You’ve probably heard the saying that when you are down in the dumps the quickest way to feel better is to help someone else.
Turns out, there’s some truth to that.
The Low Self-Esteem and Depression Link
Research shows that there is a major link between low self-esteem and depression. In fact, low self-esteem is often a predictor of depression later in life. However, while a poor self-image can lead to depression, when depression improves so does self-image. It is a strange and difficult cycle.
Counseling that focuses on increasing self-esteem can help to prevent depression but finding ways to do that is a bit tricky. Outside validation is fickle and fleeting. One day people could have a positive opinion of a person and the next day it could flip to negative. So, it seems that the best way to accomplish this is to raise self-esteem internally and not worry about outer influences.
This is easier said than done though because if a person is already feeling depressed, they are likely going to have a hard time building themselves up.
This is where intrinsic rewards become valuable.
The Self-Image and Compassion Study
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology looked at how interpersonal goals can shape relationships as well as depression and anxiety symptoms. The researchers theorized that trying to maintain certain self-image goals can create problems in relationships while increasing depression and anxiety symptoms. On the other hand, pursuing compassionate goals such as helping others may have the opposite effect.
The participants in the study found that when they focused on extrinsic rewards such as gaining status or approval of others while avoiding vulnerability while interacting socially, they experienced conflict in their relationships and experienced more depression and anxiety symptoms.
On the other hand, when they focused on intrinsic rewards such as pursuing compassionate goals which included helping others and avoiding behavior that was self-centered or selfish, their relationships were better, and they experience fewer depression and anxiety symptoms.
The message is clear. When you help others and practice compassion, you are happier, and it can lessen your depression and anxiety symptoms.
Ways to Practice Compassion and Help Others
When you turn your attention to others and help them you not only make yourself feel better, but you also make the other person feel better. Here are some ways to practice compassion.
- Let others know you care about them.
- Be supportive of other people.
- Lend a helping hand whenever you can.
- Encourage others with your words.
- Avoid self-centeredness.
- Do something nice for someone.
- Avoid doing something that would hurt another person.
- Have compassion when someone makes a mistake.
- Mind your words and avoid saying hurtful things.
Helping others does not mean spending money on them or doing something expensive. It can be as simple as sending a handwritten note to someone who is ill or visiting someone who is socially isolated. It could mean complimenting someone or helping them put their groceries in their car. There are so many opportunities to help others – all we have to do is look around.