When we’re feeling stressed out and lonely, one of the best things we can do is to help someone else. Research shows that volunteering boosts physical health, mental wellness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and happiness. Helping others provides us with a sense of purpose and meaning. It also might lower symptoms of depression and psychological distress. And it might even help us to live longer.
In short, it feels good to help out. In fact, experts have a name for the positive emotions that arise after we’ve helped someone: the “helper’s high.”
But what does helping look like during a time like this, when many of us feel isolated and overwhelmed?
In Choose Hope, Take Action: A Journal to Inspire and Empower, artist and author Lori Roberts shares many wonderful prompts and ideas for making a difference and effecting positive change. Here are eight simple prompts to help you get started:
- Explore the gifts you’d like to share with the world by jotting down your strengths, skills, and experience.
- List five random and not-so-random acts of kindness you can do this week. For example, surprise a loved one with pizza delivery or a gift card to a local bakery. Send a card of hope to a child in foster care. Send thank-you cards to your local hospital, fire station, or police station. Send a thank-you card to your children’s teacher. Buy groceries for an elderly neighbor who lives alone. Leave a bouquet of flowers on your best friend’s doorstep. Write a review for your favorite book, restaurant, yoga studio, or mom-and-pop shop. Greet grocery store staff and say “thank you.”
- As you go about your day, pay attention to what frustrates or resonates with you. For example, maybe a piece on mental health in veterans stays with you or you notice a lack of domestic violence resources in your community. Let this be a clue into how you’d like to help.
- Don’t go it alone. Think about a loved one who might want to join you in your volunteering efforts. What causes are you both interested in? How can you challenge each other?
- Brainstorm five ways you can make life less difficult for the people around you. Listen closely to their concerns and complaints. Can you offer a solution, a helping hand, or simply your full attention?
- Honor a loved one who’s passed away by donating or volunteering to a cause they were passionate about.
- Match your efforts to your personality and preferences. For instance, if you’re an introvert, instead of calling your representative, you might prefer to sign a petition, write an op-ed, or create a piece of art.
- Think about the values that are most important to you. Then create a personal manifesto based on these prompts: I stand for… I believe in … I promise to … I will work for …
When life feels hard, we tend to put our heads down and go into survival mode. We try not to take on any extra responsibilities or commitments. It’s just too overwhelming, mentally and emotionally. And that’s OK. Do whatever feels supportive.
But if you’d like to be of service, remember that small acts go a long way in helping others feel better, and that includes you, too.