Feeling Down? Go Help Someone Rather Than Looking for Someone to Help You

I've known this for some time.  When I'm depressed, like this past week, when a friend's son, and a young man I taught journalism to, took his own life last week, and then when there was a bomb scare at my son's high school (and a job contract ended suddenly), I went to help at my church's after-school program and soon I was feeling better, surrounded by all the high-on-sugar (this was the Valentine's Day party day) and sweet, anyway, kids.

Many of them come from low-income homes and they're hungry for loving contact.  Some parents work several works and aren't home too much, while others may be in jail (yes, sadly) or just not around. 

But it does more for me than the kids when they come up to me and ask me to read with them, or they follow me like a little shadow.  Or they look really happy to see me.

And now a new study confirms this.

According to newswise.com, giving support—rather than receiving it—may have unique positive effects on key brain areas involved in stress and reward responses.

Participants in the study were asked about whether they gave or received support—for example, having "someone to lean on" or "looking for ways to cheer people up" when they are feeling down. Consistent with previous studies, "Both receiving and giving more support were related to lower reported negative psychosocial outcomes," researchers write.

While performing a stressful mental math task, participants who reported giving the most support had reduced activation in brain areas related to stress responses. In contrast, receiving a lot of support was unrelated to activation in stress-related regions.

Giving higher levels of support was also linked to increased activity in a brain area that functions as part of the reward system during an "affiliative" task, in which subjects looked at pictures of loved ones; and during a "pro-social" task, in which subjects had a chance to win money for someone in need.

 Giving support might avoid the sometimes harmful effects of receiving support—for example, if it doesn't match the person's preferences or leaves him/her feeling indebted. "Giving support, on the other hand, allows an individual to control when and how support is given…[and] may result in more effective stress reduction," the researchers write.

So you know the old saying?  It's better to give than receive.  But sometimes, you receive, too.

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