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helper’s high

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Being of service is good for your health. I’ve noticed a shift in my emotional well-being over my months of working at hospice. On Tuesday I wrote about changes in my sense of self-worth and general outlook on life. Many factors have contributed to this development, high among them this almost daily contact with people near death, their friends and families, and an amazingly generous and skilled team of professional and volunteer caregivers.

happy-homerNumerous studies show that acts of kindness result in significant health benefits, both physical and mental. Here are some key points:

• A rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act is referred to as “helper’s high,” involving physical sensations and the release of the body’s natural painkillers, the endorphins. This initial rush is then followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional well-being.

• Stress-related health problems improve after performing kind acts. Helping reverses feelings of depression, supplies social contact, and decreases feelings of isolation that can cause stress, overeating, ulcers, etc.

• Helping can enhance our feelings of joyfulness, emotional resilience, and vigor, and can reduce the unhealthy sense of isolation.

• An increased sense of self-worth, greater happiness, and optimism, as well as a decrease in feelings of helplessness and depression, is achieved.

• The health benefits and sense of well-being return for hours or even days whenever the helping act is remembered.

ABC News 20/20 reports “helper’s high” among heart patients at Duke University Medical Center. Recovering patients were asked to visit current heart patients—no particular agenda, just to listen and lend support. By doing that, the volunteers had better health after their heart attacks; their recovery rate was 60 percent faster than those who chose not to help other patients.

sources: extracts from Luks, A. & Lane, P. (1996). The healing power of doing good: the health and spiritual benefits of helping others. New York: Ballantine Books. ABC News Dec 1, 2006.

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