How Helping Others Can Help You

By Laura Greenstein | Dec. 16, 2016

 

Right before my grandmother died, a cascade of negative events happened to me all at once. Verbal abuse, sexual harassment, health problems—I had a lot to handle. I also had a bad habit of letting my thoughts go wherever they wanted. It was especially a problem during my walk to work every morning. I would put my ear buds in and drown out my surroundings. With no distractions, I would ruminate about everything going wrong in my life.

These thoughts would always start with check-ins or inventories I would perform with myself as I walked.  If I didn’t feel “like myself,” or if I felt sad or anxious (or both), then I would ask myself: “What is making me feel this way?” In my effort to answer that question, the ruminations would start:

Why couldn’t I sleep last night? Am I going to be tired all day? Will coffee be enough to wake me up? Will I be able to focus on my work? Will I feel less sad when I get to work? Will work make me feel worse? Do I have to go?

It was a 30-minute walk filled with nothing but music and negative thoughts.

The Benefits of Helping Others

After my grandmother’s funeral, I decided to call my mom during my walk to work. I wanted to make sure she was okay and provide her with a listening ear. Regardless of what I had going on (on top of losing my grandmother), I knew my mom needed my support. She seemed audibly brightened by the fact that I called her, and she thanked me at the end of our conversation. I wanted to continue helping her through this difficult time, so this phone call became our daily routine.

Every time we spoke, I didn’t worry about my own grief and anxiety—instead, I focused on my mom. My ruminations stopped before they even had the chance to begin; they were replaced by my efforts to make my mom feel better, smile and laugh during her period of grief. And I didn’t realize it until much later, but those calls were exactly what I needed as well. Through that daily process, I was healing.

A 2016 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine found that giving had greater benefits than receiving. Participants in the study who gave help showed reduced stress and increased feelings of reward in their brain imaging. This research points to the conclusion that when you help others, you’re also helping yourself.

Some of us might not need a study to prove that. I know for me, my mom taught me the importance of helping others long ago. She used to say the easiest way to be happy is to do at least one mitzvah (Hebrew for “act of kindness”) every day. But through helping my mom, so many years later, I was able to realize the validity of her words. My daily calls, my “acts of kindness,” helped me move past the internal struggles I was waging.

A Symbiotic Society

Helping other people can improve your self-esteem and make you feel better about yourself, since you are taking time and energy to have a positive impact on someone else. And receiving help from someone can be a positive motivator to then turn around and help someone else. The impact of one person helping another person, therefore, could benefit a whole chain of individuals. Just imagine how the world would be if people started using helping others as a primary coping mechanism for their own struggles. We could potentially live in a symbiotic culture of reciprocated support—a culture that brings people together and builds stronger relationships.

I know my mom and I became even closer than we were when I helped her:

“I was on the edge of a cliff, and you were my life line” my mom said to me about a month-and-a-half after my grandmother died. “You were the only person I could really talk to. You were my emotional support daughter. I don’t know where I would be if not for you.”

“I’m glad I was able to help you, Mom. But if I’m being honest, being there for you helped me too.” 

Comments
Fiona macdonald
Through muit breavements anti siocal niegbours and caring for my mother who had demmittia I got depressed and diagniosed with bipolar. Yet I found helping at my day centre in the kitchens a great blessing. I have tried to volteer with people with demmittia but my bipolar was an issue. Stymia and all that. Yet when I can I enjoy helping even though it does not change my diagnsis or the daily battle with depression . however I know that I enjoy helping others and that I can make a difference even it is just giving bag of teabags to the food bank.
1/4/2017 8:59:41 AM

Brenda ballard
Your story help me, trying to help a friend of mine, who is currently in a state hospital and trying to find someone who can help me to help her.
12/27/2016 7:34:50 PM

Steven Preiss
This was so good to hear. I've been feeling the calling for some time to make the regular helping of others part of my life. Both of my parents devoted large portions of their lives to social issues, sometimes at the immediate expense of their children. Perhaps this is why I have resisted embracing the calling thus far. But as with every aspect of life, practice in moderation must surely be the ticket.
12/26/2016 2:02:08 PM

coleenmctrevs
Helping other individuals can enhance your self-regard and improve you feel about yourself, since you are requiring some serious energy and vitality to positively affect another person. I am grateful writers who <a href="http://domyhomeworkonline.net/">do my homework</a> as without their assistance my self-esteem would suffer a lot.
12/26/2016 10:25:13 AM

Silvia Brownlow
Thank you so much for your beautiful article. In today's society they teach you that the fast you go and get want you want to reach the better it is. We are forgetting that to open a door, to help the old newboor with the croseries...open our hearts . I think that in the end it is not who arrives first is the person quench's enjoy and grow in the journey. your reading make made that reflection. Great reading. thank you again.
Silvia Brownlow
12/17/2016 5:17:52 AM

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