Giving others a small helping hand is a surprisingly effective way to deal with everyday stressors, a new study finds.
Dr Emily Ansell, a clinical psychologist who led the study, said:
“Our research shows that when we help others we can also help ourselves.
Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days.”
So when stressed, it may feel like we need the help of others, rather than providing help to others.
But being a little proactive can benefit the self.
For the research 77 adults between the ages of 18 and 44 reported on their daily lives over two weeks.
Each day they listed stressful events and any times they’d given others a little helping hand.
Small things like opening a door or just asking someone if they needed help were included.
The results showed helping others helped buffer people’s emotions against stress and made them feel happier.
Dr Ansell said:
“It was surprising how strong and uniform the effects were across daily experiences.
For example, if a participant did engage in more prosocial behaviors on stressful days there was essentially no impact of stress on positive emotion or daily mental health.
And there was only a slight increase in negative emotion from stress if the participant engaged in more prosocial behaviors.”
Perhaps the findings could be helpful at this time of year, Dr Ansell said:
“The holiday season can be a very stressful time, so think about giving directions, asking someone if they need help, or holding that elevator door over the next month.
It may end up helping you feel just a little bit better.”
The next stage is to run an experiment telling people to engage in more prosocial beheviours and see how that influences mood, Dr Ansell said:
“This would help clarify whether prescribing prosocial behaviors can be used as a potential intervention to deal with stress, particularly in individuals who are experiencing depressed mood or high acute stress.”
The study was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science (Raposa et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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