It might seem like a small thing, but helping someone can have a big impact on your life and your mental health as well.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 29, 2020. It has since been updated.
Showing up to help a family member, rearranging your schedule so that you can be there for your neighbor, or lending a hand to that colleague who really needs it; that's your way of always being kind to the people around you. Even when it's difficult, you try to think of the needs of the people around you. Thanks to your kind heart, your mind and body are benefitting in these ways.
Being there for someone has a marvelous effect on your brain. The findings of two studies, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, found that when people helped someone, certain parts of the brain get activated. By helping others, you're helping yourself because these areas are referred to as the "reward centers" of your brain, according to Healthline. You feel stronger social connections and less stressed as a result of this.
“Humans are born especially vulnerable and dependent on others,” explained Tristen Inagaki, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology who led both studies at the University of Pittsburgh. “As a result, we require a prolonged period of intense caregiving following birth in order to survive.”
Helping others showed a decreased activity in those regions of your brain that play a role in responding to stress through blood pressure and inflammation. As you take the time and effort to lend a hand to someone regularly, it leaves you with a number of health benefits to enjoy. Dr. Inagaki said, “The same mechanisms that ensure giving to others may also contribute to the long-term health effects we see from giving.”
Marianna Pogosyan Ph.D., an intercultural consultant specializing in the psychology of cross-cultural transitions, explained in an article for Psychology Today that being helpful to someone can make you happier, as it activates the same kind of response in your brain as monetary rewards or physical intimacy does.
The benefits of choosing to help someone around you has other benefits on your mental well-being as well. One study in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) also found that it could reduce the symptoms of depression. As you show your support to someone else, it can be the best way for you to get rid of any negative feelings that you have, and protect you from the symptoms of depression especially if you volunteer regularly, as pointed out by HelpGuide. That one act of kindness you show someone else can get rid of feelings of anger and anxiety for yourself, and replace them with peace of mind.
When you have a sense of purpose or meaning in life, it can be the key to living a longer life. And being ready to help others is one thing that can add meaning to life, according to a study published on Taylor & Francis Online. What's more is that when you help others find their way through turbulent times, you too gain the emotional strength to deal with similar situations more effectively, if they come your way. A study in SAGE journals found that when you help others handle their emotions, you help yourself understand how to handle emotions as well. This way, you don't become easily hurt when life throws a challenge at you; you don't easily lose hope when things don't go your way.
Being your kind and generous self also makes you feel better connected to others, according to Mental Health America (MHA). This can strengthen the relationships in your life and thus lead to happier living. As you feel connected, you are less likely to feel lonely, consequently decreasing your risk of having high blood pressure. Having strong social relationships is also a factor for longer life.
Don't be mistaken. Helping need not be about volunteering every Sunday at shelters. It could even be saying hello to a stranger, cooking your partner his favorite meal, or checking up on your loved ones to make sure they are okay. Just making someone else feel special can have a big impact on the other person and on your own health as well.
So give yourself a pat on the back for being conscious and sensitive about the needs of people around you. And don't let anything change the kind and considerate person that you are. With time, it will be the secret to your good health and happy life.