Good news! A little altruism may leave you feeling less anxious and more relaxed. Early research has found a correlation between oxytocin boosts and volunteering.
“Providing help or support to others buffers the associations between stress and physical health,” wrote researchers Poulin and Holman.
Oxytocin in a multifacted hormone that’s primarily responsible for labor contractions and milk release, but has also been nicknamed the ‘cuddle hormone’ because of its release when people are snuggling or bonding socially, according to LiveScience.
Spending time with others in a way that’s especially selfless to you and valuable to the recipient provides a lot of healthy benefit to the brain and body overall. Author Elizabeth Svoboda explained this to the Wall Street Journal, saying that some theories and research point to humans having a “generosity gene” and that we’re “hard-wired to act selflessly.”
She noted one MRI-based study that found when we’re presented with donor opportunities, the “reward” center of our brains responds similarly as it does to food or sex, showing that giving to others gives us a bit of a rush. Our brains see donating or giving to others as a gift to ourselves.
“Altruistic and selfless people tend to view everyone around them just as fellow human beings, you see everyone around you and everyone you meet like part of your family and feel a responsibility to them and help them out,” explained Svoboda, author of What Makes a Hero: Surprising Science of Selflessness.
Another study found that (in adults older than age 50) after volunteering at least 200 hours, subjects experienced greater increases in psychological well-being and physical activity, and they were less likely to develop hypertension.
So what can you do for others that’s going to gift your mental and emotional health right back? Really...anything!
Local schools are a great example of a place that needs more support than you can imagine, and can be very rewarding!
- Share your Box Tops; they’re worth 10¢ each and can add up to thousands of dollars.
- Tutor after school.
- Join the PTA and donate time at fundraising events.
- Volunteer during class parties, recess, or craft sessions as an extra pair of eyes and hands.
- Pay off outstanding lunch accounts.
Here are some other places that always need a little extra love and support through donations of money, time, or other resources:
- Animal shelters
- Women’s shelters
- Homeless shelters
- Food kitchens and food banks
- Nursing homes
- Health clinics
- Children’s hospitals
- 5Ks and marathons
- Crowd-source donation sites (DonorsChoose, Kiva, GoFundMe)
And don’t overlook all of those everyday opportunities for random acts of kindness; they’re like quick hits of feel-good boost!