Note from Kathleen: It’s that time of year to give and give back. This chapter from my book, 10 Best Ways to Manage Stress, is my gift to you. I hope it will spark some thought for you and maybe give you some ideas to pay it forward.
So I’m asking you to commit to more time? That doesn’t make sense, you’re probably saying.
Actually, it makes perfect sense. Here’s why:
Doing something for someone else always shifts your focus from yourself to something about which you care passionately.
Most people think they have not a spare moment for anything else in their already stress-filled lives, but they find that paying it forward (like in the movie of the same name) actually reaps rewards in terms of increased relaxation, less anxiety and less time pressure.
There’s a zen of chopping veggies at the local soup kitchen a couple of hours a week or walking dogs for your incapacitated neighbor or reading to kids in a day-care center.
There’s also the good feeling of doing something for someone who is appreciative of your efforts and of sharing your energies with someone who needs help.
“Yes, but . . .” I hear you say. “There’s still the time issue.”
Can you cut out some activities that are not as important to put in a small commitment that impassions you? The rewards will make it well worthwhile. Is it really necessary to fully clean your house each week? Will a lick and a promise do the trick? Maybe you could give up an hour or two of Facebook time. . . .
Can you combine a couple of stress relievers, for example exercise and volunteerism, such as a local walk-a-thon for a cause that is dear to you or joining a meditation group for world peace? (As we all know, peace begins within each of us.)
Studies show that doing good for others is good for your emotional well-being and can measurably enhance your peace of mind. One study found that dialysis patients, transplant patients and family members who volunteered to help other patients experienced increased personal growth and emotional well-being. Another study on patients with multiple sclerosis showed that those who offered other MS patients support actually reported greater benefits than the patients they helped, including more pronounced improvement on confidence, self-awareness, self-esteem, depression and daily functioning. Those who volunteered almost universally found their lives changed dramatically and positively with far less stress.
What goes around comes around
I’m a firm believer in the law of karma, which says you get back what you give and then some, for good or for bad.
In simple terms, if you are a taker who constantly demands from others without giving back, you’ll eventually get taken, probably in a most unpleasant way. If you abuse your spouse or children, you will be abused in one way or another.
Karma does not always come back to you from the place it was incurred. If you kick the dog, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll bite you, but he might.
On the converse side of negative karma, you reap the good you give.
What goes around comes around. You get more than you give when you volunteer and, like in some of the exercise studies, volunteering increases resilience in times of stress.
When we make selfless personal sacrifices, we reap what we sow in the form of favors from others. People known as “givers” universally receive all manner of positive benefits, usually not from those they helped or even those connected with the places they helped. The returns and the social support you earn through giving to others, combined with the good feelings you get from helping others more than make up for the sacrifices you make to offer your assistance.
So, this is a simple one: Give and you will receive. Your stress will decrease, your life will improve and everything around you will change.