When you head out for your morning walk, you take a bag with you and pick up trash that you find on your route. You leave a post-it note on the mirror in the restroom of a local restaurant that reads “You are amazing.” You donate books you’ve finished reading to your community library. All of these acts are examples of kindness and could make someone’s day a little bit brighter.
In 2021, Random Acts of Kindness Day is on February 17 and the week beginning February 14 has been designated Random Acts of Kindness Week. This day–and week– is sponsored by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a nonprofit organization started in 1995 and sustained by financial contributions from an anonymous donor.
The “Helper’s High”
According to the Random Acts of Kindness website, being kind to others is good for your health. Seeing or performing a kind act increases the production of serotonin, the “love hormone.” This boosts self-esteem and optimism, lowers blood pressure, and improves cardiovascular health. Kindness also results in higher serotonin levels, which improves sleep, lessens anxiety and depression, and contributes to bone density. In addition, those of us who volunteer or make a point of being kind to others have reported that they have more energy and are happier. Researchers at Emory University found that when you do something for someone else, the brain’s reward and pleasure centers activate. This occurrence is called the “helper’s high.” In addition, performing acts of kindness could even cause you to live longer.
Performing acts of kindness reduce physical pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and blood pressure, according to the Random Acts of Kindness website. Pain is lessened because acts of kindness stimulate the production of endorphins, which are considered “the brain’s natural painkillers.” Those of us who volunteer in our communities or make it a point to be kind to others have a 23% lower level of cortisol (the stress hormone), resulting in less perceived stress. In a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, individuals diagnosed with social anxiety disorder performed a minimum of six acts of kindness per week. After one month, this group had a more positive mood, indicated more satisfaction with their personal relationships, and showed less social avoidance. A professor at Case Western Reserve says that doing good for others decreases depression and improves feelings of overall well-being. And finally, being kind to others lowers our blood pressure because of increased serotonin levels.
Turning Your Focus Outward Can Aid Recovery
Performing acts of kindness for others can also help us in our recovery from substance use disorder. When we were drinking, using drugs, or engaging in other harmful addictive behaviors (gambling, for example), we were thinking almost exclusively about ourselves and our addiction. Our focus was on our next drink, wondering where we would get the money for more meth, hoping someone at the party had ecstasy, or whatever our craving was. Our focus was inward. When we perform an act of kindness or service, our focus turns outward to other people and their needs.
Doing good deeds can also help us form connections with other people and with our communities. If we are volunteering as part of an organization, we can bond with others who choose to support the same cause, be it holding a clothing drive to aid people who are returning to the workforce after being homeless, cleaning cages at an animal shelter, or spending a week building a home for a family through Habitat for Humanity.
If you are fairly new to your recovery, you may find yourself feeling bored and with time on your hands. Boredom can lead to relapse, so it is important to have activities to fill the time that you used to spend drinking or doing drugs. Doing a good deed, be it for an individual or a group, will give you something else to think about and to do while helping someone else at the same time. Volunteering with an organization whose mission you believe in can give your life structure and an additional sense of purpose, which will aid your recovery.
Kindness and Service in Recovery Groups
If you are in recovery from an addiction, you are probably in a support group. The most common are the 12-Step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, to name a few) and SMART Recovery. Both organizations provide free support to people struggling with or in recovery from substance use disorders on an international level and rely on volunteers. In both groups, volunteers facilitate meetings, both in-person and online. If you are volunteering with your support group, whether you are running the meeting, making coffee, or setting up chairs, it’s a great way to perform an act of kindness and connect with other people. Serving in this way also means that you have made a commitment beyond going to meetings, and this can get you to a meeting when you don’t feel like going, and that can support your recovery.
Performing an act of kindness for someone else, no matter how large or how small, benefits the giver as much or more than it does the recipient.
Random Acts of Kindness Day–and Week–celebrates acts of kindness large and small. As it turns out, doing good deeds is good for your physical and mental health and being of service to others is part of the 12-Step tradition. At Enlightened Solutions, a drug and alcohol treatment center licensed to treat co-occurring disorders, service opportunities are built into some of the healing modalities that we offer. For example, in the horticultural therapy modality, patients participate in the work of the organic farm that supplies the produce for the center. We are located on New Jersey’s southern shore and our focus is on healing the whole person, not just treating the addiction. We will individualize treatment for you based on your own unique needs. The treatment we offer includes talk therapy and support groups as well as a range of holistic treatment modalities including yoga, meditation, art and music therapy, family constellation therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and equine therapy. If you have been trapped in a life controlled by drugs and alcohol and are ready to break free, call us at (833) 801-5483.