Last Monday, a “heart healthy” card arrived in our mailbox! Yes, there are such things. The card was filled with all the warmth of a best hug, sent to us from dear friends. It came at a good time, when we were both feeling anxiety and sadness over a recent event. It made us think about the value in our lives and for our health of having close, loving relationships. Suddenly the undercurrent of anxiety and sadness I felt was swept away and replaced with a warm feeling in my chest and a smile on my face.
We talk about stress and sadness and the damage it can take on our well-being in so many ways. It raises blood pressure, exposes us to a constant and unhealthy barrage of stress hormones which stimulates inflammation, can cause irregular heartbeats, lead to depression, and so on. But what we don’t talk about so much, as it relates to our health and heart disease, are the myriad of benefits derived from happiness, affection, friendship, love and kindness.
The National Institute of Health reports a study done to determine the effect of “emotional vitality” on Coronary Heart Disease, and concluded “emotional vitality may protect against risk of CHD in men and women.” Further, in a Harvard School of Public Health article, they pointed out this study also stated “the protective effect was distinct and measurable, even when taking into account such wholesome behaviors as not smoking and regular exercise.”
Plus! Happiness releases dopamine, and dopamine helps reduce blood pressure. It’s a win-win for your heart! And these good feelings also help strengthen our immune system.
Whether it’s an “I love you” from a child, a hug from a dear friend, a text message from someone who knows you’re going through a tough time, or just an email from someone who cares about you and wants to catch up–these things and more make a difference in our whole being. Even the every day simple things. It even works with strangers! Encourage someone with only a few items at the grocery checkout to go ahead of you. Their smile just makes you feel good. And when a stranger extends a small kindness to you? .. well that makes you feel good too!
“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”—Scott Adams
“One of the most difficult things to give away is kindness; usually it comes back to you.”
Dr. Talya Steinberg in a guest blog for Psychology Today says “Keep in mind that kindness has an additive effect and it’s really the little things that add up. So no matter how big or how small, each act of kindness makes an impact for us all.”
So why does it feel good? These experiences of love, friendship and kindness have a positive effect on the production of serotonin in the brain for one. Serotonin is a naturally occurring neurochemical that helps in the regulation of our mood, appetite and sleep, and has a calming and anti-anxiety effect. It serves as a pathway for pleasure in the brain so it’s regarded as a “feel good” substance!
In an article from the National Institute of Health, discussing ways to increase serotonin without drugs, they say the reason for doing this research arises from an “increasing recognition that happiness and well-being are important, both as factors protecting against mental and physical disorders.”
Bill and I both know we’re fortunate we have each other. Being in a loving relationship is proven to be beneficial to health and longevity. (Bill says if I stick around he’s going to live past 100!) But even if you don’t have a significant person to share your life with at this moment, try to nurture family relationships and friendships. Just say “Yes!” when you’re invited to dinner with friends or a social gathering. Consider embracing social media as a means to stay more involved in the lives of the people you care about. Enjoy the love and companionship of a beloved pet. And don’t forget about those simple acts of kindness!