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Transcend Depression Through Serving Others

"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life
that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

On this web page, I want to share another important depression recovery strategy--engaging in community service. You know, a fundamental symptom of depression (and other mental problems) is the tendency to becoming overly focused on one's own suffering. Like the constant throbbing of an abscessed tooth, the emotional pain that we suffer can become all encompassing.

A practical way to help alleviate this condition is through serving others. Service allows us to transcend our suffering by shifting our focus away from ourselves. As author Tracy Thompson writes in regard to her own recovery from depression, "Help others. Be of service. Only in this way will you find your way out of the prison of self." In this vein, an article in Psychology Today reports that volunteer work leads to a phenomenon called "helper's high"--a physiological change in the body that produces physical and emotional well being, as well as relief from stress-related disorders.

An intriguing example of the therapeutic value of service occurred in the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, who, like her husband President Lincoln, battled depression throughout her life. In the midst of the Civil War, Mary experienced a second depressive breakdown, triggered by the loss of her favorite son and the absence of her husband who was preoccupied with wartime activities.

Shortly after her boy's death, Mary began to volunteer as a nurse's aide in civil war hospitals.  Although hearing the drop of a book at home would have set off a panic attack, Mary was able to stay calm amidst the sounds and shrieks of the tormented patients. By taking the focus off of herself through serving others, she was able to transcend her fears.

In thinking about how you can be of service, remember that there is a balance between giving and receiving. It is possible to focus so much on others that your own self-care will suffer. As we are told "Love your neighbor as yourself." In other words, the caring of others is founded on a healthy care of self.

I want to conclude with a beautiful quotation by Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself." That is why they say in AA, “We give it away in order to keep it.”

I wish you the best in your mental health recovery.

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