Think about your week. What word comes to mind? It would be wonderful if it were words like peaceful, productive, or satisfying. More likely it’s overscheduled, frustrating, or exhausting. And, whether your week is going smoothly or you’re just lurching toward the weekend, it’s likely that there’s that ever-present undercurrent, stress.

Life involves stress. It’s unavoidable. You’ve got a deadline you’re working overtime for, but the house is a mess, and somebody (you) needs to get birthday cupcakes for 28 kids. You’d love to have the time or energy to do something worthwhile, support a local charity, to give of yourself to help someone truly in need, but all you want to do is Netflix and chill. 

It’s counter intuitive, but it’s precisely that—stepping outside of yourself, helping someone else, that can give you the boost you’re needing. Sound intriguing? Keep reading.

First, let’s talk about the effects of stress. Stress leads to high levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol, if high enough for long enough (how about all the time?), can have disastrous effects: weight gain, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating or remembering things, and trouble sleeping. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your health. (Just one more thing to stress about.) 

Luckily, your body has a built-in antidote to stress: endorphins.

We all learned about endorphins in health class, and they’ve become something of a buzzword: endorphins! They make you feel great! They’ll fix anything! They are neurotransmitters that can have an opiate-like effect on the brain, reducing our perception of pain, without becoming addictive.  They can relieve symptoms of depression or anxiety. They also give us feelings of pleasure or satisfaction. Endorphins are our brain’s way of encouraging us to engage in healthy behaviors.

So how can we get more of these magical endorphins? There are many ways. Here’s just a few:

  • Exercising. “Runner’s high” is a real thing.
  • Laughing. Who doesn’t love to laugh? 
  • Eating chocolate. If you needed a reason to eat more high-quality dark chocolate, here it is.
  • Meditation. Mindfulness, reflection, prayer; whatever you want to call it, scientific research shows its efficacy for feelings of depression or anxiety.
  • Helping others. New research is showing the effects of altruism on the brain.

Psychologist Liz Dunn ran an experiment where people were given money, and they could choose if they would keep the money or give it away. She found the less money they gave away, the more people experienced shame—the more shame, “the more we saw their cortisol levels rise.” Conversely,the more money people gave away, the happier they felt.”

That happy feeling? Endorphins again. Magic, right? 

Ever felt spectacular after helping a friend? “That sensation is known as ‘helper’s high’ and is produced when your brain releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals of the brain. When you do something good for someone else, your brain’s pleasure centers light up, releasing endorphins and producing this high.”

So, don’t wait until you’re feeling on top of the world to look outward and find something to help with. Kick that cortisol to the curb by taking a few minutes to be generous. Looking outside yourself may be just the remedy you need.

 

Author:  Hillary Barton

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