Small acts of kindness can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health.

Three pairs of hands of different shapes and sizes holding out a red wooden heart.

You’re probably familiar with that joyful feeling you get from giving a loved one an impromptu gift. Or maybe you’ve noticed that helping a colleague with a task puts you in a better mood. You might not be surprised to discover then, that studies have found performing acts of kindness can benefit our mental health.

Read on as we uncover the benefits of performing acts of kindness, and offer some ideas to get you started this festive season.

The benefits of acts of kindness

A recent study tested a group of individuals experiencing depression, and had them take part in either a meditation exercise, or complete an act of kindness, every other day for three weeks. By the end of the study, researchers found that participants in both groups reported reductions in their symptoms, with participants who completed the acts of kindness reporting the biggest reduction compared to the other group.

However, if you’re someone who finds interacting with people — especially strangers at an end-of-year party or celebration — causes feelings of stress or anxiety, performing acts of kindness may seem like a difficult task.

Another study showed that socially anxious individuals who engaged in thoughtful acts displayed an increase in relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance. While this area requires further research, initial findings have indicated that showing kindness to other people could improve the fear of social interaction. With the silly season well and truly upon us, what better time to give it a try?

Gestures to get you started

Here are our top four ways to show you care:

1. Send a card or a letter

When it comes to expressing our gratitude to people, it can sometimes be tricky to get the words out — so why not write a letter? In December especially, a quick trip to your local newsagent, supermarket or artist market will reveal a treasure trove of festive stationery to inspire your inner writer. If there’s somebody who you’d like to say ‘thanks’ to for any reason, a handwritten note could be a wonderful surprise for them this holiday season.

2. Donate or volunteer

We all know how busy the end of the year can be, which means a lot of not-for-profits and community-run organisations are feeling the pressure. Supporting your local community doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming, but these acts can make a big difference to someone’s life. The key is to think about your values or passions, and find something that resonates with them. You could donate clothes, volunteer at a food co-op or take part in a local working bee.

3. Smile!

Smiling at a stranger may seem like a tiny thing, but it can often be just what that person needed to brighten up their day. The holidays can be a lonely time for some people, so the next time you’re walking down a busy street or ordering your morning coffee, try looking up and smiling at someone.

4. Share how you feel

We don’t always share how we feel with the people who impact our lives, but this simple act can be a great pick-me-up. If there’s an independent musician or artist whose work you enjoy, tell them so! Or if a friend has recently achieved a great accomplishment, tell them that you’re proud. Even a small message of support or encouragement can have a big impact.