At a time when we are all experiencing an extraordinary level of stress, science offers a simple and effective way to bolster our own emotional health.
To help yourself, start by helping others.
Much of the scientific research on resilience — which is our ability to bounce back from adversity — has shown that having a sense of purpose, and giving support to others, has a significant impact on our well-being.
“There is a lot of evidence that one of the best anti-anxiety medications available is generosity,” said Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton and author of “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.” “The great thing about showing up for other people is that it doesn’t have to cost a whole lot or anything at all, and it ends up being beneficial to the giver.”
Our bodies and minds benefit in a variety of ways when we help others. Some research has focused on the “helper’s high.” Studies show that volunteering, donating money, or even just thinking about donating money can release feel-good brain chemicals and activate the part of the brain stimulated by the pleasures of food and sex. Studies of volunteers show that do-gooders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol on days they did volunteer work.
The challenge many of us are facing today is how to give support from a distance. Rules that require us to be physically apart during the pandemic mean that our traditional ways of volunteering in person are no longer possible. The good news is that the type of support that can be helpful to both giver and receiver can be given in a variety of small and big ways. It can include giving money or time to a cause. Or it can be as simple as a phone call, giving advice or just lending a listening ear.
In fact, the act of giving advice has been shown to be more beneficial than receiving it. In a series of studies of 2,274 people, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago found that after middle-school students mentored younger students about studying, they ended up spending more time on their own homework.