The participants received an automated phone reminder every night that prompted them to complete their daily assessment. They were asked to report any stressful life events they experienced that day across several domains (eg interpersonal, work/education, home, finance, health/accident) and the total number of events comprised the measure of daily stress.

They were also asked to report whether they had engaged in various helpful behaviours (eg held open a door, helped with schoolwork, asked someone if they needed help) that day. The participants also completed a 10-item short-form of the Positive and Negative Affect Scale, a well-validated measure of experienced emotion, and they were asked to rate their mental health for that day using a slider on a scale that ranged from 0 (poor) to 100 (excellent).

The results indicated that helping others boosted participants' daily well-being. A greater number of helping behaviors was associated with higher levels of daily positive emotion and better overall mental health.  Those who reported higher-than-usual levels of helping behavior, on the other hand, showed no dampening of positive emotion or mental health, and a lower increase in negative emotion, in response to high daily stress.

Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won't feel as poorly on stressful days, Ansell said. If a participant did engage in more pro social behaviors on stressful days there was essentially no impact of stress on positive emotion or daily mental health, Ansell said.

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