” Give to others “. Sound like Sunday school advice? But giving to others is now one of the five “Steps to Mental Well-Being” recommended by the UK’s National Health Service . “Acts like volunteering at your local community center can improve your mental well-being,” states the NHS website. It may be true? Is giving to others really a worthwhile intervention to improve your mood?

Five ways giving to others improves your mood

According to a recent research project at Exeter Medical School that collected evidence from 40 different studies over the past 20 years, yes. They also concluded that volunteering led to lower depression and greater well-being.

But how does it help? What exactly does volunteering do that can make you feel better?

1. Giving to others involves the power of social connection

Despite our modern lives that seem focused on the “cult of self,” humans are social animals that need interaction to flourish. Without this, you risk feeling misunderstood, severe loneliness, and low self-confidence. In fact, a lack of social connection has been shown to cause depression.

Volunteering, on the other hand, allows us to interact with others in valuable ways and to be appreciated.

And the sense of connection that volunteering creates could help your depression in a surprising way if you’re already in therapy. The previous study also found that the more connected you felt, the more likely you were to get results from your therapy sessions.

2. Helping others can create a change in thought patterns

Depression causes increasingly negative thoughts known as “thinking errors” or “cognitive distortions” in psychology.

These thoughts can be debilitating. According to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), this is because they start a cycle. Thoughts create feelings and bodily sensations that trigger actions. And if you’re depressed, this action could be sitting on the couch all day feeling like you don’t have the energy to do anything, or it could be a negative action, like telling your best friend to leave, which sends you into a still situation. more low.

Volunteering gets you up and out the door and taking positive action: helping others. CBT believes that pushing ourselves into more positive action like this is a way to break the cycle of negative thoughts and low moods, a method known as ‘behavioral intervention’.

Giving to others also has the added benefit of shifting your focus , even if it’s just for an hour or more. This means that you get a much-needed break from your negative thoughts and you might even find yourself experiencing positive thoughts (I enjoy helping this other person, I have sharing skills that I didn’t even know I had, my life isn’t really that bad, etc). And positive thoughts like these can shift your cycle of thoughts, emotions, and actions into an upward spiral, rather than downward.

3. Volunteering changes your perspective

Look at the image above. Do you see? An old woman or a young woman? Both are there, pending in your personal perspective.

And life can be the same: sometimes all you need to do is change the angle in which you are looking at things (your perspective) and new and more positive thoughts, as well as better opportunities open to you.

However, when you are depressed, it can be very difficult to feel motivated to change your perspective on your own. Your thinking can feel so confusing that it is almost impossible.

Volunteering does the work for you, showing you different perspectives on life by having you interact with people you may not meet and learning how they see and live their lives. This can cause a natural change in the way you see and live yours. It could rather be a change of perspective on yourself like, “I have useful skills to share,” “I can really change the lives of others,” “I have more power than I realized.”

4. Giving to others has been linked to increased self-esteem

In a comprehensive review of volunteering in the UK there was a prevalence of people reporting that it had raised their self-esteem.

More research needs to be done on why this is so, although logic would say that volunteering can teach you new skills, improve the ones you already have, help you feel useful and recognize your internal resources, give you more purpose, and also improve your interrelation with others. the rest. All of which are meant to help your confidence.

And the better you feel about yourself, the more you see your true worth, the harder it will be to feel depressed.

5. Volunteering leads to better overall health

The connection between mind and body is suspected for a long time. In a way, it’s logical: we all feel grumpy when we’re sick, and if we’re in better health, it’s easier to be in a better mood. So can feeling good giving to others increase physical health?

A four-year study [¹] conducted at Carnegie Mellon University in adults over the age of 50 who volunteered, found that those who volunteered for 200 hours or more per year were less likely to develop high blood pressure and more likely to enjoy psychological well-being.

But what came first, wellness or better health? It is difficult for studies to unpack, and more evidence is required. But perhaps the question really should be, why not volunteer and enjoy better levels of both?

As a bonus, volunteering is also thought to not only reduce stress, but also increase longevity. Do you remember the summary of the research done at the University of Exeter? They also reported a 22 percent reduction in the risk of dying.

Don’t have time to volunteer?

You don’t have to sign up for a community program to give your time and energy to others. There is nothing wrong with doing small acts of generosity in your daily life.

As the NHS puts it, “Even the smallest act can count, be it a smile, a thank you or a kind word.”

From taking a few minutes to talk to the woman who works at your local grocery store or the homeless man in front of your workplace, to dedicating yourself to smiling at a stranger every day, how can you offer some of your time and energy to others regularly?

Have you seen a positive result in your mood as a volunteer? Share below and inspire others.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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