How Helping Others Benefits Your Mental Health

 

Addiction, anxiety, and depression can be all-consuming and enslaving. When I was spending every night, isolated in my room, indulging in opiates and vodka - my entire world hyper-focused and revolved around my pain. 

 

It was certainly not the life I was choosing - or so I thought. My messy head was tortuous, chaotic, and I felt absolutely powerless against it. All of my thoughts were amplified extensions of:

 

“You are never going to be enough and you are unworthy of love and happiness.”

 

I did not want to be a selfish, manipulative, self-loathing mess - but I was.  I became everything I swore I would never be. I drank to escape the self-deprecating loop. It’s not surprising that I couldn’t manage to put together 24 hours sober. 

 

My anxiety was seemingly insurmountable and sobriety seemed utterly impossible for me. The common denominator was - everything revolved around me. It wasn’t until I decided to abandon my old ideas and welcome the ideas put before me that life began to take on a whole new meaning. 

 

Here are a few benefits of helping others.

 

Helping Others Can Help You Live Longer.

Want to capitalize on your lifespan? Consider regularly assisting at your local homeless shelter of coaching a sport at an inner-city school. Research has proven that these types of volunteer activities can improve overall health and wellbeing. This type of volunteer work has been proven to lower stress, decrease the likelihood of disease, reduce depression rates, and increase an overall sense of purpose. Volunteering alleviates loneliness, prevents isolation, and enhances our social interactions. When I am of service to others, I am not focused on myself or my seemingly overwhelming problems. It’s hard to be depressed and anxious when you are helping others and witnessing the direct benefits of your service.

 

Compassion is Contagious.

I’m sure you’ve heard the trendy service act of “pay it forward” - the altruistic act of doing something kind for someone else and only asking that they pass the kindness on to the next person. Compassion is contagious - a chain reaction of other compassionate acts. Studies have shown that people are more likely to be generous after observing someone else doing the same. I remember when I first walked into detox, I was sitting along during a caseload group when a girl approached me. She offered me a cigarette and companionship. It wasn’t long before I was surrounded by multiple girls offering cigarettes and an ear to listen. This effect can ripple through communities and inspire others to make a difference.

 

Helping Others Cultivates Happiness.

Altruism contributes to the release of dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter). Many people refer to this connection as a “helper’s high.” This was originated from the theory that suggests acts of service produce endorphins in the brain that mimic a morphine high. One study, involving nearly 500 participants, encouraged individuals to perform random acts of kindness. Prior to the experiment and six weeks after the individuals were asked to fill out a survey to assess their psychological, emotional, and social well-being. The findings revealed that the individuals who helped others reported to be much happier and an improvement in overall mood.

 

Helping Others Propels a Sense of Purpose.

Before I got sober and really started to address my mental health disorders, I spent every second of my day in total self-pity. Every thought centered around how “horrible” my life was and I truly had no sense of purpose. I began to self destruct and I was of no use to myself or anyone else - or so I thought. Once I got sober and began discussing my PTSD and addiction, I got more involved in my recovery community. This was followed up by speaking about my struggles and helping other women that were just like me. Never in my life have I experienced a greater sense of purpose than when I am sitting down with another woman and exchanging vulnerable experiences as I share my hope with them.  When we help others, we begin to feel a sense of belonging and purpose. 

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