When you have a mental illness, it can be very easy to get wrapped up in your own problems. This is not a character flaw. It is simply a necessity of life. Those of us with depression and anxiety have to spend a lot of time monitoring our inner feelings and self-talk just to get through the day.
When you spend that much time thinking about yourself and your needs, you can forget the positive benefits that you get from helping other people. It may seem impossible to even consider helping someone else when you can barely take care of yourself.
Helping others does not have to be a huge undertaking. You do not have to solve major world problems in order to have a positive impact on the Universe.
Start small and do what you are able. Some days you may feel up to doing more than others. But do not let a day go by when you do not do at least one kind thing for another being (animals count, too).
Here are some suggestions that can be tailored to suit your abilities and interests.
This is the simplest form of helping others. Smile or nod to acknowledge the fellow humans you walk past. Be generous with others — -hold doors, let people merge (even if you think they don’t deserve it) and return your cart to the cart return.
Greet those you love as if they matter to you. Sometimes when we are busy or when we are feeling bad, we may greet our partner or children in a lackluster manner. When you or they get home, make sure they know you are happy to see them. Even if all you do is use a happy tone of voice.
Say hi or wave at your neighbors when you see them. Join Nextdoor and help with suggestions and loaning tools or other things people are looking for. Don’t get sucked into the nasty side that demonizes minorities and the homeless. If you are a hateful fuck-nugget, keep it to yourself.
If you have elderly neighbors help them with small chores if they need it. Carry in their groceries. Give them a ride to the bank. Mow their lawn or water their plants.
Wherever you go, leave it nicer than how you found it. If you go for a walk around your neighborhood, take a small bag and pick up litter. When you go to the store, pick up things that others have knocked on the ground. If you are going to an event with your kids, show up early to help set up or stay late and help clean up.
It will help both your anxiety and your depression if your environment is clean and uncluttered. Take the things you no longer need and donate them. If you know someone who needs what you are getting rid of, offer it to them. Otherwise many charities run thrift stores to raise money for themselves.
I’d suggest that you look for a charity that is responsible with your money and that supports your beliefs. If you are not sure, Google them and see what they spend donations on. Also, you can go to Charity Watch and see if they are responsible.
I do those and I also have a personal, less scientific method. I look at their stores and offices. Are they simple and utilitarian? I stopped donating to one charity a couple of years ago because they built a brand-new thrift store in the next suburb over and it was — let’s call it architecturally fancy. What the hell did they need that for? People going to a thrift store are looking for bargains, not a fancy building. The money they wasted making it fancy should have been spent on the people they claim to help.
This can be as formal or as informal as you choose. You can tutor a neighbor’s kid or a relative in a subject you know well. You can get some neighbors together to help paint another neighbor’s house. You can volunteer at any number of organizations. There are one-day clean-up events for local parks or beaches. There are longer-term commitments at hospitals and libraries.
To maximize the good you do, look for places and groups that don’t get a lot of volunteers. This may vary by area but usually, places like the animal shelter have waiting lists of people who want to volunteer. They never lack for help. Look for smaller or less obvious places. Nursing homes, unusual pet rescues, non-mainstream health support groups. They need help more than the popular places do.
Every day do what you can to make the world a little better. It will help you. It will help the world. It’s win-win.