The Stress-Reduction Technique That Has Nothing To Do With Self-Care
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You've had a stressful day, so what do you do? An Epsom salt bath some soft music? A soothing yoga sequence before bed? There are so many tools out there to help us calm our bodies and our minds, most of them revolving around the concept of self-care. Self care is all about nurturing yourself, but what if the best way to relax is actually to focus on someone else? Well, a new study tests this theory, showing that prosocial behavior—or helping others—successfully mitigates the negative effects of stress.
Is helping others the secret to stress reduction?
This study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, had 77 adults complete a nightly assessment on their smartphone that asked them questions about their daily activities, mental health status, and any stressors they encountered. The scientists found that on any particular day, if a person helped others more than usual it decreased the negative effects of stressors by buffering positive feelings and reducing negative ones.
So how does this work? According to researchers, prosocial behavior is an effective coping strategy because it can distract us from the stressors in our lives while also increasing feelings of purpose and self-efficacy. Many also hypothesize that the hormone oxytocin—which has a lot to do with helpful behavior and behavior that fosters community—helps to regulate the body's biological stress response by reducing feelings of fear and anxiety.
Is prosocial behavior the new self-care?
Researchers are always looking for more ways to lower our ever-rising stress levels, so this study is important because it gives us just one more tool to prevent the negative effects of chronic stress, which include an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse disorders—just for starters. So is it possible that caring is more important than caring for yourself? We definitely wouldn't recommend throwing your self-care strategies out the window, but this study is definitely a great excuse to sign up to volunteer at your favorite nonprofit a few times a month. Helping others while nurturing your own stress response? Sounds like a win-win situation to us.
Gretchen Lidicker for MBG.