With so much beyond our control lately, feeling helpless and hopeless is understandable. And it’s widespread, with signs of depression tripling in the US since COVID-19 hit.
This is not to bum you out, but to to let you know you’re not alone. And also to point out that wallowing in that quagmire can be hazardous to your mental health.
Getting unstuck from unhealthy patterns of stress and worry takes resilience. A fundamental way to bolster your adversity-fighting reserves is to go beyond yourself to find purpose by helping others.
Science shows that paying it forward has a boomerang effect, decreasing the giver’s stress and anxiety and increasing satisfaction and happiness. So even in the face of a pandemic, eco-disasters, and political and social unrest, you can find solace by doing good.
The Benefits of Benevolence
Research shows that simple acts of kindness can yield profound shifts in health and well-being. In the 1980s, researchers documented a phenomenon dubbed “helper’s high.” The rush of emotions from selfless service increases the same feel-good hormones as self-care faves sex and meditation.
Likewise, spending money on others is shown to provide a “warm glow” that lasts far longer than spending on yourself.
Filling someone else’s tank when you’re running on empty might sound counter-intuitive, but new research that spanned nearly two decades and 70,000 participants says it’s the perfect time to get your altruism on:
Although it’s true that people who are happier do tend to spend more time volunteering, the current study suggests that you don’t need to already feel happy in order to benefit from it. In fact, some research suggests that people who start out with lower levels of well-being may even get a bigger boost from volunteering.
Turns the old “give ’til it hurts” paradigm on its head, doesn’t it? Science shows it’s more like it hurts ’til you give.
Get By With a Little Help for Your Friends
At first glance, finding ways to give back during the pandemic might seem challenging. After all, some of the benefits of traditional volunteering, including getting out, making social connections, and combating loneliness, are limited by social distancing.
With giving back, however, what you do is as impactful as how you do it. Studies show talking someone else through a problem you face can help alleviate your struggles. And a felt obligation for someone else can bolster your coping mechanisms.
For example, helping my computer-illiterate neighbor file for unemployment gives me a special purpose. It takes a few minutes, but between the act itself and discussing ideas for how she can earn cash on the side, I’ve noticed that I feel more optimistic about her prospects — and mine.
So, instead of giving up, consider looking for ways to give back. Doing good is good for you.
How Volunteering Can Help Your Mental Health (Greater Good Magazine)