Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Stephen G. Post's book, The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times, (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Going through a hard time? Then help others who are struggling. It may seem counterintuitive to reach out to others in need when you’re feeling so needy yourself. But when you help other people, you help yourself, too.

Helping others is a healthy habit to develop, no matter what circumstances you may be going through. While your focus is on blessing other people, you’ll find that God blesses you in a wide variety of ways.

Here’s how you can develop a lifestyle of helping others:

Consider the many benefits of helping others. Helping other people will help you: get rid of negative emotions like anger or grief, reduce stress, increase joy, improve your physical and mental health, renew your sense of hope about what’s possible, improve your sense of self-worth, and connect you to caring people.

Don’t let anything stand in your way. It’s easy to make lots of excuses about why you don’t want to help others: it’s inconvenient, it’s messy, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, you don’t feel like you can spare time or energy, or you’re just plain indifferent or apathetic when you encounter other people’s needs. Pray for the strength to avoid making excuses, and ask God to give you the compassion you need to truly care about other people’s suffering and the motivation you need to help them. Decide that you’re going to help other people regularly, because you want to become the kind of person who loves the way God wants you to love.

Notice the opportunities to serve around you. Every day, pray that God would guide you to the people He wants you to serve and recognize what specific ways He wants you to help them. Keep in mind that you can’t do everything, but you should do something, and God will help you figure out which opportunities are best for you and set appropriate boundaries so you’re able to help in effective ways without overwhelming yourself.

Get the “giver’s glow. ”When you give some of your resources (such as time, energy, or money) to help others, you free yourself from a preoccupation with your own needs and help yourself trust God more. You also discover and fulfill more of God’s purposes for your life, which will bring you joy. Medical researchers have found that helping others triggers the brain to release chemicals called endorphins that cause feelings of satisfaction and happiness. All of this contributes to the “giver’s glow” that makes you feel fulfilled when helping other people in need.

Identify a special group of people you’re especially passionate about helping. Pray about the distinctive blend of interests and talents God has given you, and ask for the wisdom to figure out which type of group of people you can focus on helping. While it’s important to remain open to helping people in a variety of situations as God leads you, you can help people the most when you build meaningful relationships with them, as you can by focusing on a primary way of serving. Are you passionate about helping children who are struggling in school, or elderly people who are lonely? Do you sense a calling to help people who are suffering from a certain disease, like cancer? Is God leading you to reach out to prisoners? Is there a special cause that’s close to your heart, from finding homes for homeless animals to working for tougher laws against drunk driving? When you help people in a way that you’re passionate about, you’ll discover the thrill of fulfilling more of God’s purposes for your life.