Written by Sarah D. Young.
The body means well by flipping the “stress switch” on. Feeling stressed amid a life-threatening situation is good, of course, as it raises the chance for survival. But when the body deems a traffic jam “life-threatening,” the stress response is not quite as useful.
When that stress switch gets flipped, experts say the antidote may be right in front of you: just do a good deed. An act of kindness as small as holding an elevator, returning a stray wallet, or helping pick up a stack of papers can actually help you feel less stressed throughout your day, research shows.
“Prosocial” behavior yields positivity
In a study published recently in Clinical Psychology Science, Emily Ansell and two of her Yale School of Medicine colleagues monitored 77 adults over a two-week period. Using a smartphone app, participants recorded stressful experiences and small acts of kindness when prompted.
Results showed that “prosocial” (or helping) behavior led to increased positivity and a decreased negative reaction to stress. “It pretty much kept people feeling similar to days where they were not stressed at all,” Ansell tells NPR.
Where stress is the rain, it seems kindness is the umbrella. Positive moods set in motion by small acts of kindness appeared to shelter participants from the negative effects of stress. By contrast, when participants reported fewer instances of helping others than what was average for them, they had a more negative emotional reaction to stress.
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