Volunteering is a selfless way of aiding others through the donation of your personal time. By setting aside personal to-do lists and action items to help others, you are aiding individuals or organizations with needs greater than your own, and benefits to mental health have been linked to volunteerism.
The first way that volunteering can positively impact mental health is by reducing stress. Through the act of taking care of others, attention is diverted from personal stressors to the care and attention being put into volunteer work or persons receiving attention through our volunteer work. The more impactful that we feel our volunteer time is, the better our mood becomes, and the less stressed we feel thanks to the satisfaction of making a difference.
Other than taking the stress away, volunteering holds feelings of depression at bay and makes you feel happy. Volunteering has the ability to keep the mind distracted from negative thoughts toward oneself that can lead to feelings of depression, and, research shows, feel-good hormones increase during volunteer activity. The act of volunteering stamps out feelings that can lead to depression and increases feelings that lead to extreme satisfaction and happiness. One source went so far as to say that human nature leads individuals to search for community and opportunities to serve one another. Volunteering fills these innate needs and leads to positive outlooks.
Another way volunteering impacts its participants is its ability to evoke a sense of purpose or meaning. There are many individuals across the world who are not challenged or fueled by their career path, and there are also individuals who work from home, don’t work, or are retired and need some human interaction. No matter what category you fall into, volunteering with organizations that provide help to a cause that means something to you can create within you a sense of purpose that you have not been able to find anywhere else in life. You love animals but work in front of a computer all day? Volunteer at the animal shelter for some one-on-one animal time. Lose a grandparent at a young age but still crave an elderly influence in your life? Volunteer at a retirement or nursing home. The residents will get just as much out of your volunteering as you will. See where we’re going with this? Choose volunteer opportunities that speak to you, and you will be enriched for it.
Though volunteering with local organizations or as an individual is something that we do as a way to give to others, it is still nice to know that our mental state benefits from the ways we help others.