By Michelle Carbery, Corporate Wellness Specialist, Independent Health

You know that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you give a gift to or do something for someone else? It’s not just your imagination. As it turns out, giving to others has positive effects on your overall physical and mental health.

By putting others first, we turn our attention away from our own worries and struggles. As a result, we lower our blood pressure and stress levels, which, in turn, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. When we engage in activities that focus on giving, we also produce “feel good” chemicals in our brains such as serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. This can lead to increased self-esteem, a lower risk of anxiety and depression, and greater overall happiness and satisfaction.

This holiday season, consider stepping away from giving material things and instead give the gift of your time and friendship to others. Here are a few ways you may be able to accomplish that:

  • Give back to those in need. Volunteer at a community shelter or food pantry. Deliver holiday meals to senior citizens or wrap toys that have been donated for underprivileged kids. Go through your things to find items you don’t use anymore and bring them to a local donation center. Helping those who are less fortunate can remind us just how much we have to be thankful for.
  • Schedule time with a loved one who may otherwise be alone. Regular walks or coffee dates will lift you both. Taking the time to connect can make someone feel important and increase their mental well-being. Plus, having solid relationships in life help give us a sense of purpose.
  • Take someone to the doctor or run errands for them. A simple ride or picking up items at the grocery store for those who can’t drive themselves can be a huge stress reliever for that person, and a simple way for you to offer a favor.
  • Share your skills and talents with someone who needs a hand. Are you good with a paint brush or handsaw? You may find that creativity flows better when you are with others, so turn someone’s dreaded paint project into a paint party.
  • Show gratitude to others. According to multiple studies, giving thanks can put you in a better mood. It can also lead to better sleep and less fatigue. Little gestures like sending a thank you note or reaching out with a call to a loved one can make a difference – not only for you, but to the recipient as well.

Make it a point this month to give to others. By doing so, you can create memories that remain timeless long after all the presents are opened. And your mental and physical health will thank you, too!