Lending A Helping Hand Might Help When You’re Stressed

Lending A Helping Hand Might Help When You’re Stressed

by Marissa Kushner, Ph.D., Georgetown Psychology Associates

For many of us, we strive for balance among the demands of multiple roles and responsibilities. Consequently, navigating life’s daily stress becomes a part of the routine. While our body’s response to acute stress can be adaptive (particularly when faced with actual threat), chronic activation of the stress response system results in increased risk for several negative physical and emotional outcomes. As such, identifying effective methods to reduce stress, and its associated consequences, is critical.  Interestingly, research has suggested that helping others and engaging in prosocial behavior may mitigate the negative impact of stress.

In a recent article in Clinical Psychological Science, Emily Ansell and colleagues published findings about how engaging in prosocial behavior (in naturalistic settings) impacted adults’ response to daily stressors. Interestingly, Ansell and colleagues found that engaging in prosocial behavior toward strangers and acquaintances (e.g., asking someone if they need help, helping someone with schoolwork) buffered the negative impact of stress on individuals’ mood and mental health.

Notably, the authors acknowledged that it currently is unknown how engagement in prosocial behavior decreases the negative outcomes associated with stress.  However, what is clear is that helping others, even those with whom we do not have a close relationship, is a way to protect ourselves from the adverse impacts of stress.  As we close the door on 2016, hopefully we can reflect on the year ahead and increase our efforts to take better care of ourselves and those around us by incorporating small acts of kindness into our 2017 daily routines.