During remote learning due to the current pandemic, a simple school project about society’s response to the Covid-19 crisis allowed me to look at the overall human condition in a new light.

In my English class, instead of the normal essay on a book we read, our final task for this year was to conduct a research assignment on any subject that relates to the Covid-19 crisis. Understandably, most of my peers chose to research how isolation can drive you to insanity, the decline in mental health, and so on. All very negative subjects, because well…we are in the midst of a global pandemic after all. 

But I wanted to see if it was possible to research a way that this pandemic has positively impacted anything. And sure enough, I thought of all the stories I had read about restaurant owners giving back and more people donating now more than ever and suddenly my thesis question hit me: Is it possible for times of crisis to give society the desire to give back, or even allow us to deal with our own anxieties?

I realized that this is true for me, on a personal level as well. Five years ago, when my mom passed away from brain cancer, I began to save all my birthday and Christmas money in an envelope labeled, “American Brain Tumor Association”, which gave me such comfort at just ten years old, knowing that I had the power to help people in a similar situation as my family.  Fast forward five years later, and I recently made a donation of the money I’ve saved in my mother’s name. 

Well, after reading tons of articles and watching hours of TED talks, I found out that yes, society has become more charitable since March 2020! And not only this, but I discovered the actual scientific reasons why humans want to give back when facing adversity, and what this does for our own mental health. And so I present to you, the fascinating reasons why crisis can lead to the desire to give back, and how this can help us face our own fears:

Through these times of uncertainty, it’s obvious that most people including myself, have been viewing the world through a very negative lens recently. Which of course makes sense considering the “new normal” we have to deal with every day. The fears that we have through this time are completely valid, but I think it’s important that we don’t let those fears block out the good that still exists. Which is why today I’m gonna be exploring the strange way that crisis can promote the desire to give back, and how giving back can even help us face our own anxieties. This statement and idea is something that I’ve believed to be true for many years, but this current COVID crisis has definitely reinforced that belief. Now, I’m someone who’s always curious about why humans behave the way that we do, so I wanted to do some research to find out if there’s actually any science behind this belief. As it turns out, there has been tons of research done about why crisis makes humans want to give back. Not only does crisis make us want to help out more, but this helping out actually can reduce our own fears.

In the beginning of my research process, I came across an article called, “Why Giving Back Matters Now More Than Ever” by Emily Lipworth. It basically talks about how since lockdown orders have been put in place, various non-profit organizations have been seeing an overwhelming amount of generosity. Now, what makes this so powerful to me, is that Americans are not only faced with this new fear but have been losing their jobs at a crazy rate. The fact that more people are willing to give back, even after losing their income, is incredible to me. In this article, Dr. Emilt Greenfield talks about the reasoning behind this, stating, “For many people, caring for others is a fundamental human response to stress. It can benefit others and ourselves, especially under times of threat…giving is one of the most effective, proven ways to boost our wellbeing. As transformative for us as it is for the recipient.”
The scientific reasoning behind this is further explored in the New York Times article, “The Science of Helping Out” by Tara Parker-Pope, which explains how giving can actually be considered anti-anxiety medication. There has been lots of research done into what scientists call a “helper’s high”.  In many ways, showing that giving could be as selfish as it is selfless.  This term examines how it is proven that giving in any form such as volunteering or donating money, releases feel-good chemicals to the brain. In a study of almost 900 people, scientists concluded that traumatic life events took a greater toll on those who were overall less helpful to those around them. On the contrary, those who gave more had significantly less physical effects in response to stressful events. Essentially, this is because those who feel they have a purpose beyond their own life problems, are more at ease.  Now, as helpful as these articles were, I wanted to continue my research by getting the perspective from someone who is actively involved in giving back, especially during the current COVID crisis. As I was thinking about my topic, I actually happened to come across an article on my town’s local website about local heroes in our community, who have been helping to feed the frontline workersduring this time.

Burim Rejaj, owner of local pizza shop, Outta Hand Pizza in Westfield, NJ, is one of those local heroes discussed in this article. He’s been donating both his time and his money to support various hospitals in New Jersey. This is why I thought it would be so beneficial to get his insight on the topic of giving back during crisis. 

I decided to set an interview with him, over zoom. In this interview, Rejaj explained how being able to help gave him a unique sense of hope for the future. Our interview gave me tons of new insight, but there was one quote that stuck out to me, “If I was home, and not being able to see or learn what’s going on with our healthcare workers, and what’s going on outside of the community, or not being able to provide any help, it just would have been heartbreaking. Being able to help and being able to interact with the healthcare workers was incredible. It gave me confidence that we will prevail.” -Burim Rejaj

Hearing this made me realize that the specific way giving back can help us face our own anxieties, is by providing us with a sense of hope. As Rejaj stated, simply seeing the faces of these frontline workers gave him a new perspective, allowing him to fully comprehend that these people are working hard every day to keep us safe. Helping them is what allowed him to have this realization. 

Truly knowing that you are making a difference is enough to impact you in the way that it simply boosts your mood, or even have such an effect on you that it changes your entire perspective on the world.  

After conducting this research, I learned that giving back, especially during a crisis, is truly one of the most powerful things you can do. Although we are currently experiencing one of the most overwhelming times society will probably ever face, simply helping others has the power to not only make a difference in the world, but also to heal ourselves from our own hardships.

This healing for me, began five years ago when I began to save my donation money, knowing I wanted to be a small part of something that would make a difference. I didn’t have the power to change the past, but I had the power to help change someone’s future.

And even when you feel powerless, there is comfort in the power of giving

Liv Mazz, aka The Lone Teen, is a suburban 14-year-old living with her father, brother and Havanese puppy. She is an eighth grader who enjoys spending time with friends in downtown Westfield NJ.

When not hanging out with her friends, you can find her dancing up a storm at her longtime dance school, running lines to audition for her next show or singing a ballad on stage. Liv also loves to spend time with her giant Italian family by enjoying a Sunday dinner and great conversation. She cannot wait to begin sharing her story as a not-so-average teen and is super excited to be a brand new addition to The Daily Feels.

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