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Have you ever felt that warm glow when you do something for someone else, from helping a neighbor with their yard work to dropping a few dollars into the hand of someone who really needs it?
Well, it turns out that there is an actual scientific basis for that feeling.
And, you’re even doing something good for yourself too. It’s now been scientifically proven that when you give, you receive the gift of less stress. But not just any kind of philanthropy works this stress-reducing magic…
Targeted versus untargeted social support
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh dug into the phenomenon and performed a pair of experiments to evaluate responses to providing different kinds of social support.
They split volunteers into two groups and have them give this support in one of two ways:
- Targeted support (that’s where you provide help to a specific person)
- Untargeted support (that would be like when you give money to charity)
Then they had them rate their emotions and looked at their brain using an MRI to see what areas of their brain were activated.
Here’s what they found…
Only providing targeted support — directly helping an individual in need, as opposed to sending money to help a charity — resulted in lower activity in an area in the brain known as the amygdala (a brain structure involved in turning on the stress response). Decreased activity in this region equated to decreased stress levels for the people actually giving the support.
This didn’t happen for the people who gave to a charity, considered untargeted social support. It appears their amygdala and stress levels didn’t change.
Let’s look again
The scientists were a littler perplexed that two similar ways of being charitable had such different responses on the brain. So, they wondered, “Is this a one off or is it really true that giving one on one can help your stress level but giving to a group won’t?”
That led them to conduct an even larger study.
And, guess what…
Their results were the same.
Once again, the people who gave more targeted support to others also showed reduced activity in the amygdala — and therefore had lower stress levels. And once again, giving untargeted support (such as giving to charity) was completely unrelated to amygdala activity.
According to the researchers, this is just more proof that, “Humans thrive off social connections and benefit when they act in the service of others’ well-being.”
Less stress means one-on-one giving
This means that the more you give of yourself, the more you get back.
Here are some ways you can give targeted support and become more stress-free as a bonus:
- Help out family members – Does your daughter some “me time”. Offer to babysit the grandkids. Maybe your uncle doesn’t get around as well as he used to and could use some help cleaning the house or buying groceries.
- Volunteer at a school – Schools are always looking for more help from someone to read at story time to ensuring recess is a safe time and you’ll be helping both the students and the teachers.
- Visit a care facility – People living in senior care facilities often have more free time than they know what to do with. By visiting and spending time, you’ll bring joy to their day and less stress to yours.
- Be a tutor – Many kids need help with their schoolwork but their parents can’t afford tutoring services. That’s where you can help. Volunteer your time to tutor in the subjects you know best and you’ll be rewarded with bright smiles.
The ways to give back are only as limited as your imagination. Take time today to find a way to get involved to make the world and your own life better.