How Helping Others Can Reduce Stress and Increase Happiness

Research Has Shown that Volunteering Can Reduce Stress

Adult granddaughter assisting her grandmother sitting in wheelchair
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According to an annual survey from the American Psychological Association, stress is an all-too-common experience and far too many of us feel stressed beyond our coping abilities. Between work, money issues, family stress, and other obligations, it can be easy to feel overworked, frustrated and burned out. While you can practice stress-relieving techniques like yoga or meditation, you may find that helping others, while it can make a schedule busier, is also a powerful form of stress release that could even improve your physical health.

When you focus your attention on the needs of someone else, your stress levels have been scientifically proven to go down. That helps minimize the impact of stress on your body, improving your physical wellness as well as your emotional health. Research backs this up.

Impact of Stress on Health

A 2015 study published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal found that relieving the impact of stress on health can be accomplished through helping others.While it was a small study, its results were eye-opening. 77 adults between the ages of 18 and 44 participated in the study. Each night, they received an automated call reminding them to complete a daily questionnaire.

The questionnaire had queries about the day's stressful events, such as the commute, work and finance. It also tracked helpful behaviors and small acts of kindness and the resulting emotions. The researchers found that those who performed more daily acts of kindness were less likely to feel stressed.

On days when they could not do any acts of kindness, they reported more stress and negativity. The study suggests that we can help ourselves manage stress and feel better through doing good deeds for other people.

Further study will need to be done to analyze this theory, but it has promising implications for those experiencing high levels of stress.

Small Acts of Kindness to Reduce Stress

You don't need to be extremely wealthy or have tons of free time to get the benefits of altruism. Even small gestures, like holding the door for a stranger, had the potential to reduce stress. Here are a few simple deeds you can do to help others and potentially lower your stress levels:

  • Pay It Forward: When you're at the drive-thru window, you can pay for the car behind you. When they get to the window, it will be a very unexpected surprise for them and requires only a small amount of money.
  • Share With Others: Bake a cake or other dessert and bring it into the office breakroom for everyone to share. Your coworkers will be thrilled. Or simply bring a little extra with you when you're packing materials. Bringing extra earplugs to a concert, extra tissues during cold and flu season, or sharing whatever you can spare is a simple way to help others.
  • Clean out the Closet: De-clutter your closet or basement and donate old clothes, toys and books to a nearby shelter. You'll help people in need of these goods while streamlining your home. You'll also be reminded of how much you have and how lucky you are to have it.
  • Volunteer: Volunteer your skills to a local non-profit. Whether you are a photographer, web-designer or cook, non-profits are always in need of help from professionals and would appreciate the assistance. Or, you can work directly with those in need by volunteering at a homeless shelter, animal rescue or soup kitchen. If this is more of a time commitment than you have, you can always simply donate your change to charity when you go grocery shopping, or help in smaller ways like this.
  • Share the Love: The best things in life are free, and this applies to smiles, hugs, and other gestures that show you care. You don't have to commit your time or money to do something kind for someone else. A simple squeeze on the shoulder can let people know you're supporting them and that you care.

You don't need to do grand gestures in order to make a difference and help your health. Small acts of kindness done over time can reap large rewards for your well-being. 

Sources:

Ansell, E. "Helping Others Dampens the Effects of Everyday Stress". Clinical Psychological Science, 2015.

Schwartz C, Meisenhelder JB, Ma Y, Reed G. Altruistic Social Interest Behaviors are Associated with Better Mental Health. Psychosomatic Medicine. September/October 2003.

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