One of the psychological truism that you can often hear is that the best way to help yourself is to help others. Now, while this does sound nice, and while helping others is an overall good thing, is the former statement really true? After all, helping others often entails emotional, physical, and financial sacrifice. So, is helping others truly beneficial for us? Well, let’s take a closer look at how helping others affects our brain, and how we should approach it.
How helping others affects our brain
Every action we take in our daily lives has an effect on our brains. Whether we sleep badly, drink, eat, read or exercise. All of those actions affect our brains in more ways than I can number. Therefore, it should come as little surprise that helping others has a tremendous effect on our brains.
Now, describing the full effect of helping others can be a little tricky. There have been numerous psychological studies over the years that have gone in-depth to show the effect that helping others has on our brains. But, the results of those studies require a degree of phycological terminology that most people aren’t versed at. So, to keep things simple, we are going to go over the biggest effects that helping has on our brains.
Secretion of serotonin
To put it simply, helping others makes us happier. Numerous studies have shown that when people help others and see the results of doing so, serotonin starts kicking in. Serotonin is a hormone that is closely related to the feeling of joy, ease, and wellbeing. Alongside serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are also secreted when you help someone. The mixture of them is, essentially, what affects your brain. Therefore, by helping people around you, you are bound to feel a sense of joy and the easing of pain. For instance, if your friend or a family member is feeling slightly depressed or sad, you can help them refresh the living space since everything starts from the place where we spend most of our time. In 2020 many turned their living spaces into home offices, so refreshment can be very useful for them.
Lowering blood pressure
Another way in which helping others affects our brain is by lowering our blood pressure. Studies have shown when we help others, our blood pressure self-regulates. This happens throughout our bodies and even goes up to our brains. This, among others, is the reason why helping people reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Giving a sense of purpose
This one may seem difficult to quantify, but multiple studies have shown that helping others gives a person a sense of purpose. After all, helping others is in our nature. We, as a species, wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t help one another. Therefore, it stands to reason that by helping others you are bound to feel valuable. Only once you help them, be they family, friends, or strangers, will you truly feel that your life has a positive effect. And trust me when I tell you that no amount of money can substitute that feeling.
What to keep in mind when helping others
Now that you know how helping others affects your brain, you might feel motivated to go out there and help someone. While this is commendable, there are a couple of things that you should keep in mind. After all, just like “The best way to help yourself is to help others” is true, so is that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”. Make sure that you know the person you are trying to help and that you practice what you preach. For example, if you are helping someone renovate their home, it is important to do it right. Help them find a handyman that they need and give recommendations for storage where they can keep their stuff while the work is in progress.
When to start helping others
One of the most common mistakes people make is to try to help others when their help wasn’t needed. This is what mothers usually do for their kids, which is only doing them a disservice in the long run. So, if you want to help, first find a place where your help is needed. Even if you think you have a friend that could desperately use your help, don’t push. Offer a hand. If they say that they don’t want it, don’t presume that you know better. You can very easily do more harm than good. And your desire to help others can easily be misconstrued as butting in. So, only help others if they want your help.
Do it in person
The second thing to remember is to do it in person. While donating something online can feel good, it’s hardly the same as doing something in person. Now look, I’m not making the case that online donations are not a good thing. Some of them do a wonderful job of helping people in need. But, if you really want to experience how helping others affects our brain, you need to help directly. Only by having physical contact with the person, you are helping can you truly feel why helping someone is so powerful. And, the more emotional your help becomes, the better you will feel that you were able to provide it. So, always help in person if possible. If the friend you are helping needs someone to transport the furniture they bought at a yard sale – you should be the one to offer transport instead of hiring someone else to do so.
You can go overboard
And the final thing to keep in mind when helping others is that you can go overboard. Remember, help is there to pull a person out of a bad situation. Not to give them a crutch to lean on for the rest of their lives. So, once you see that your help is no longer having an effect, stop helping. Even if it feels bad. There are people that will try to take advantage of our desire to help them. They might be so used to people helping them that they don’t even see it as a bad thing. So, do yourself a favor and carefully consider when is the right time to stop helping. At a certain point, you will be doing more harm than good.