Volunteering is an activity focused on the greater good. Whether you’re pitching in at a local homeless shelter or helping to feed hungry children on the other side of the world, donating your time can have a huge impact on those in need.
However, volunteering can also positively impact the volunteer, especially when it comes to their mind. Here are a few of the best mental health benefits that come from volunteering.
Volunteering Improves Perspective
If you’re a busy or often overwhelmed person, adding something to the “to do” list may feel counterintuitive. However, charity work is unique in the sense that it helps you shift your perspective onto others.
When that happens, it has the effect of reducing things like stress, anger, anxiety, and depression. As you feel happier and your mood improves, you’re able to gain a fresh sense of control over your perspective. Rather than purely seeing things from the lens of your own struggles and challenges, you can let your personal worries and woes sink into the background as you step back and remember the needs of those around you.
Volunteering Enhances Gratitude
Volunteering is a great way to enhance an attitude of gratitude. It’s easy to slip into a negative or apathetic state as you navigate your daily life. Mundane activities and the pressure of responsibilities can leave you feeling drained and moody.
However, when you spend time volunteering and your perspective begins to change, it also allows you to tap into a greater sense of gratitude. This is important to differentiate from merely feeling happy. While that is certainly a good starting point, gratitude takes that happiness to the next level.
As you volunteer and see the pain and suffering endured by others, it can naturally help you identify the areas of your life where you should be grateful. Anything from warm-cooked meals and a comfortable place to sleep to the presence of friends and family members and even the ability to do things for yourself can all become net positives.
Volunteering Cultivates Social Experiences
In a piece written for the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, science writer and psychologist Elizabeth Hopper, Ph.D., succinctly states that “volunteering is likely to help boost our sense of social connection.” The psychologist goes on to clarify that seniors are particularly able to tap into a deep sense of connection that they may lack in retirement. This can go a long way in increasing their mental health and helping to stave off conditions like depression and even dementia.
That said, volunteering enables individuals to connect, no matter what age they may be. A young adult can create a meaningful bond with children while kicking a soccer ball around during a youth summer camp. A middle-aged professional can make a warm connection with his neighbors while volunteering at a local food shelter. No matter what your age, experience, or opportunity, volunteering always opens up the doors to cultivate various social interactions and forge valuable relationships.
Suggestions for Volunteering
Many mental benefits come with volunteering. However, to truly tap into these positive aspects, the focus should always be on the needs of others. Here are a few suggestions for ways that you can start to make a difference in your own life:
- Find an older person in need: Seniors often have a plethora of challenges that they face, from helping them navigate insurance concerns to shoveling their driveways when it snows.
- Help out at a local shelter: From passing out hot meals to organizing donations, local shelters are always looking for a helping hand.
- Take your goodwill overseas: Numerous organizations help with issues like addressing child hunger, sourcing clean water, and helping those living in struggling economies.
There is no end to the number of volunteer options. You can find some in your own backyard and others half a world away. So do some research, create a list, or utilize some online sticky notes like those from Lucidspark to keep track of the various volunteer options that you want to tap into.
Some will be immediately available and others may require patience and preparation. All of them will be good for your mental health.
Tapping Into the Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering
Charity should never simply revolve around writing checks and donating used items. It should also include a conscious and sacrificial giving of your own time and efforts. In other words, it should include a sense of giving, even if it makes you a little uncomfortable.
When you volunteer your time and energy, you step out of your comfort zone with the express desire to help others. This allows you to not only offer a helping hand to those in need but also tap into the mental benefits that come with aiding others.
From gaining a fresh perspective to combatting stress and anxiety to cultivating a sense of gratitude, there are many mental health reasons to volunteer. So look through your options, consider what causes deeply impact you, and then make an effort right here and now to start volunteering regularly. You’ll be thankful that you did before long.