Pay it forward

When you have some time and energy to spare for the world, think of who can use some help and reach out a helping hand.

Those of us who live in cities far from where we were born and where our extended family resides know the value of help in those times when our efforts and resources are just not enough. We are isolated — there is no village to help raise our children or care for us when we are in need, so there are many times when we might feel like there is no help and no hope. We are left to our own devices to try to get through whatever challenges we are facing. Whether it is caring for a newborn with high needs and getting barely any sleep, fighting a serious illness, lacking food or shelter for a time, being stranded in an unfamiliar city, getting laid off and unable to find a job, facing mental or physical challenges, or a combination thereof, — having someone help out at a rough time can bring hope and help us get back on level ground.

Productive Zen Mama - Pay It ForwardSo many of us are hesitant to ask for help, being raised to be “self-sufficient”. Abolish this idea. Give and accept freely. People want to help — let them share something with you, and give forth freely — you will discover that wonderful feeling of helping someone out.

There are many ways to reach out, from simple ones like opening a door for someone or sending a postcard letting someone know you are thinking about them, to more involved ways, like watching someone’s children so the parents can get some much-needed sleep or time to reconnect with each other. Pass on a book, clothing, kitchen gear. Say “thank-you” to someone who has made your day more pleasant, listen to someone’s challenges, help someone move, give someone a handmade gift — just to show appreciation for having them in your life.

Another great way to help is participating in a meal train. A meal train is an arrangement where people sign up to bring someone meals for a period of time, and it is wonderful during the times when you are overwhelmed, like immediate postpartum or taking care of someone with an illness. There are online tools to facilitate the meal train management, such as MealTrain.com. People can sign up for a specific date and leave a message such as “I’m bringing African chicken peanut stew, some rice to go with it, and muffins for breakfast.” This solution works wonders, allows everyone to see gaps where no one has subscribed and plan accordingly, and you can invite anyone with an email address.

I have participated in many postpartum meal trains, for both people I know well and complete strangers. I don’t need to know the family to realize it is a challenging and overwhelming time for them, and I don’t mind at all sharing a meal and a good wish with them. Additionally, there are many other options in society to help out with food, such as bringing meals to someone who is looking after a sick relative or a child with challenges, an elderly person, a lonely soul, or a neighbour. Reach out, help someone, and you’ll see how good it feels.

Helping others without expecting anything in return is a wonderful way to build and strengthen social connections and contribute to the world. It does wonders for your emotional well-being, lowers your stress level, helps recovery from depression, and there is even a link between volunteering and greater longevity!

It is not hard to find time to help someone out. For instance, when you cook, make a double amount of what you need, freeze the extra portions, and have a meal on-hand, ready to give to someone in need. If you feel like socializing, reach out to a friend who could use emotional support and make plans for lunch, drinks, a coffee date, or a potluck gathering. Offer to take a friend’s children to the park or to your place to play, while the parents take a much-needed break. Give a ride to someone without a vehicle. Freecycle things you no longer need. Volunteer to support an organization that strives to achieve the goals you believe in. Give someone a hug, be kind to a stranger, smile at a passer-by, cast a message of caring out into the universe, and life can take you in a surprisingly refreshing and rewarding direction.

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