Offering help to family, friends or strangers can lessen the negative effect of stress on mental health. In a study published in Clinical Psychological Science, scientists show that doing things for others might be another technique for coping with everyday challenges.

"Our research shows that when we help others, we can also help ourselves," study author Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine explained in a press release. "Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won't feel as poorly on stressful days."

For 14 days, 77 adults, aged 18 to 44 years, were told to report any stressful event and instances of helpful behaviours such as helping with schoolwork, offering help and opening a door during the day. They were also asked to rate their mental health from zero (poor) to 100 (excellent) with a 10-item Positive and Negative Affect Scale assessing emotions.

The researchers found out that helping others boosted an individual’s well-being. Helping behaviours gave the participants higher levels of daily positive emotion and better overall mental health. Participants who reported lesser helping behaviours have lower positive emotion and higher negative emotion in response to stress.

Ansell claimed that even the smallest act of compassion can make one feel less poorly on stressful days. By helping others, people can also help themselves.

"It was surprising how strong and uniform the effects were across daily experiences,” Ansell said. "For example, if a participant did engage in more pro-social behaviours on stressful days, there was essentially no impact of stress on positive emotion or daily mental health. There was only a slight increase in negative emotion from stress if the participant engaged in more pro-social behaviours."

"The holiday season can be a very stressful time, so think about giving directions, asking someone if they need help, or holding that elevator door over the next month," Ansell added. "It may end up helping you feel just a little bit better."

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