Doing good turns out to be good for mental health

Committing to a good cause can have significant mental health benefits, according to recent research from Oxford. Getting employees to volunteer from work, for example, appears to be more effective for their vitality than offering stress-relieving services such as mindfulness or online coaching. Neuro-chemical responses show that physiological changes can occur in the brain in response to altruistic behavior. Therein also lies danger. Hence a warning.

While the effect of volunteering on mental health may vary individually, many positive links have been identified. Examples include:

Sense of purpose: Working on a meaningful cause often provides a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment. This can help create a positive mindset and reduce feelings of emptiness.

Social connections: Volunteering provides an opportunity to meet new people and be part of a community with shared values. Social interaction is essential for well-being and can reduce feelings of loneliness.

Stress reduction: Focusing on helping others can distract from personal stressors and concerns. Experiencing empathy and contributing to positive change can reduce stress levels.

Self-esteem: Self-esteem can increase by knowing that you are contributing to something bigger than yourself. Seeing concrete results of your efforts can have a positive effect on your self-esteem.

Skill development: Volunteering provides opportunities to learn new skills and improve existing ones. It encourages intellectual challenges and can foster a sense of personal growth.

Long-term satisfaction: Volunteering can be associated with higher levels of overall life satisfaction. The feeling of contributing to the well-being of others contributes to a more fulfilled life.

Experiencing altruism and helping others activates brain regions associated with reward and positive emotions. This can lead to an increase in feelings of happiness. A growing body of research on the relationship between altruistic behavior, volunteerism and the release of neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain shows that various neurotransmitters and substances are released in the brain when you commit to a good cause or perform altruistic acts. Endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and cortisol lead to neurochemical reactions that can trigger physiological changes in the brain in response to altruistic behavior. This is why you notice a positive effect on your mental state of mind when you make a commitment to others. 

Keep your head
And here's the warning. The substances released are messing with your head. Add to that Isabel de Bruin's observation in her dissertation that the "halo effect" of charitable organizations can lead to uncontrolled self-aggrandizement, potentially resulting in blind spots in decision-making and possibly unethical behavior. The halo effect is a cognitive bias - a mental tool that causes people to make snap judgments. This effect leads us to consider only one aspect of a person or product to form an overall, positive opinion. 

It is important for managers and supervisors to stay alert to this toxic cocktail in the making. By testing the organization as well as themselves for neurochemical influences. By keeping their heads down and adhering to ethical and legal standards, directors and supervisors can ensure that their involvement with charities is done responsibly and effectively.

For the Oxford research of William Fleming see here

For Isabel de Bruin's dissertation see here.

Source: The Thick Blue