Following major shopping days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, on Nov. 29, #GivingTuesday kicked off the giving season, prompting roughly $168 million in financial donations along with thousands of hours of service pledged by volunteers. While contributions made during #GivingTuesday are of great benefit to organizations addressing community needs, this year the initiative gave us a much-needed break from today’s mounting stress and reminds us that giving can provide a boost for our mental health and wellness.
With uncertainty, frustration, and fears following a highly volatile election season, as well as violence and a seemingly endless list of injustices, many of us are facing unprecedented levels of emotional fatigue. This stress stands to contribute to many physical, mental, and emotional problems; and can have a major financial impact as a result of related medical expenses. The stress we experience in the workplace alone costs American industry more than $300 billion annually in lost productivity, insurance, and legal costs.
While I am not a mental health professional, and I in no way presume to provide medical advice, I believe that charitable giving and volunteerism can help ease the impact of stress. Well-being is a too often ignored area for people of color and should be taken seriously. However, research shows that giving can be tied to many mental and physical health benefits. Showing generosity toward others can contribute to positive outcomes such as lowered blood pressure and increased life span. Studies highlight the mental health benefits of giving, including the release of hormones that contribute to feelings of happiness and peacefulness.
Among the many social, emotional, and mental health areas that can be influenced by giving back are our relationships. In an interview I did with my dear friend and former colleague Leslie Brown on the mental health benefits of giving, I learned that generosity and kindness are the two greatest predictors of relationship satisfaction. Brown’s career spans over 15 years in social services and the nonprofit sector, and she has done great work in the areas of counseling, stress reduction, and wellness. She shared that kindness informs how we express our feelings and allows for healthier relationships.
Giving, however, does not magically erase our problems and giving too much of ourselves can create “compassion fatigue.” We should, therefore, take a balanced and thoughtful approach to being generous. We should give with a heart for making a difference. As we look for ways to deal with the myriad issues we face today, what better time to give to causes that resonate most deeply with us.
Having spent the majority of my professional career as a fundraiser, I have seen first-hand how giving empowers us to be positive influences in the world. I have spoken to donors and volunteers who thanked me for the opportunity to give; and working with nonprofits has also had a positive impact on my sense of personal worth, purpose, and identity. Charitable giving can increase our sense of hope and perspective.
When we give, we gain much in return. It supports our social, emotional, mental and physical wellness, helps us to relate more effectively and, gives us insight into how much we matter in the lives of others. As we wrestle with stress and anxiety in these final days of 2016, let #GivingTuesday be a starting place. Continue to give in meaningful ways and be a positive light that brings out the best in us all.
Halima Leak Francis is a charitable giving advocate, fundraising consultant, and philanthropic adviser. Her work centers on promoting mindfulness in philanthropy and positive social change through giving and volunteerism. Follow her on Twitter @HLeak.