The Medical Minute: Doing something for others lifts the spirits – and promotes health

In the early days of the pandemic dr angel cobbler mostly kept isolated from friends and family. Although the situation has improved, the ongoing spread of COVID-19 means her long shifts as a pediatric emergency doctor Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center often come closest to a grand outing.

That changed when she, as vice chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Division, decided to coordinate a community health fair for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national day of service observed on the third Monday of January each year. Planning a community building event turned out to be the perfect solution.

“One of the many reasons community engagement is part of our mission is because we know that doing something for others really lifts your spirits,” Schuster said. “As a doctor, when I have the opportunity to attend something like a health fair, it helps me to remind myself that I’m here to care for people and to improve their lives when I can. It’s one of the things I find very uplifting.”

Those good feelings you get from helping others are universal no matter what your profession, he says Brooke Hertzler, a clinical mental health specialist and licensed clinical social worker at Penn State Health Behavioral Health Services Medical Center of the Holy Spirit. And they’re good for your body, too.

“Biologically, giving or performing a service can positively activate chemicals in our brains that release positive hormones,” Hertzler said.

Studies show that serving others is linked to increasing levels of serotonin in the brain, a key hormone that stabilizes mood and induces feelings of well-being and happiness, she said.

“It can also activate a dopamine neurotransmitter that helps us feel joy and contentment. Additionally, the same act of service or kindness releases oxytocin, a hormone often associated with empathy and trust,” Hertzler said.

She believes in these positive effects so much that she often encourages her patients to volunteer or find a way to make time to help others.

“It’s something we talk about a lot. I’m trying to find out what they enjoy doing, what their strengths are, and how they can use those strengths to help others,” she said.

A big part of reaping the rewards is taking the time to reflect on how serving others makes you feel. Ninety-nine percent of Hertzler patients say it has brightened them up and improved their mood.

“Sometimes the act of kindness can also be an awakening that allows you to reflect and adjust to the things in your life that you are grateful for,” she said. “I believe that the positivity of providing service or providing kindness fosters a positive energy in the world that is sorely needed right now.”

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the Medical minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. The articles incorporate the expertise of educators, physicians and staff and are designed to provide timely, relevant health information of interest to a wide audience.

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