Having bipolar disorder comes with a vast array of emotion. There is depression, hopelessness, anxiety, irritability, elation, euphoria and dysphoria, to name a few. It can be difficult to handle these emotions. Doing so on one’s own can be a daunting task, which is why it is recommended that people with bipolar disorder seek professional help. Receiving help from others is not limited to professionals, however. Most people seek help from others in their social group including friends and relatives. Some go beyond that and turn to social media forums as well. While receiving help in these areas is beneficial, there is an added benefit to participating in helping others. New research has found that by helping others regulate their emotions, your own depressive symptoms decrease as well.

There are several methods people choose to help regulate emotion: breathing techniques, grounding techniques, journaling, mood tracking apps and reaching out via social media or through in-person interaction. Each of these can show benefits in different situations. However, there may be a cost to being on the receiving end of social support. Some research shows that discussing our negative emotions with others only emphasizes their existence and the fact that we’re having trouble dealing with them.

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Researchers, led by Bruce P. Doré of Columbia University, wanted to see if a contrary situation was true. In their recent article in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, they noted that much research has been dedicated to people dealing with their own emotions, but not on the effects of helping others. They followed 82 participants over three weeks to see what effect might occur on a person when helping another person deal with negative emotions.

In the control group, participants engaged in expressive writing that involved no social interaction. For the test group, the researchers had the participants use the internet app Panoply to complete the study. The mental health site encourages people to post their own problems and others respond to help reframe the situation and encourage the person in dealing with their emotions. Participants also respond to others’ posts. This is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, only via the internet. The use of Panoply has shown to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, but Doré and his team wanted to find out why.

The results were that as participants increased helping of others, their ability to reappraise situations in a more positive manner increased. They also showed fewer depressive symptoms the more they engaged in helping activities. Helping others consisted of offering messages of acceptance, helping others to reframe their thoughts on situations, and pointing out when the post author’s thoughts might be distorted.

Basically, the researchers found simply that helping others helped people help themselves. Helping others reframe situations and react differently can teach us how to do it for ourselves. We also get the satisfaction of being a positive influence on another person.

There are a number of ways those with anxiety, depression and/or bipolar disorder can engage in helping others. There is the traditional face-to-face method of having a chat or there are a myriad of online forums and support groups. For example, there are forums on mental health-related websites like PsychCentral.com. There are also other groups and forums on social media sites and platforms like Reddit, Pinterest, Flipboard and Facebook. For Facebook, specifically, there is the group Positive Depression/Bipolar Happy Place where those with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder can help one another while focusing on finding the positive and helping to uplift one another.

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