As I've seen with some of my more giving friends and acquaintances, as I know from research, and as I've experienced in my own life, helping others, altruism and finding meaning in life all have their hand in stress management. While donating your time or unneeded possessions doesn't always solve your problems or ameliorate your stressors, acts of kindness and volunteer work can provide the following effects:
- A good feeling about oneself. Having a positive sense of self can actually help you feel less reactive to stress, and bring more enjoyment to all of your activities.
- A feeling of connection to others. Having a sense of community, a supportive circle of friends and other forms of social support can increase your resilience as well as your longevity and quality of life.
- A sense of meaning and greater purpose in one's life. Having a greater sense of meaning can help stressors seem more manageable, feel less threatening and be less be less likely to trigger your stress response.
- Perspective about one's stressors--others may have greater problems. Having a change of perspective can help your stressors seem much smaller to you, and may help you realize that you have more control in life and more options than you realized.
- A reminder to feel gratitude. When you're feeling more gratitude about what you do have, your whole life feels better, and those things that you lack seem less important, less stressful.
- An opportunity to use one's own unique gifts. Especially if you're battling burnout or in a job that doesn't thrill you, it's important to have outside activities that 'feed your soul', that challenge you in ways that make you feel alive. Often, volunteer opportunities can provide that, while you provide others with gifts that they can really use as well.
- Something to think about other than one's stress! Distraction can be a beautiful thing, and distraction from stress can give your body a chance to recover from chronic stress and feel healthy and calm again.
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