Volunteering comes in numerous forms, and it’s not exclusively confined to working in a charity shop or running a local community event. Sometimes it can be as simple as helping to clean up after a concert or supporting an elderly neighbour to move house.
The salient point is that our time, energy and skills are finite. Dedicating our time and skills to good causes doesn’t just help people in need, but it can also profoundly benefit our mental health. Doing something out of the kindness of our hearts, and not expecting anything in return, can be tremendously positive. This article explores the mental health boost we can get by volunteering.
How can volunteering help your mental health?
There’s no denying that life can get hectic and our feelings of stress are exacerbated by work, family and other responsibilities. Volunteering can be the perfect outlet to take a much-needed break from your normal routine and focus on something else.
Research has shown that volunteering often releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine (feel-good chemicals) generating a natural ‘high’ that enhances mood and reduces stress, similar to exercise. Therefore, if you want to relieve intense feelings of stress, you may benefit by assisting with a cause you care about and focusing your efforts on making a positive difference.
Loneliness is a prominent global health concern, with surveys in the UK finding that over a million older people go months without speaking to a family member, neighbour, or friend. Volunteering can bridge this gap, providing crucial, regular social interaction that fights feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Dedicating your time to meeting new people from diverse backgrounds and bonding over your interests and experiences will foster higher levels of happiness in people, and you will, by extension, experience similar feelings.
Builds new relationships
Volunteering allows you to connect with and meet people across your community, some of whom you may not otherwise get the chance to meet. Building new relationships can expand your social network and give you a much-needed psychological boost. You can create opportunities for friendship, networking, and even work if you surround yourself with positive, like-minded people with similar passions and interests.
Boosts your mood
Depending on what your volunteering involves, it’d be hard not to feel a natural mood boost after seeing how your efforts are making a difference. Volunteering allows you to positively influence and impact the lives of many people in need and support issues of importance to you.
Research has shown that people who volunteer semi-regularly experience improved feelings of physical and mental well-being.
Finding your passion gives your life some direction and alignment. Sometimes it can be easy to feel ‘lost’ or unsure of what your next chapter involves. Volunteering supplies you with opportunities to ignite your passion, try new activities and get yourself motivated.
You may have passions in mind, or you may even discover an unexpected area of interest while volunteering. For instance, while volunteering at an animal shelter, you may realise you have a natural affinity for helping animals in need. Alternatively, you may be a tech aficionado and want to use your photo and video kit more, share your knowledge with others and volunteer your skills at a local photography club. Following your passions through volunteering provides a sense of fulfilment and excitement.
Develops new skills
Volunteering provides you with opportunities to learn new skills and gain valuable new experiences. These could ultimately help your career prospects or find new avenues to pursue professionally.
Developing your skills will naturally boost your confidence and self-esteem, and they will only improve over time. That feeling of accomplishment after completing a hard task is amazing, and it’s even better if you put new skills to the test and get a rewarding feeling in return.
Connects you to a local community
When you volunteer you are doing good for your community. Building connections with local individuals, businesses and charities can inspire that important community spirit and encourage you to give back. Developing community ties enhances well-being, and evokes a sense of purpose and belonging. Over time, you’ll become more acquainted with your neighbours and other influential, inspiring people in your area.
Fosters personal growth
Volunteering is a tremendous growth and self-discovery opportunity, exposing you to new perspectives and viewpoints. When we’re alone, we often immerse ourselves in a proverbial echo chamber of thoughts and opinions, which isn’t helped by our reliance on and excessive use of social media.
By meeting people from all walks of life, you’ll naturally gain a broader understanding of the world and their experiences, which can, in turn, challenge your assumptions or beliefs. Learning this is a valuable personal growth milestone, fostering feelings of empathy, patience, and reflection on your strengths and weaknesses.
We all have varying degrees of self-confidence, but volunteering can reinforce an internal sense of value and belonging by helping others. You can put your abilities to good use, thus positively validating your abilities.
The positive feedback you receive from those you help will also improve your self-esteem because expressions of gratitude enhance feelings of appreciation. In doing so, you will realise that you’re making a positive difference to others.
Adds fun and fulfilment
Most importantly, volunteering should be a fun, fulfilling experience. Finding volunteer activities you genuinely enjoy is a great way to spend your free time and create exciting memories for months and years to come. Whether your interests lie in creativity, technical, decision-making, or supporting an organisation’s cause with community outreach, you have the potential to give back and have fun while doing so. Uplifting those around you delivers a natural sense of fulfilment that boosts your mental well-being.
With World Mental Health Day approaching on the 10th October, this is a chance to talk about mental health, how we need to take care of it and how vital talking can be if you’re struggling. Why not see what local events are occurring near you to see how you can potentially get involved and help an important cause?
It’s clear to see that volunteering can bring you plenty of personal benefits and relieve many of the mental health struggles you may experience. Take the time to see whether this is something you can feasibly commit to – you won’t regret it.