18/12/2015 13:05 GMT | Updated 18/12/2016 05:12 GMT

How Helping a Charity Could Cut Your Christmas Stress

Are you already feeling frazzled by the festive season? Going into meltdown with all the extra things to remember and do? Engaging in a little altruism could help you battle stress, a team of top scientists say.

Are you already feeling frazzled by the festive season? Going into meltdown with all the extra things to remember and do? Engaging in a little altruism could help you battle stress, a team of top scientists say.2015-12-16-1450293669-4132876-SnowmanfamilybyFidlerJan.jpg

We already know that giving feels good, but professors at the University of California and the Yale University School of Medicine have now found that helping others provides a buffer against the negative effects of stress.

Doing something kind and helpful effectively offers a double dose of positivity; it helps you maintain a good mood and also decreases the negative impact of any stressful events.

In the study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, participants kept a two-week diary of stressful events they'd experienced, such as work, health or family problems, and also recorded any helping behaviours they'd demonstrated during that period.

The more that participants did altruistic things, the less they felt the effects of stress. The opposite also held true; on days when volunteers were less charitable, they experienced both a drop in mood and a higher negative emotional response to stress.

2015-12-16-1450293940-3323014-christmassmilepippalou.jpg Study author Emily Ansell said that the results were particularly relevant for the Christmas season, telling CBS News: "A lot of the time, we find that our daily stress goes up over the holiday season." She added that doing something altruistic "might help you feel a little better in terms of your own mood or stress this holiday season".

So, why am I suggesting that you might consider donating to charity this Christmas rather than making mince pies for your neighbours or defrosting your partner's car?

There have been many previous studies which show that giving to charity makes people happy - in fact donating money tends to leave them feeling better than if they had spent the money on themselves. The greatest levels of happiness are felt by donors who feel like their actions have made a real difference. Helping to change someone's life vs. defogging their windows or making them a pastry treat? There's not much competition.

2015-12-16-1450294165-8498222-lovebysvklimkin.jpgI can back this up with my own experience. I have donated both my time and money at a Christmas homelessness project for over a decade, and doing this has given me happier Christmases than any others in my life.

I am also the Chair of a charity called DiversityInCare, which helps homeless ex-offenders and other vulnerable adults get back on their feet. Our clients have suffered from addictions, poor mental health, poverty, family breakdown or abuse - and nothing feels as wonderful as helping them to turn their lives around.

Our clients see us as a family who really cares about them, and I genuinely do get a warm glow every time one of them tells me they've completed a course, reunited with their children, or passed a job interview.

Of course, with government cutbacks happening at every level, it is very difficult to find funding these days. Despite appeals, charities are already feeling left out in the cold this Christmas.

2015-12-16-1450294312-173163-BBoomerinDenial.jpgSo, if you want to cut your stress levels this Christmas, I'd advise you to start scouting out proactive, effective charities like DiversityInCare. Find out what they do, how they help people, how much of a difference they really make to the lives of individuals and to society.

I guarantee that the more smiles you put on the faces of people in real need this festive season, the happier Christmas you'll have. If you find that giving to charity at Christmas makes you feel really good, you could even consider regular donations or volunteer work in the New Year.

(Images courtesy of FidlerJan, pippalou, svklimkin and BBoomerinDenial.)