In a study from The Ohio State University, scientists found people suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety may help heal themselves by doing good deeds for others.
They found that performing acts of kindness led to improvements not seen in two other therapeutic techniques used to treat depression or anxiety.
Most importantly, the acts of kindness technique were the only intervention tested that helped people feel more connected to others.
The team also found why performing acts of kindness worked so well: It helped people take their minds off their own depression and anxiety symptoms.
This finding suggests that one intuition many people have about people with depression may be wrong.
In the study, the team tested 122 people in central Ohio who had moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.
After an introductory session, the participants were split into three groups.
Two of the groups were assigned to techniques often used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression: planning social activities or cognitive reappraisal.
The social activities group was instructed to plan social activities for two days a week. Another group was instructed in one of the staples of CBT: a cognitive reappraisal.
These participants kept records for at least two days each week that helped them identify negative thought patterns and revise their thoughts in a way that could reduce depression and anxiety.
Members of the third group were instructed to perform three acts of kindness a day for two days out of the week.
Acts of kindness were defined as “big or small acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to you in terms of time or resources.”
Some of the acts of kindness that participants later said they did include baking cookies for friends, offering to give a friend a ride, and leaving sticky notes for roommates with words of encouragement.
Participants followed their instructions for five weeks, after which they were evaluated again.
The researchers then checked with the participants after another five weeks to see if the interventions were still effective.
The team found that participants in all three groups showed an increase in life satisfaction and a reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms after the 10 weeks of the study.
These results are encouraging because they suggest that all three study interventions are effective at reducing distress and improving satisfaction.
If you care about depression, please read studies that a vegetarian diet may increase your depression risk, and Vitamin D could help reduce depression symptoms.
For more information about mental health, please see a recent study about why pizza is a very addictive food, and a MIND diet could improve cognitive health in older people.
The study was conducted by David Cregg et al and published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.
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