It's a joy to help others, even though not everyone realizes the positive effects doing so has on their physical and mental health. Those who are naturally inclined to offer kindness can testify to how good acts of benevolence make them feel. But be warned. The sense of satisfaction you get from helping to make a difference in the life of others can be addictive.
The act of giving activates pleasure-related areas of the brain and causes a release of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These three hormones contribute to pleasure sensations in the body. Those feelings are some of the pleasurable rewards of being kind. There's also
evidence to back up the belief that helping others positively impacts mental health and overall wellbeing.
What Does It Mean To Help Others?
Helping means giving something or being kind to others. It's an unselfish and compassionate act that expects nothing in return. Some people are naturally wired to do good. Others need a little nudge to show generosity. The benefits remain the same regardless.
You don't need to perform extravagant or costly acts. Doing simple things for your loved ones or volunteering in the community can have a huge impact on the lives of the recipients. Examples of simple acts of generosity include helping an elderly neighbor carry her groceries or serving food to the less fortunate at a community soup kitchen.
7 Ways Helping Others Can Benefit Your Mental Health
True acts of generosity are done for the sole purpose of making someone's day or circumstances better. While you shouldn’t expect to benefit from your kindness, acts of charity can boost mental health in these ways:
1. Prevents isolation
Mental health experts warn against isolating yourself away from family members, friends, or the community. Whether you're keeping away because of the COVID-19 pandemic or because you're feeling stressed out, it can affect your mental health. In fact, prolonged social isolation causes feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and depression.
Performing acts of service outside your home means you'll need to get out of the house. Going with a group to help clean up the neighborhood or taking goodies to residents of a homeless shelter puts you in contact with people. The more often you interact with the outside world, the more socially connected and less lonely you'll feel.
2. Promotes feelings of well-being
The concept of “well-being” refers to your mental state at any given time. How you feel, think, behave, and function has a lot to do with your sense of well-being. Stress, a negative mindset, anxiety, and depression can interfere with good well-being.
There's evidence that performing acts of kindness has positive effects on well-being. Researchers confirmed that random acts of kindness can boost the well-being of not only the giver but also the receiver. Imagine how one generous act a day can leave you feeling persistently satisfied and more optimistic about life.
3. Enhances your mood
Have you ever done something good for someone when you're feeling down? It's difficult to offer help when you're not in the best of mood. But getting out of your zone to provide assistance shifts your attention from your worries to the activity at hand.
You may notice you feel less stressed. In a scientific report on health, happiness, and helping others, the researchers noted that the benefits of generosity are especially clear when the givers, themselves, are experiencing stress or hardship.
4. Increases your sense of self-worth
Poor self-image, low self-esteem, and a sense of unworthiness can negatively affect your relationships and reduce your quality of life. Those who feel unworthy may engage in relationships with people who bully, control, or take advantage of them. These experiences can create stress and anxiety, deepen feelings of unworthiness, or trigger depression.
Contributing to the lives of strangers can help you to feel needed, respected, appreciated, and more self-confident. Witnessing the expressions of satisfaction and joy on the faces of those who benefit from your kindness might add meaning to your life.
5. Helps you cope
High resilience and social support enable you to better cope with life challenges or mental health disorders. Without them, many people resort to poor coping or self-harming behaviors like impulsive shopping sprees, random unprotected sex, gambling, alcohol drinking, or drug abuse. The goal is to try and feel better or numb out emotional pain.
In reality, maladaptive ways of coping with issues like stress, anxiety, or depression can lead to substance abuse and addiction. Helping your loved ones or friends with a task engages you in activities that are productive. You'll feel happy afterward instead of that sense of guilt and shame often associated with poor coping behaviors.
6. Can Prevent depression
Research indicates that consistently helping others leads to less depression, better health, and longevity, among other benefits. Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders next to anxiety. Symptoms include mood changes, sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness.
Depressed people tend to isolate themselves and lose interest in pleasurable activities. Getting outdoors to perform acts of kindness exposes you to daylight and connects you to people. Sunlight has been shown to regulate mood and sleep. Meanwhile, increased social connection reduces isolation and loneliness and provides an overall sense of well-being.
7. Gives a sense of purpose
People tend to be happier with themselves and experience better relationships when they feel their life means something. Even as an adult, you may struggle to find the meaning of life. You wonder if you're a misfit or whether you're living with purpose. These thoughts can create doubts or leave you feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with your existence. Helping family members get over their difficulties or continuously providing charitable services might make you feel as if this is your life's purpose.
Happy to Help?
Yes! That's usually the passionate response of those who are familiar with the joy that comes from giving. Don't be afraid of being a do-gooder. When you act sincerely for the benefit of others, you pay it forward and nurture your mental health all at once.
Andrea Poteet-Bell Sunshine Behavioral Health Editor|Author|Content Writer