Traffic, work, bills, broken fridge… daily life can be overwhelming at times—and even more so during the holiday hustle and bustle. If you’re looking to feel some cheer amidst all the stress, all you need to do is show a little kindness toward friends and strangers, and this is according to science.
A study published this month in Clinical Psychological Science suggests a dose of helpful support for others helps you cope with your own stress, boosting your mood and level of positive emotions. To figure this out, 77 adults reported their daily stressful events for 14 days, as well as any instances when they performed “helpful behaviors” like assisting someone with schoolwork and opening a door (it just takes a second!). They also rated their mental health for that day.
Not only did the “helpful people” have a higher sense of well-being, but the effect was also cumulative, as more helping resulted in higher scores in daily positive emotion and better mental health—with no drop in good feelings when the day got stressful. On the other hand, those reporting “low helping behavior” indicated lower positive emotions scores and higher feelings of stress that day.
Performing acts of kindness, such as doing a roommate’s dishes or donating to a charity, can also relieve anxiety in social situations. Researchers say that good deeds help us anticipate more positive responses from people, which helps lessen fear of rejection. In fact, when we even witness a moment of generosity, it creates something researchers call “moral elevation,” which lowers our stress levels.
During this holiday season, keep your eye out for opportunities to perk up someone else’s mood, like taking time to say hello to a store clerk or volunteering one weekend afternoon. It’s clear that when we help others, we also help ourselves.