treatment that mattered most.

In her memoir, Professor Fox paid tribute to a Black nurse who got her through the first night. “I do not know her name,” she wrote. “But I do know that I survived that night because she put her head beside mine on the pillow where I lay, and breathed every breath with me.”

My Own Experience with Kindness

Working in an office as a young girl at my first job, I became very ill, and my supervisor decided that I should go home. I had to take the subway by myself since there was no one to accompany me. The train ride would take at least 45 minutes to an hour.

While on the train, I became so ill that I could barely sit up in the seat, and I had to get off at a stop where I needed to change trains. I didn’t know if I’d make it.

I was barely able to walk off the train. Although many people were walking around the station platform and on the train, no one stopped.

But one woman saw my distress. A Black older woman came up to me to ask if I was feeling sick. “Yes, I feel like I’m going to faint.” She helped me sit down on a bench, put her arm around me, and said, “Can you call your mother?” I told her I had her phone number, which she took to make the call for me.

A few minutes later she returned and told me, “Don’t worry, baby, your mother’s coming and I’ll wait with you until she gets here.”

As we waited for my mother to come, I suspect it must have been at least 45 minutes, the woman put her arm around me and continued to tell me that it would be okay and that she wouldn’t leave until my mother arrived.

Once my mother appeared on the platform to take me home, the woman greeted her, indicated she hoped I’d be okay, and left without another word. I never knew her name, I can’t remember what she looked like, but I will always remember what she did.

The woman had probably been subjected to incredible racism by white people in her life, but she helped a white stranger in distress and asked nothing for it. It was the right thing to do, and she showed incredible kindness. I will never forget her.

Photo by Narges Pms

One Day a Year

Each year on February 17th, National Random Acts of Kindness Day grows in popularity. It is celebrated by individuals, groups and organizations nationwide to encourage acts of kindness.

The movement of Random Acts of Kindness inspires people every day. As a favorite celebration for many, people everywhere are enjoying doing these acts of kindness. Not only do the acts of kindness bring joy to the receiver, but they spread positive reactions to the giver, too!

There are many ways to practice random acts of kindness, as I experienced. And the group that helps us reflect and celebrate kindness toward others has plenty of suggestions. Here’s a list the group provided to get you started on a new way of living and, perhaps in the process, improving your health:

Pay for the coffee or meal of the person in front of you in line.

Leave a kind note for someone, no explanation needed.

Share words of encouragement. You never know who might need them.

Put your skills to work for someone in need. For example, offer to create a résumé for someone seeking a new job.

Drop off a load of groceries at the local food pantry.

Mail a “thinking of you” card to someone you’ve not to talk to in a while.

Order a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to anyone in the hospital. That means, call the florist and tell them to pick a hospital or nursing home and deliver flowers to the person the front desk thinks needs it the most. It could be a sick child, an elderly person with no family, or a college student down on their luck.

Send a thank-you note to the local fire department, police departments, or any military personnel.

Just smile.

The Physical and Mental Benefits of Kindness

Being altruistic and practicing acts of kindness, no matter how small or insignificant you think they are, can lengthen your life, some researchers believe.

Biogerontologists are studying the molecular and cellular science of aging with the goal of its eventual deceleration. One plausible hypothesis that should be simultaneously investigated is longevity enhancement through the cultivation of generous emotions and helping behaviors. The research is quite extensive at this point, but they’re extending it even more.

Volunteering for as little as 40 hours a year or less has a positive effect on those who engage in this activity because, it is believed, of a combination of factors including self-identity, social role, and meaningfulness.

Any volunteering appears to have a protective effect on mortality among everyone and is seen as a two-way street for giving and receiving. But the receiving is done on an invisible, individual basis by the volunteer in terms of health, self-satisfaction, and longevity.

A 12-week study researched a twice-weekly recycling program where volunteer in a community-based care center recycled paper products, plastics, and metals and disposing of electronic products and sorting clothes. Participants had significantly improved in terms of their gate speed compared to baseline.

The average range of the persons in the groups was 65 to 75. It was decided that civic engagement is an essential means of maintaining good health in later years, as shown in multiple studies.

Several of the significant factors would appear to be that older individuals need a sense of purpose and involvement in economic life and social value, enabling them to perceive themselves in a healthier manner. Doing volunteer work also has a positive effect on retired individuals and can combat feelings of depression and self-worth.

Another study of volunteers for older adults found “significantly increased physical activity, improved self-rated health, and reduced depression symptoms over 20 years.”

Kindness is its own reward we hear, but research has shown that kindness has rewards for everyone and should be highly encouraged.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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