Volunteerism is a way of giving back to your community by doing for others with no expectations of any compensation in return. Whether you volunteer weekly, monthly or yearly, it all helps — because the truth is, nonprofit organizations cannot fulfill their mission and achieve their goals without volunteers. It’s an important action we can take to care for others, the Earth and each other.
Volunteering can have far-reaching impacts on the world around you, as well as on your own health.
While you’re giving your time and energy back to your community, your mental health is also benefiting. It’s natural to first think of the benefits to others when considering volunteering for an organization. The benefits of volunteering to those receiving help are clear and abundant. Whether one chooses to read to seniors at a nursing home, volunteer at the local animal shelter or organize food drives, the benefits to the receiver and the community at large typically influence why many decide to volunteer in the first place. Your time and unique talents can truly make an impact on the world around you.
Finding your passion and following that vision will help you take purposeful steps to help others. And giving back to worthwhile causes, people in need and the community — without financial reward — is extremely important, as it offers essential help to move organizations forward in their missions. Many organizations would not exist if not for their volunteers.
But have you ever thought about the impacts volunteerism has on the individual doing the volunteering? The act of helping a great cause has many mental health benefits. Volunteerism has been proven to positively impact the mental health of the volunteer in a number of ways, including:
1. Connections created: Participating together in a shared activity can bring people closer together. Connecting with others who share your desire to give back can help you feel less lonely, more socially engaged and part of something larger than yourself. Community engagement may also help people maintain their communication and social skills, which could help protect their mental functions as they age.
2. Confidence boosted: Volunteering provides a unique opportunity to develop confidence and self-esteem, since your role as a volunteer can give you a sense of pride and identity. You can also gain new skills and see yourself in a new light. Many volunteers also perform physical activity, which helps them to feel better in their bodies. All of these result in a boost in confidence
3. Reduced stress: Having a cause to focus on can help counteract the effects of stress, depression and anxiety. The social aspect of volunteerism can help you feel connected and concentrate on the task at hand, rather than outside stressors. In fact, studies have found that volunteering decreases the likelihood of high blood pressure development by 40%.
4. Sense of purpose: Dedicating your time to an organization can give you a new sense of direction and a boost of energy, knowing that your contribution is necessary and valuable. Volunteers experience greater satisfaction with life and life purpose, and a greater sense of identity.
5. Increased happiness: Research shows that “feel good” hormones and brain activity spike when volunteering. It’s impossible to NOT make an impact when volunteering — and that knowledge leads to happiness, as most humans naturally enjoy serving others.
There are a variety of ways to prioritize your own mental health, from eating well to taking mental breaks to volunteering for a cause you care about. If you’re not sure where to start or what’s needed in your area, don’t worry — there are a number of websites that are geared toward helping people “match” with organizations with volunteer opportunities available. Check out https://www.dosomething.org/us or www.volunteermatch.org to get started on your volunteer journey today.