In a world where we drain ourselves taking care of others, it seems counterintuitive to take care of yourself physically by encouraging others. Find out how it all works.
Why DO People Cheer Marathoners?
“Way to go!” a stranger yelled from the side of the road.
“You can do it!” another one called while she clapped enthusiastically.
“Four miles to go! Four miles to go!” someone else chanted.
“Free hugs!” a sign proclaimed.
“Free hugs?” I thought. “I could use one of those at mile 22!” I moved over and gave the sign holder a side hug.
“You’re awesome!” she assured me. “You, go, girl!”
A surge of energy swept through me. Enough to get me over the crest of the never-ending hill.
My first marathon, but not my first experience running a race or hearing the encouragement from random strangers.
What motivated thousands of people to stand next to the road for hours on end cheering for complete strangers? While I understood the benefit to the runners, I wondered if the cheering and enthusiasm did anything for those on the sidelines.
Encouraging Others Counts as Altruism
It turns out acts of altruism such as cheering from the sidelines and encouraging others have physical benefits for the cheerleaders, too.
In a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, the authors state, “Giving support contributes to the link between social ties and health.” In the study, researchers Tristen K. Inagaki, Ph.D., and Lauren Ross, P. BA, tested whether targeted altruism benefited the giver more than untargeted help. They discovered benefits to the giver increased when helping people they knew, as opposed to giving to a charity.
Another review of literature (a fancy term for researchers analyzing all the studies done on a subject) by Dr. Rachel Casiday from the University of Wales Lampeter showed that:
“Volunteering was shown to decrease mortality and to improve self-rated health, mental health, life satisfaction, the ability to carry out activities of daily living without functional impairment, social support and interaction, healthy behaviours and the ability to cope with one’s own illness.”Dr. Rachel Casiday
When we encourage others, we not only benefit them we help take care of ourselves physically. As strange as it seems, when we help others, we help ourselves. But how can we help others? Not everyone has time to stand beside a road cheering marathon runners on to the finish. And it takes a special kind of person to offer free hugs to sweaty, stinky strangers.
Four Ways You Can Encourage Others and Take Care of Yourself Physically
I’ll give examples of encouraging others for both introverts and extroverts. As an introvert, I struggle to find meaningful ways to encourage others outside my small circle of people I prefer to hang out with.
1. Encourage People at Work
It seems like a no-brainer (unless you’ve never formed the habit of encouraging others), but your colleagues could benefit from your encouraging words, too. Each day at staff meeting, we have appreciation time where we acknowledge people who have done something kind or helpful. These words of affirmation help spur us on to continue treating each other with kindness. As a group of culturally, generationally, and ethnically diverse people, with very strong opinions (teachers tend to have strong opinions), affirmations help bind us together.
I might not agree with a coworker’s politics, but I can appreciate his humanity in going the extra mile for a student or fellow coworker. As an introvert, I don’t speak up often during this time, but I can participate as I feel comfortable. Giving affirmations during difficult decision-making sessions helps calm me down (I can get eye-rolly and negative during heated discussions). I’m learning to preface sharing my opinions with affirmations for the views and strengths of others.
2. Encourage Family Members
Another easy introvert’s hack for encouraging others includes affirming or helping family members. Learning to affirm and encourage people we already love and cherish will not only improve our physical health, it will improve our relational health as well.
If affirmations feel awkward for you, start by journaling about them. Move on to writing kind notes or affirmation or encouragement and leaving them in your kids’ lunchboxes, dresser drawers, or in the glovebox of your partner’s car. Text messages work great, too. Even if your loved one doesn’t have words of affirmation as their primary love language (link), everyone feels good with honest words of affirmation and encouragement.
3. Volunteer for a Church or Community Organization
Does your church run a soup kitchen or a Family Promise program? Even introverts can find a way to volunteer. When we lived in Montana, I volunteered to bring meals for the Family Promise group. I didn’t have to interact with a lot of people, but I could still help out. Church extroverts volunteered to spend the night or give rides.
If you enjoy sports, you could volunteer to coach for a kid’s soccer or softball league. Even if you don’t feel qualified to lead out, you could volunteer to assist. When our girls played sports, I volunteered to keep the score books.
Boys and Girls Club of America always needs volunteers, too. You could also hang out at a local nursing home (once COVID restrictions allow), bake cookies for your neighbors, or shovel someone else’s driveway after a snowstorm.
4. Take Up Sideline Cheerleading
Does your town or city host a fun run or a marathon once a year? You could experience the thrill of cheering complete strangers on. Whether you volunteer to assist at an aide station or stand in front of your house in your PJs with a cup of coffee and a kind word, your actions matter. Not just for the tired people running by, but for you and your sense of well-being.
You don’t have to raise money and go on a foreign mission trip to reap the physical self-care benefits of altruism. Although mission trips provide excellent opportunities for growth.
A Word About Balance
These suggestions take into account not only introverts and extroverts, but seasons of life. If you have small children at home, know that you don’t need to go on a mission trip to benefit from acts of kindness. Encouraging your children, your spouse, or your friends will help you out.
And if you wonder, volunteering or affirming others won’t make you lose weight. But it will make you feel better about yourself. Which in turn might help you make better choices about what you eat, the amount of sleep you get, or how much you exercise.Looking for ways to take care of yourself physically? Skip the massage and try encouraging others! #physicalselfcare #selfcare Click To Tweet
What ways have you discovered to encourage others? Have you ever noticed your mood changing for the better when you cheer others on?