Do you know who your neighbors are? A new study from Brigham Young University reports that knowing at least six neighbors helps to decrease loneliness, depression, anxiety and financial concern about COVID-19.
The BYU research showed that such small acts of kindness can also improve the mental health of the giver. In a study of how people felt before and after serving their neighbors for a period of four weeks, researchers found that things like chatting with someone from the porch or watering their plants lowered participants’ reported levels of loneliness, a press release stated.
BYU psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, who co-led the project, said in a prepared statement:
I get tons of people asking me what we can do during the pandemic to try to stay connected and stave off loneliness. Conducting this experiment during pandemic conditions—which we didn’t originally plan—we found that people can experience significant reductions in loneliness even in tough times just by doing things that are easy, free and require no training to help the people around them.
For the study, Holt-Lunstad and colleagues at other institutions teamed up with the company Nextdoor, which focuses on fostering connections in neighborhoods. The collaboration allowed the tracking changes in loneliness after people served their neighbors (in COVID-safe ways) as part of the Nextdoor KIND Challenge. The randomized, controlled trial involved nearly 4,300 participants in the United States, U.K. and Australia.
While 10% of participants scored in the “severely lonely” range at the beginning of the experiment, among those randomly assigned to do small acts of kindness that number dropped to 5% by the end of just a month.
“Loneliness is usually pretty stable, and we often think it’s going to be really close friends or family that might make the biggest difference. The fact that something as simple as saying hello to your neighbor could make the difference is significant, especially during a pandemic where you might expect loneliness to increase,” Holt-Lunstad stated in the release.
One partial explanation may be that “we draw on different kinds of relationships to fulfill different kinds of needs,” Holt-Lunstad explained. “During the pandemic, our neighbors may be some of the few people we can have face-to-face contact with. But even in normal times, those who live near us are important because we have a shared community and goals.”
The study didn’t take into account possible benefits to the recipients of neighborly acts, Holt-Lunstad said in the release. She emphasized that by choosing to care for others around them this Christmas season, people can actually help themselves.
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