While you’re feeling extra low and the usual skills aren’t giving you any relief, there’s one thing that is almost guaranteed to at least give you a break from your own headaches.
Help someone, anyone, just reach out.
When we step outside of ourselves and give a hand to the people around us, it breaks what I call the “hamster wheel” in our heads. We aren’t focused on ourselves at that time, we become invested in helping someone else.
There is some interesting research on what benefits people get from acting with compassion. One of the most interesting is, while we struggle to give ourselves any grace, ever, we’re great at being gentle with others. What happens, though, is we get a boost to our self-esteem and so our kindness re-interprets itself as something helpful in our own battles, even if no one reciprocates the aid.
The ways we can go about this are as varied as our communities, but here are some examples to get you started.
- Give a compliment. “I like your shoes” goes a long way to making someone’s day.
- Thank someone. Especially staff who are overlooked like cleaning crews.
- Ask how you can help. When you see someone is struggling, ask what you can do for them.
- Volunteer. Call up a volunteer organization. Ask where they need volunteers and sign up.
- Help someone with a task that is hard for them. The coworker who fights to do animations in their presentations might love you forever if you can fix the slide transitions for them.
- Do a chore. Does your neighbor struggle to get the trash out? Offer to do it for them.
- Just be present. Sometimes people just need to know they’re not alone.
- Give a care package. These don’t have to be elaborate. You can visit the local dollar store for ideas.
- Speak up about a cause. Speak to the school board or at a city council meeting. Let your voice help those who aren’t able to speak up. Write letters, create a petition to drive a change, and so on.
As you can see, there are options that are short and simple, and some that are a little more involved. The point is, there are many ways to reach out and help someone else. All you need to do is decide what you’ll do with them.
There are rules to this option.
- You can’t do anything you don’t actually want to do.
- You are not obligated to do anything. You must retain the right to say no.
- You still have to take care of yourself. That includes speaking with your therapist.
- You may not use any activity as a path to rehashing your traumas. That includes speaking up about a cause. You can petition for an abuse shelter without telling your story. You can address the need for added security in a school without telling how you were scared. Your work on your wounds is for you and your therapist to face. You can use it to fuel your desire to help, but remember that sharing a story unprompted can trigger someone who hasn’t found help yet. It can also keep you stuck in it.
I will sometimes take the first two and dedicate myself to giving out compliments and thanks like candy for a day. They have to be meaningful. No “thanks” like you’re grabbing a drink in a drive through and already have your mind a mile down the road.
“I appreciate that you guys always keep these bathrooms so clean.”
“That’s a ton of copying. Thank you for handling it.”
“I love your shirt, that’s really funny.”
“Your insights are so helpful in these meetings. Thanks for sharing them.”
“Your hair looks really cute today.”
“I love that nail polish on you.”
Next thing you know, everyone around you is happy, and while this doesn’t fix your internal state, you’ll find that you’re not quite as run over as you were.
So let’s try it. Help others and escape your problems for a few minutes.
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