This is a time of year when we do lots of giving, don’t we?
And for the most part, we receive the giving of others, too. While it’s fun to receive and get stuff, receiving doesn’t have the impact on our brain, our outlook, our health and immunity, as well as our sense of well-being, that giving does. In fact, when we really give of ourselves, give a piece of ourselves, hoping it will truly help or benefit the person we give to, something wonderful begins to happen. I guess most of us feel a certain amount of obligation this time of year to make sure we have a gift for each person in our world… family, co-workers, neighbors, friends and those in all our other circles. But there’s an important distinction between obligated giving and true generosity from the heart. So let’s talk about one of the most important results: your generosity’s impact on depression.
It turns out that when you give out of obligation, it doesn’t really trigger any magical benefits in your brain. You still feel bad and you suffer a smaller balance in your checkbook. Plus you know…you still don’t know how to make things better.
Giving the Best of Yourself
But when you give of yourself – from your heart – something amazing happens. It can be a check you write from the money you’ve worked hard for. It can be giving your time and support to someone who needs something you specifically can provide.
No matter what you give, when you really want that person to deeply benefit from it, that’s when it helps you, too. Well, at that point things start clicking in your brain in a way that turns up the heat in your immunity protection. It also turns up the connections in the signals moving in your brain, and – no small thing – it turns your attention from yourself and how bad you feel to someone else and how you helped them feel great. You may have even given them hope.
Generosity is so Good for Your Depression
So why is giving so valuable, and your generosity’s impact on depression so life changing?
It starts in the mesolimbic pathway in the brain. Weird word, I know. But this strange phrase refers to a circuit in the brain that takes advantage of the neurotransmitter dopamine to link your behavior with a feeling of pleasure. You may have heard it called the “reward pathway.”
(It probably won’t surprise you to know that because of that, this area is studied by researchers seeking understanding and solutions for addiction.)
So, when you’re a giver, a series of events takes place triggered by a special set of chemicals like dopamine and its mesolimbic activity, endorphins that give you almost a sense of euphoria, and oxytocin.
Oxytocin is associated with tranquility and inner peace, as well as a sense of belonging, cuddliness, and connection. It’s the same hormone secreted when a mother nurses her baby….it causes the bonding between mother and child.
Stress is a Destroyer
Now when you’re spread too thin, or disasters are happening around you, both natural and figurative, that stress prunes and breaks down the synaptic connections in your brain.
Stress tells your body to prepare to fight or take flight. When your body keeps going into this state, believing you’re facing life or death, it wears it down. It depletes neurotransmitters, prunes the synapse structures and connections that allow for signals to be delivered, and increases cortisol. And when cortisol increases, these neurotransmitters stop producing.
But, it turns out, that even if you do experience a lot of stress, something as simple as giving of yourself, volunteering, and helping and supporting others can combat the destructive effects of stress… and prolong your life.
Generosity’s Impact on Depression and Mortality
A study led by Michael Poulin published in the American Journal of Public Health, 2013, found that a stressful life did not predict the mortality rate in those who provided help to others. However, in those who did not provide help to others, stress did predict their mortality.
A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology that focused on volunteering found that volunteering reduced mortality rates in a group of 2000 people more than exercising 4 times a week and regularly attending church.
Get this: it found that of the 2000, those who volunteered for 2 or more causes enjoyed a 63% reduction in mortality in contrast to those who didn’t volunteer at all.
Volunteering is a Category All Its Own
One thing about volunteering is that you have to really give of yourself. Your time, your energy, your comfort zone. And you probably believe in the cause and truly want to help the recipients. So with volunteering, you’re probably meeting the criteria for health benefits. And yet…that’s not why you do it, is it?
You do it because you really do want to help, to make a difference.
And it’s that heartfelt commitment to make a difference for someone and that deep desire to help, that triggers this cascade of neurotransmitter reward. Someone called it the “giver’s glow.”
It’s your generosity’s impact on depression in your life. It can help you go from shutdown…to glowing…!
What it does do is to reduce the effects of stress in your life and improve your immunity, while flooding you with a warm sense of connection, and belonging, and soul satisfaction.
These studies found that when someone is helpful regularly for a prolonged period of time, the benefits to their health and outlook compound, and carry on for a prolonged period of time.
Which is why it’s not only better for the organization to know they can rely on you every Tuesday for a year, but it’s much better for your wellbeing and longevity.
May Your Giving Season Be Your New Beginning of a Generosity Approach to Life
And, so here we are. It’s the Giving Season. We’ve had Giving Tuesday which helped to organize donations all around, and… which helps you with a tax write-off. But let that be only the start. Because if you donated for the tax write-off, that’s your benefit.
Still, if you make this the beginning of a new year of reading to the elderly, or teaching English as a second language, or literacy support, or anything that can help make another life or many lives better, healthier, and with more hope, then you may very well be on your way to a ripe and healthy old age.
Giving from the heart…giving unselfishly, giving of yourself in your own creative way, and giving your hard earned money to make life better for someone… can improve your outlook, your energy, and your sense of purpose. It can increase the neurotransmitters that move signals around in your brain, and improve your immunity.
What a truckload of benefits for you from giving of yourself.
And, if we at Innovative Psychiatry can help you with symptoms you can’t resolve yourself, please call us. IV ketamine treatment can give you the transformative restoration so you really can give your best self to others.
We want to help you find the power to live, and give, and bloom. To be satisfied and fulfilled with your life, your work, your relationships…all of it.
Have a Wonderful and Fulfilling Holiday Season!
To the renewal of your best self,
Lori Calabrese, M.D.