Stressed? Help a stranger to feel better

Providing help to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers can reduce the effects of daily stress on our emotions and our mental health, says a study.

“Our research shows that when we help others, we can also help ourselves,” explained study author Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine in the US.

“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,” Ansell noted.

In the study, people used their smartphones to report on their feelings and experiences in daily life.

A total of 77 adults, ranging from 18 to 44 years old, participated in the 14-day study.

The participants received an automated phone reminder every night that prompted them to complete their daily assessment.

They were asked to report any stressful life events they experienced that day across several domains such as interpersonal, work/education, home, finance, health/accident, and the total number of events comprised the measure of daily stress.

The results indicated that helping others boosted participants’ daily well-being. A greater number of helping behaviours was associated with higher levels of daily positive emotion and better overall mental health.

“It was surprising how strong and uniform the effects were across daily experiences,” Ansell said.

“For example, if a participant did engage in more prosocial behaviours on stressful days there was essentially no impact of stress on positive emotion or daily mental health. And there was only a slight increase in negative emotion from stress if the participant engaged in more prosocial behaviours,” Ansell pointed out.