Sometimes you can control how stressful your life is and sometimes you can't. You might be able to plan your work to avoid crazy crunch times or steer clear of annoying people, but you can't stop yourself from getting sick, other people from missing deadlines, or traffic snarling on your way home for work.
But while you can't always control how much stress life throws at you, you can control how it affects you. That's the takeaway of actionable new research out of Yale that demonstrates a simple way you can cope with anxiety-inducing events -- in short, be nice to other people.
Kindness kills stress
The study led by Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine minutely tracked the stress levels and moods of 77 participants over a two-week period, asking them to record all the nerve-jangling events in their lives as well as the impact they had on their emotions. In addition, the volunteers kept track of whether they performed any small acts of kindness for others, like offering their help or holding a door.
This simple gestures don't seem like such a big deal, but the data revealed they actually have a powerful stress-busting effect. The more random acts of kindness a person performed, the less of a toll stressful events took on their mood.
"It was surprising how strong and uniform the effects were," commented Ansell in the study release. "For example, if a participant did engage in more prosocial behaviors on stressful days there was essentially no impact of stress on positive emotion or daily mental health." Or to translate that into everyday language, if you're nice to people, stressful events will barely bother you at all.
Besides being easy to put into practice -- as well as a super pleasant way to fight stress -- this finding is also extremely timely, according to Ansell. "The holiday season can be a very stressful time, so think about giving directions, asking someone if they need help, or holding that elevator door. It may end up helping you feel just a little bit better," she recommends.
Looking for other ways to take the sting out of all that holiday anxiety? Other research indicates that how you view your stress plays a major role in how badly it affects you. Think of stress as your body's natural and healthy response to a difficult situation (like, say, the mall on Christmas Eve or a family meal with that uncle) rather than something inherently harmful, and you largely mitigate the harm it can do you.