Happy #WellfieWednesday! This week’s post is brought to you by Aaron (@AaronPerezPT).
Today’s post is inspired by many current events. I just returned from a week in Haiti providing medical services with STAND: The Haiti Project. It was an amazing experience to say the least. I’d call it “once in a lifetime”, but something tells me I’ll be back. October is also Physical Therapy month, and this Saturday October 14th is Global PT Day of Service #PTDOS. Amidst these caring, altruistic efforts there are ongoing tragedies necessitating more volunteerism and service. Events like Puerto Rico’s ongoing recovery from Hurricane Irma, the recent Las Vegas massacre, and Napa fires. So, let’s explore the health benefits of giving.
There is some interesting science to support President Lincoln’s religion. Dr. Steven Post is a leading researcher on this topic and his 2011 open access article provides some great insight. It appears that acts of kindness can improve happiness, health, and even longevity. One study found that recovering alcoholics who helped others with their recovery nearly doubled the likelihood of successful sobriety over a one-year period compared to those who were not helping others. Similarly, people experiencing chronic pain have reported decreasing levels of pain, disability, and depression when they served as peer volunteers to others struggling with chronic pain. In a 2010 survey, the large majority of American adults who volunteered reported numerous health benefits including improved physical health and well-being, increased fulfilment, less stress and anxiety, greater resilience, better sleep, stronger social connections, and improved self-efficacy. That sounds like quite the return on investment. However, these benefits should not serve as primary motives for helping others and are certainly not guaranteed. Nonetheless, genuine benevolence is a powerful act for all parties involved.
There is such a thing as having too much of a good thing. Doing altruistic work can be overdone. Compassion fatigue and burnout among those caring for others daily are not unusual. Detrimental consequences can include severe stress, poor sleep, disrupted cognitive function, distancing from social connections, professional attrition, and depression. The “right amount” of altruism will vary from person to person and depend on several factors. This message resonates with me personally as a healthcare provider. I think the “helper's high” is lost in the day-to-day grind of helping patients through distressful situations on a daily basis. Add unwanted layers of administrative burden such as excessive documentation onto the situation, and it begins to feel more laborious and less joyful. I think it can be helpful to breaks from daily routine. Sometimes this means disconnecting from altruism to make time for yourself. It might be a full vacation, or it may just be a brief moment in your day to take a breath. Occasionally, it may mean reconnecting with meaning and purpose through sincere altruism. That’s what I feel I experienced over the past week volunteering with STAND: The Haiti Project, and I’m grateful for it. Although there was a healthy dose of disconnecting on the trip too, lots of fun.
At the end of the day, we all need to help ourselves. And one powerful way to do that is through helping others. I hope you find some ways to do so that bring you meaning and happiness. Have an awesome week!
And thanks again for all of the #WellfieWednesday support, be sure to post your pictures this week and tag the WW crew members in your post (@PBernerSPT, @Eric_in_AmERICa, @AaronPerezPT, @DianaKlatt) and keep the wave of healthy change going!
- WW Crew