• Stress management tip: Do good. Feel better.

    March 14, 2017 | curtrosengren
  • [Back to How to stop stressing so you can change the world]

    “Do three random acts of kindness and call me in the morning.”

    Probably not a prescription any of us are likely to get from our doctor any time soon, but when it comes to navigating stress and feeling happier, maybe we should.

    More and more, research is showing the positive impact that doing good, even in small ways, has on both our stress levels and how happy we feel.

    One recent study, for example, showed that the more people were engaged in helping others throughout their day, the more positive emotion they experienced. And it wasn’t just that they felt happier, it also buffered them from the negative effects of stress on how they felt. 

    A 1998 study showed that seniors who gave infants massages over the course of three weeks (which is inherently about giving with no thought of receiving) had less anxiety and depression and lower levels of stress hormones in their system.

    Another study showed that people who engaged in pro-social behavior (e.g., helping someone carry their groceries or donating to charity) showed an increase in “psychological flourishing”(in a nutshell, feeling good and functioning well). They also saw an increase in positive emotions like happiness, joy, and enjoyment.

    Yet another study found that those who gave time or money were “42% more likely to be happy” than people who didn’t.

    Part of the reason doing good has a positive effect on us is that it actually affects our brain chemistry. Research has demonstrated that the part of our brain that light up when we give is the same area stimulated by food, sex, and even drugs.

    In other words, giving and doing good stimulates our brain’s pleasure center.

    If you have ever done a good deed – maybe picked up someone’s wallet full of money and returned it to them – and come away feeling a warm glow of satisfaction, you know what I’m talking about. Researcher’s call it a “helper’s high.”

    One caveat amidst all this talk of giving and helping is that you can have too much of a good thing. As with so many things, there is an “everything in moderation” rule that applies here. There is a tipping point where the time and effort spent in giving no longer has a positive effect, and can even add stress to your day.

    Adam Grant, author of the book Give and Take, suggests one way to counter that danger is by being selective about the giving you choose to do. As this article on how to beat generosity burnout puts it:

    “Effective givers recognize that every no frees you up to say yes when it matters most. After all, it’s hard to support others when you’re so overloaded that you’ve hit a wall.”

    So as you explore ways to navigate the stress of these crazy times, look for ways to reach out and make the world a better place.

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