Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. Sophia Banu explains why giving back makes us feel good and why it's more important than ever to do so this holiday season. Not sure where to start? Community Outreach Coordinator Katie Holtman gives a few suggestions.

As the saying goes, it is better to give than to receive. This holiday season that message is especially important because the impacts of Hurricane Harvey are still being felt by many families.

“Of course, you should try to give back every year regardless of whether there has been a disaster, but because of the losses from Harvey, it is surely more important this year. Many people have lost their houses or have experienced a loss in wages or lost their mode of transportation,” said Dr. Sophia Banu, assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. 

Banu explained that although the disaster happened months ago, the impacts are still being felt in different ways. A big issue that starts to emerge about three months after a disaster is that more people start experiencing depression, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and there is a spike in suicides, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts. 

“These harmful thoughts can be exacerbated during the holidays because the realization that you lost so much may be worse. You now may not have the money to buy as many gifts or you aren’t even in your home and you don’t have the basics that you need,” Banu said.

Given this, she said that it is particularly important around this time that other people give back and keep an eye out for signs that someone may not be coping well. She cautioned that not everybody feels comfortable asking for help, so if you see that somebody might be having a hard time then you need to take the initiative and ask if they need anything.  

Banu emphasized that giving back to the community should be done in whatever way is possible for each particular person, whether that means giving a monetary donation or donating your time.  

Giving back can have a positive impact on your own mental health, she added.

“When you give back, you get a sense that you are helping others and that changes your hormones, endorphins and oxytocin levels increase, which makes you happy and less stressed out and cortisol level decreases,” Banu said. “Volunteering also makes you happy because you are helping the community and, in turn, that makes you feel more connected to the community. In addition, volunteering gives you a chance to understand that you should be grateful for what you have.”

Giving back is a cycle, Banu said. When you give back, you feel happy and when you feel happy, you want to do more.

“As the Dalai Lama said, ‘If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.’ Being able to give in any way is a blessing, and it is especially important to give back after our community has been through a disaster like Harvey,” Banu said.