Mental health and volunteering

Volunteering has been shown to be beneficial to the mental health of individuals. It can improve overall mental health and also help to protect from mental health problems.

The Mental Health Foundation lists some benefits of volunteering:

·         It provides structure and routine

·         It can help people feel good about themselves

·         It can improve feelings of self-esteem

·         It provides opportunities to make friends and take part in social activities

·         It can provide learning opportunities which can protect mental health

Here are 7 Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering:

1. Reduces Stress

Whether we are working with adults, children or pets, a meaningful connection can take our mind off our worries when we put our attention on someone or something else. The richer the experience, the more we feel satisfied with giving of our time and talents, and that results in improved mood and less stress.

2. Combats Depression

Volunteering can keep the mind distracted from a destructive habit like negative thinking or being overly critical (especially of oneself). It can also increase motivation by providing a sense of accomplishment. We think, “If I can do this, what else is possible?”

3. Prevents Feelings of Isolation

While volunteering, we can also make new friends growing our social network and possibly even our professional one. Picking an activity that we enjoy gives us a higher chance of meeting people who share our values and worldview. Like-minded, like-hearted people come together over common interests. Whether it’s building a community garden, campaigning for specific political movement or giving tours as a museum docent, the key is to show up with some consistency and warmly introducing ourselves. It’s possible to create friendships that can last long after the volunteering ends. And, especially for those of us who are naturally more shy and introverted, a volunteer activity can help break the ice while helping others.

4. Increases Confidence

Some volunteering activities require learning new skills. Gaining a new ability coupled with being in an unfamiliar environment can provide mental stimulation that we would otherwise not experience.3 Also, in growing our skill set to make a difference for others, we can gain a sense of pride and identity, which can lead to having a more positive view of oneself.

5. Gives a Sense of Purpose and Meaning

Regardless of our age, whether we are still in our prime income-earning years or in retired, volunteering can give meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in ways different than what we do or have done for work. Whether it’s with seniors, children, animals or due to a natural disaster, the willingness to do what’s needed in the moment no matter how humbling the task can put things in perspective and help grow compassion for others while expanding our minds and worldview.

6. Ignites Passion

Volunteering is also a fun way to explore different interests or even perhaps work alongside a master. It can be an energizing escape from your daily routine especially if you sit in front of a computer all day and long to be more active and in the outdoors. Look for opportunities to help clean up the woods you love, walk dogs for an animal shelter, or volunteer at a youth soccer camp.

7. Makes You Happy

Research shows that feel good hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities. Humans are designed to be in community, serving one another. It’s impossible not to impact a community when you volunteer. Just being there and doing whatever is needed is contributing to the greater whole. Volunteering makes the world a better place by aiding a community in need and helping others provides immense pleasure.

There’s a volunteer activity perfect for you given your skill set, physical mobility capacity, and time availability. Your local school, library or church can always use support. Whether it’s tutoring a student, going on a mission trip to a foreign country or being a baby cuddler (yes, that’s holding babies in the neonatal intensive care unit of hospitals), the possibilities are endless. And now with current technologies, there are ways to volunteer remotely via phone or computer. Just make sure there is enough social interaction and support for you to feel connected and fulfilled.

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