3 Reasons Why Helping Others Can Help Your Depression
Have you ever noticed your emotional focus during depression? Depression focus happens to be very centered on yourself and your problems, which is normal, but this preoccupation with our well-being can become selfish and obsessive if not overcome.
Whether or not we can help the issue causing depression, whether it’s in the past or present, it’s very easy to engage in self-pity by dwelling on it. In the case of wounds, sometimes we need to avoid the cause altogether to heal, but sometimes that isn’t possible. Even after one seeks healing with therapy, there is still the lingering effect of depression that needs help.
What To Do About It?
What can be a healthy method of self-treatment? Something not selfish and not self-centered, like physically assisting others, especially those worse off than yourself.
When I was volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in downtown Los Angeles, part of my service outreach was interacting with sheltered single pregnant women. All of these women had been through terrible experiences, and they all struggled with degrees of loneliness and depression.
I noticed that the women who made progress in their emotional health were the ones who made efforts to be cheerful and kind and did things for the other women, while always trying to look on the bright side. Whereas the ones who were more depressed usually kept to themselves and didn’t try to push themselves out of the comfort zone of their melancholy.
The women who made progress in their emotional health were the ones who made efforts to be cheerful and kind and did things for the other women.
In assisting others in need, you can:
1. Put your attention on someone else’s problems instead of on your own.
One young woman told me how she had struggled for years with depression, even to a suicidal degree. When she was seeking different therapy for emotional stabilization, one outlet that helped her to feel better was helping at a children’s shelter because she was able to forget about her problems and be herself around the simple children without feeling any judgment or social pressure.
2. Get that natural dopamine effect with an enhanced sense of confidence and self-worth in feeling good about helping someone else feel better.
In her research on prosocial behavior (practicing acts of kindness for others in the world), Dr. Katherine Nelson at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, suggests that, instead of wallowing in self-pity and treating yourself with things, which will not make you feel better, practicing acts of kindness boosts your mood and overall well-being rather than “retail therapy.”
As she points out, “this is important because people are often encouraged to ‘treat themselves’ as a way to feel good, yet our findings suggest that the best way to feel happy is to treat someone else instead.”
People are often encouraged to ‘treat themselves’ as a way to feel good, yet our findings suggest that the best way to feel happy is to treat someone else instead.
Posted in the Medical Daily, Nelson’s studies showed that participants who performed acts of kindness, whether for the world or others, were more likely to report feeling happy and in an elevated mood than were those who were just kind to themselves. In fact, those who treated themselves did not see any improvement in well-being or positive emotions.
From the theory that giving produces endorphins that mimic a morphine high, performing kindnesses helps boost your psychological health by activating the release of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain, a.k.a. the “helper’s high.” According to Nelson, generosity can help you as much as it does those receiving your help.
Performing kindnesses helps boost your psychological health by activating the release of dopamine
3. Feel grateful for blessings you have when faced with others’ hardships, or looking for “the silver lining.”
A young mother who had been abused, using drugs, and was homeless, related how she always tried to count her blessings and be grateful for what she did have. She said she could have it a lot worse and that others were much worse off than she was. This positive attitude tremendously helped her emotional state and ability to fight obsessive depression.
Caring for others is good in itself, makes you feel good, and improves your relationships even if you don’t struggle with depression. However, whether by mentoring or comforting a friend, or volunteering with service work to the needy, helping others specifically helps depression because it reorients a self-centered concentration from one’s own problems onto a selfless, outside focus.