Commentary: ‘Tis the season – of stress-free giving?

December 10, 2021 5:45 am
A divided five dollar bill

This time of year, it’s easy to feel pulled in too many directions when it comes to supporting nonprofits and charities. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

At this time of the year, gift requests arrive in droves. #GivingTuesday. GoFundMe. Facebook fundraisers. Online videos with giving links. Letters, oversized post cards, newsletters, and more. They land in our mail and email inboxes. They stack up in our social media feeds. They come from friends and family members in an overwhelming cacophony of urgent holiday pleas. A cousin wants a gift to her special cause. Friends press in on Facebook requesting donations to the charities of their choice. Birthday fundraisers are commonplace. #GivingTuesday is a bandwagon everyone wants us to ride. So many people and places seem to want a piece of our purse. 

“The Season of Giving” has become a well-worn mantra peddled by organizations seeking contributions. All those schools and small nonprofits we’ve somehow affiliated with in the past arrive at our doorsteps and virtual thresholds like clockwork with special requests, enticements, and challenge matches imploring us to help them reach new and lofty goals. Recently, we spotted an email gift request with the added enticement of being entered into a raffle to win a box of fancy chocolates. Wait, what about that diet!  

Take heart, fear not, and remember this simple fact: The act of giving releases oxytocin, a hormone that generates feelings of warmth and connection to others. And oxytocin reduces the stress hormone cortisol. But, here’s the catch: Your giving has to be to a cause that is meaningful to you in order for you to benefit from the act of giving.  

Why? Because when you see a problem in society, it causes you anxiety. If you feel powerless to address that issue, your anxiety increases. When you give to support that specific cause – by volunteering, donating dollars, even posting something positive about it on social media, or telling a friend about its good work – you’ll ease your anxiety. That’s when your body will release oxytocin and give you that feel-good bump in your day, month, and year knowing you’ve helped support an issue you truly believe needs to be addressed.  

Conversely, if you give to make others feel better out of feelings of guilt, or giving to get them to go away or take you off their list, you might feel some instant relief at reducing the pile of items on your holiday giving plate, but you’ll still feel stressed as cortisol kicks in without the oxytocin bounce your body needs. That’s because you are not addressing your own anxieties about giving to solve issues that matters most to you.  

So, the next time someone asks you to give to something that doesn’t make you smile with pride, just let that person know you appreciate being asked, and that you have other causes you give to that matter more to you. That lets them know you are philanthropic, you do care to support nonprofit causes, and that you wish them well in their fundraising endeavors. There’s also no shame in asking to be taken off a list, or in taking yourself off a list by unsubscribing online. That will reduce your burden for next year’s Season of Giving. 

Our advice this holiday season? First, just say “no” with a friendly smile to those who implore you to support a cause you don’t believe in deeply. And don’t feel guilty about it, knowing that it’s important to help yourself before you can help others. Feeling good is good for your mental well-being, and your oxytocin bounce will go a long way to making you a happier person. That will benefit you and everyone around you, including the causes you care to support.  

Then, just say “yes” to giving to what you truly believe will address a problem close to your heart. You’ll feel good, and less stressed. 

Isn’t that what this “Season of Giving” should be all about here in New Hampshire?  

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Dave Celone
Dave Celone

Dave Celone works for West Central Behavioral Health, the community behavioral health center for lower Grafton County and Sullivan County with offices in Claremont, Lebanon, and Newport.

Diane Roston
Diane Roston

Diane Roston is the medical director for the nonprofit community behavioral health center, West Central Behavioral Health, which has clinical offices in Claremont, Lebanon, and Newport.