While many of us feel rundown, too stressed out or busy to worry about helping others with their problems, doing so can add years to your life and life to your years. Its hard to battle a chronic illness as many of my patients with fibro do, getting out of bed each day may be a struggle. To imply that helping others, especially when you feel like you need help, can seem condescending. I assure you this is not my intent. I’ve been treating fibromyalgia patients for almost a decade and half, and know all to well, how life draining this disease can be. However, helping others, less fortunate, helps your health in many ways. It can be hard to think about others when you feel so bad. “How could anyone have it any worse than I do?” Trust me many do. There will always be someone less fortunate.
I have patients who have severe physical limitations, yet they make time to volunteer, and they report they feel better both physically and mentally for doing so. And the studies show they are correct.
A recent survey from Great Britain says, “Volunteering can be counted on to keep you smiling.” The poll indicated “being happy” as the main reason for volunteering at 42%, “being connected” as the next popular reason at 38%. While ahead of being “employed” (5%), “good” (5%) and “healthy” (3%),” was, “I volunteer to help me be sexy” (7%).
Here are some ways that helping others helps you:
Promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness. Many studies show that volunteering helps overcome depression. Isolation is a risk factor for depression. Volunteering provides a social network; this connection with others develops a support system. In turn, this support helps protect against the effects of stress and depression during difficult times. 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
It brings a sense of belonging and reduces isolation
When battling a chronic illness it is easy to become with dawn, isolated from the rest of the world. Being a part of a social network leads to a feeling of belonging. Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at your church or local United Way, can help reduce loneliness and isolation.
It helps to keep things in perspective
Helping others in need, especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, can provide a real sense of perspective and make you realize how lucky you are. Again your life may be bleak, but there are others who have it worse. Many people don’t realize the strong impact that their comparisons have on their outlook. However, your expectations of life and the people you compare yourself to can make a real difference in your level of life satisfaction. For example, your home may seem small, dated or drab to you if you’re comparing it to the living rooms you see in the pages of decorating magazines, or it may seem palatial and opulent compared to the structures inhabited by people in third world countries countries. Helping others in need, especially those who are less fortunate than you, can provide you with a sense of perspective on how fortunate you are to have what you do in life — be it health, money, or a safe place to sleep, and help you focus less on the things you feel you lack. Helping others with their problems can also help you gain a more positive perspective on the things in life that cause you stress.
Realizing that yes you do have something to be grateful for, a roof over your head, warm meals, clean clothes, etc. allows you to distance yourself from negative thoughts of lack or defeat.
Helping others 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.
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 boost our overall health.
Helping others 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.