Helping Helps!

By Alex Lochhead - Five Element Acupuncturist -

help yourself

Three things happened in a matter of hours on boxing day that got me thinking about helping.

Firstly, the floods.  I live in York and as you may be aware parts of our city and large areas of North Yorkshire are devastated by floodwater.

The things I have seen locally and on social media have been nothing short of horrific.  Lives have been turned upside down and some businesses have been destroyed.  Something quite extraordinary and beautiful has come along with this pain and it has been breathtaking.

People have been there for each other.  Strangers have helped strangers.  New friendships have been made.  A community has proved itself.  Quite frankly, I’ve got stinging eyes and a lump in my throat right now just thinking about it.  The avalanche of help that has been unleashed is mind-blowing.  I’ve not seen much of this covered on the news but it’s happening right now from huge acts of selflessness to modest little acts that make a significant difference.

There’s been tradesmen donating their skills, chefs have made hot food for those affected and the emergency and rescue services.  Shops have donated new clothes, cleaning products, bedding, people have offered up their homes, offered to look after homeless pets, do laundry; you name it, help is everywhere!  Folks from all over the UK have turned up, found an affected street and got stuck in with the clean up.

The second event happened when I was nipping into the corner shop on the way into town and noticed an older chap walking with sticks leaving the shop.  He made eye contact with me and we exchanged ‘Hellos’.  On coming out of the shop I noticed he was leaning uncomfortably against the wall.  I asked if he was ok.  He told me that he had walked from three streets down as he had run out of cat food and felt exhausted.  He asked me if I could give him a lift home.  Incidentally, I should add that I had been feeling pretty sorry for myself after the excesses of Christmas.  He sat himself in the car whilst I popped to the chemist (rehydration salts!) and then I ran him home.  It turned out that he is 87, lives alone with his cat and started work when he was fourteen, ploughing fields.  Interesting what people tell you!  The upshot of this brief interaction was the fact that after dropping him at home, I felt much better.  I felt brighter; less fatigued and had a little warm fuzzy feel inside.  I also felt grateful that he had asked me and here’s what’s interesting to me.  I felt useful!

The third ‘prong’ to this helping probe occurred whilst eating breakfast with the telly on.  BBC Breakfast was discussing how ‘random acts of kindness’ have significant health impacts.  Those discussed on the show included:

  • Longer life span for people who regularly volunteer
  • Greater happiness reported by folks who often undertake small acts of kindness. This, apparently, is called the ‘helpers high’ and probably explains my swift recovery post plough-man-lift-home.
  • Reduced pain
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Lower blood pressure

This bundle of ‘helping’ happenings really got me thinking about how helping others can be an excellent method to help ourselves. Certainly a health message that can be shared with my patients, particularly those who may feel disconnected from ‘purpose’, suffering from anxiety or depression.

What if ‘helping others’ became a prescribed activity from the GP?  A cost effective and side-effect free self administered medicine.  I am particularly inspired by the random acts approach to small scale do-gooding and here is my recent hit list of experimenting with this philosophy:

  • When out and about, be more mindful of those around me. Look out for simple opportunities to help: getting soap powder down off the supermarket shelf for those who can’t reach, opening doors, being more courteous when driving.
  • Smiling at people more. It’s not exactly helping, although it can be nice to receive an unexpected smile, but it creates an opportunity for people to feel that they could ask for help, if need be.
  • Start a regular, one hour a week volunteering role with AgeUk.
  • Start feeding the birds!
  • I am trying to be more mindful of opportunities to help out, when I’m with friends, offer support or just be more of a jolly good egg. People don’t always ask for help outright. So I’m trying to pick up on the cues more readily.

Acupuncture theory has taught me that there are many ways to nourish our bodies and souls.  Being open to finding new ways to achieve a more balanced self excites and motivates me and I enjoy sharing these possibilities within my practice.  I would love to hear your thoughts on how your ‘helping helps’ you so please leave any comments below.

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6 Comments on “Helping Helps!”

  1. Great article Alex! I know you shared the story about the old man with me and how it had personally affected you. I’ve been volunteering now for Corrina & Friends Homeless Project in Harrogate for over a year and a half. I was ‘time rich’ (no husband or children!) and felt i wanted to give something back. My volunteer role started by serving a hot meal every other Sunday to the homeless and vulnerable but i soon realised how i could use my influence and connections through my employees to give the charity so much more. I have also used my organisational and admin skills to help the project managing the volunteer database, and i am just about to get involved in a new ‘pop up’ clothing shop for anyone in need. You’re right, it does give you a sense of worth and how even the smallest act of kindness can be positive for both the receiver and giver. i also buy the homeless person a coffee and sandwich now and engage in conversation to make them more human in a somewhat cruel world that turns the other cheek.

  2. In my field of work I am in daily contact with (mostly) older women.
    I think what matters most to me/them is not how I clean or shop and many other things for them…is giving time and respect..Reminding them that they deserve to maintain their dignitity too.
    These older souls have lived lives so full of purpose and fulfillment.. It is a privilege to hear and share there stories of lives which most young people today would not believe..
    Helping others (whatever age and stage)..makes the giver feel such joy….

  3. The above has certainly got me thinking Alex. I used to do a lot of voluntary work; but since looking after my elderly mother I’ve let things slip. I shall try and be a good egg from now on. As you say it doesn’t take much & can mean so much. Plum

  4. I think that raises an interesting point PracticalP, help doesn’t have to mean doing a task or a chore for someone. Time is our most valuable resource and giving it to someone is so important. Much of my ‘professional’ time is spent listening. I very strongly believe this is the first and greatest step in anyone’s healing process. The very fact that you feel that you have been heard and understood is powerful. What an amazing gift to give!

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