Helping Others as An Effective Way To Fight Stress

After natural disasters such as hurricanes, multitudes of volunteers who work through organizations like the Red Cross and the Southern Baptist Convention lend a hand to those in desperate need. Many of these volunteers are retired married couples who have been doing this work for years. What a great way to give back to your community and to spend your retirement. But why do they do this?
Joplin, Missouri Tornado 2011Many would say it’s American to respond to people in need. And they’re right. It’s also human nature. Everywhere I’ve ever traveled and lived, neighbors help neighbors. Most automatically reach out to those in need. What’s different in this country vs. poorer countries is that we also have a government response that puts muscle, speed and money behind these efforts as evidenced in the many disasters this year alone.
Others believe reaching out to those in need is hard-wired into our brains to increase human survival. That’s probably true, too. The survival of a society increases the survival of the individual and vice versa.
Another draw to people to reach out and help another is that volunteering may be a natural anti-depressant.
Some believe it’s impossible to feel depressed when you help another person. I don’t know about “impossible” but I do believe helping others is a great way to reduce depression and stress. arc-pageIt takes your mind off focusing on what’s wrong and puts it onto connecting with others and stimulates the part of the brain that experiences positive emotions.
As a local Red Cross volunteer after Hurricane Charley, the looks of gratitude I saw on the faces of people receiving assistance and the looks of satisfaction on the faces of those giving it touched my heart time and time again.
red-cross-flood-assistanceA recent research showed that voluntary work can improve a sense of purpose and self-respect, increase life satisfaction, lessen social isolation, and have beneficial effects on physical and mental health. In other words, it feels good to help someone. The same benefits are there for everyone.
When you’re down in the dumps for any reason, instead of ruminating alone in your mind about whatever is bothering try reaching out and helping someone. Volunteer with a cause you believe in whether it’s religious or community based. It helps you feel better, to be less stressed and depressed, and commits you to something bigger than yourself.
Seeing there is something bigger than you put life in better perspective. It helps you realize that you’re not the center of the universe but rather you’re a part of the whole. This is a freeing awareness and one that is very healthy for the soul.
There’s also a growing belief in the research community that bonding with others, including through volunteering, releases oxytocin, a hormone believed to minimize the damage from too much stress and When you volunteer, even though you’re giving to another, you are also giving something positive and very important to yourself.