The pandemic grinds on. The election is approaching. Wildfires are blazing. And now Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died.
I’m old enough to remember the tumult of 1968 and the Watergate years, but these past several months have been an even bigger challenge to our individual and collective sanity.
On a Zoom call recently, some friends decribed how they’ve been coping with the unrelenting stress, from going on hikes to watching webcams of wild bears. Others have been binge-watching Netflix, baking bread or learning hobbies. Many are struggling.
I assist North Carolina’s partnership with Moldova, transport donations for a food bank, write letters to potential voters and provide editorial or financial assistance to causes I support. Recently I’ve also been helping to launch a program for older volunteers to assist Durham community groups, one of which I’m helping myself.
I didn’t pursue these activities so as to ease my own sense of unease and despair during a pandemic. But that’s what they’ve ended up doing for me.
For me, the pandemic has also highlighted how volunteering can reduce stress, as scientists have confirmed. A 2015 study by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that adults who helped others reported higher levels of positive emotion. “Prosocial behavior moderated the effects of stress on positive affect, negative affect, and overall mental health,” they reported.
Michael Poulin, a University of Buffalo researcher, described it this way: ”When you are thinking about helping other people you’re simply not thinking as much about yourself and your problems … In essence it’s a kind of distraction, but a more satisfying distraction than surfing the Web or binge-watching House of Cards.”
Religious faiths tell us the same thing, that giving enriches the giver.
Don’t get me wrong: I still shudder at the pandemic’s rising death toll and sputter at what I see on the news. I recognize the value of passion and support vigorous political action.
My own modest efforts come from a place of privilege and pale in comparison to those of many other volunteers, not to mention those who’ve been battling the pandemic and saving lives in other ways. While West Coast fire fighters have fighting huge blazes, I have been safe at home, with my wife, free to volunteer. Others face stresses far bigger than mine.
Still, our collective anxiety is real and I have a suggestion for those feeling overwhelmed as the campaign enters its final stretch. If they are spending hours sharing angry memes on Facebook or Twitter with like-minded friends, ratcheting up their own anxiety, they might want to turn off their smartphones and, instead, help a neighbor or organization in need. (Activate Good is a great place to find opportunities here in the Triangle.)
They may find, as I have, that helping others during stress-filled times is a good way to renew their own equilibrium and strength. Based on what we’ve seen so far this year, we’re all going to need it.
2 thoughts on “Turn Down Your Stress”
David dear You and Champa are inspirations to all who know you. Your parents would be so very proud of you !!! I feel so fortunate getting your emails and receiving the joys of your and Champa’s friendship. Thank you! Susan visited me yesterday. Coming here from Minneapolis was an enormous trek. I am very grateful. Susan leads a very full life in her retirement, Among her commitments are a cooperative theatre group. Your and my children’s lives are filled with enormous accomplishments! Susan will soon leave for a trip to Utah for mountain climbing and biking. Jill’s last painting sold for $3000. Dale makes cocktails on Rhode Island TV. Penny just opened a new music school which is thriving in Wayland. Rick continues to learn and reveal new and startling info about Shakespeare and his contemporaries. I can’t keep up…very old brain deserts me. Lunch bell beckons. Much love and admiration to you both! Charlotte
enjoying your blog, thanks for the tips and inspiration!