It’s often said that it’s better to give than receive but did you know that this is actually backed up by research?
While many of us feel too stressed and busy to worry about helping others, or say we’ll focus on doing good deeds when we have more ‘spare time’, evidence shows that helping others is actually beneficial for your own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress, improve your emotional wellbeing and even benefit your physical health.
As part of our work to help the nation lead mentally healthy lives, we have produced this guide to show the positive impact that helping others can have on your own mental health, including some tips and suggestions to help you get started. So just take a few minutes, have a read and do something nice for a friend or a stranger today.
What do we mean by the word altruism? In short, altruism is when we put other people’s needs before our own, whether it’s offering your seat to a pregnant woman on a bus or making a cup of tea for a work colleague. And what’s more, evidence shows that helping others can have a positive effect on your own mental health and wellbeing. For example, it can reduce stress as well as improve mood, self-esteem and happiness. There are many different ways that you can help others as part of your everyday life. Carrying out good deeds doesn’t need to take a lot of time or even cost money. Small changes can make a big difference. This guide gives you some ideas and tips to get you started by looking in more detail at:
1. Helping others feels good
When you help others, it promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness.
These rushes are often followed by longer periods of calm and can eventually lead to better wellbeing. Helping others improves social support, encourages us to lead a more physically active lifestyle, distracts us from our own problems, allows us to engage in a meaningful activity and improves our self-esteem and competence.
2. It brings a sense of belonging and reduces isolation
Being a part of a social network leads to a feeling of belonging. Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a drop-in centre can help reduce loneliness and isolation.
3. It helps to keep things in perspective
Many people don’t realise the impact that a different perspective can have on their outlook on life.
Helping others in need, especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, can provide a real sense of perspective and make you realise how lucky you are, enabling you to stop focusing on what you feel you are missing – helping you to achieve a more positive outlook on the things that may be causing you stress.
4. It helps make the world a happier place – it’s contagious!
Acts of kindness have the potential to make the world a happier place. An act of kindness can improve confidence, control, happiness and optimism.
It can also encourage others to repeat the good deed that they’ve experienced themselves – it contributes to a more positive community.
5. The more you do for others, the more you do for yourself
Evidence shows that the benefits of helping others can last long after the act itself by providing a ‘kindness bank’ of memories that can be drawn upon in the future.
1. It reduces stress
Doing things for others helps maintain good health.
Positive emotions reduce stress and boost our immune system, and in turn can protect us against disease.
2. It helps get rid of negative feelings
Negative emotions such as anger, aggression or hostility have a negative impact on our mind and body.
Engaging in random acts of kindness can help decrease these feelings and stabilise our overall health.
3. It can help us live longer
Giving and helping others may increase how long we live.
Studies of older people show that those who give support to others live longer than those who don’t.
Do something you enjoy
If you love to shop, you could take your elderly neighbour or someone who doesn’t get out of the house much with you. If you are a film buff, why not take a friend to the cinema to see a film that you know they would enjoy? And if you enjoy a cuppa, put the kettle on for some friends at the weekend.
Keep others in mind
Although carrying out good deeds for other people can make you feel good, don’t forget to keep in mind why you’re doing it – to put others’ needs before your own. Do something small for someone else just for the sake of it.
Don’t overdo it
Make sure you don’t overdo it! Giving too much or giving beyond your means is bad for your health and wellbeing. It is important to begin small. Helping others doesn’t have to cost you money or take a lot of time – you could start by calling a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or donating a small amount of money monthly to a charity close to your heart.
Keep a good deeds diary
Make a note every time you do something to help other people and every time other people do something for you. Reflect on how they made you feel and write these feelings down.
Volunteering is a great way to do something for others and research shows that it benefits people of all ages through increasing feelings of self-esteem, respect, motivation and wellbeing.
Here are some ideas for how you can get involved:
Mentoring, listening and counselling are all forms of peer support, as are initiatives where colleagues, members of self-help groups and others meet as equals to give each other support.
Supporting your peers by sharing knowledge, experience and emotional help is incredibly valuable. Peers can offer advice, coping strategies and empathy that professionals may not be able to.
Here are some ideas to get you started with mentoring:
Getting involved with a cause that is close to your heart can be hugely beneficial for both the cause you are supporting and your own sense of wellbeing and achievement.
There are tons of other ways you can get involved. Have you thought of these?
Not sure where to start? We’ve put together some suggestions to help you out:
At home and in your community
In public places
Evidence shows that being kind to friends, family and strangers really does improve your emotional and physical wellbeing.
What’s more, the more you do for other people, the more they’ll do for you, and as a result you’ll feel even better. With this in mind, we’re asking you to try and help others once a day for a week and see if it makes a difference to how you feel. Try to keep track of any volunteering that you’ve done, support you’ve given to friends and family or any random acts of kindness that you’ve carried out or that someone has done for you, and make a note of how they made you feel.