If you’re feeling your stress level rise, hit pause and do a good deed.
Research has found that helping others can reduce stress. For stressed out family caregivers this might be more of a “Hunh?” moment than an “Aha!” moment. Yet study after study shows a connection between helping someone and reducing stress.
Show Me the Science
A 2015 report by an expert from the Yale Stress Center (authored by Emily Ansell, Elizabeth Raposa and Holly Laws) discovered that lending a helping hand has benefits to the giver and not just the receiver.
“Results showed that on a given day, prosocial behavior buffered the negative effects of naturally occurring stressors on emotional well-being,” the report abstract states.
These do not have to be grand gestures, but simple kindnesses such as holding the door for someone or returning a lost item to its owner. It wasn’t just that these acts decreased feelings of stress, the report found, but that there was a less negative reaction to stress on the days when they were able to perform an act of random kindness.
Another study published by the American Psychological Association focused on spousal caregivers. While accounting for caregiver stress and burnout, the study authors (Michael J. Poulin, et al.) found that for some caregivers there is a positive benefit. “…providing active help may lead caregivers to appraise the caregiving context in a more positive light. By providing such help, caregivers may be more likely to view caregiving as an opportunity for them to grow…Second, the opportunity to provide active help may lead to the experience of positive emotions such as love and empathy.”
Let’s Do This
Caring and nurturing is part of being human and therefore creates a positive benefit within us—like a reward for being a caregiver.
It’s important to note with all of these studies is that they involve individuals and particularly in the spousal caregiving study, it became evident that the positive effects had largely to do with the relationship dynamic that previously existed, as well as what type of care was needed.
One catch is that it takes a degree of selflessness to make time to help others, essentially putting aside your own needs for a minute (holding open a door) or years on end (living with someone who requires 24-hour care due to an illness) in order to be there for someone else. Experts recommend that family caregivers not lose themselves in providing care and risk their own health so balance is essential to reaping any good feelings.
The bottom line is that when you help someone else, it can be good for them and for you too. However, if it is a long term care relationship, find the sweet spot that allows caring for yourself too.