Most of us can agree that we experience a rush of happiness after helping someone in need. Over 21 million people in the United Kingdom annually experience this type of happiness while formally volunteering. Volunteering your time with a charity helps make the world a kinder place, but it also makes you more kind-hearted. Philanthropy has an incredible impact on a volunteer’s mental health and happiness. Here are a few ways volunteering can help your mental health:
Frequent volunteering can reduce stress levels and lower blood sugar. The Harvard Medical School found that volunteering has a similar effect on the body as physical exercise, which is well known to lower stress levels and improve overall health. Opportunities that involve physical activity are especially positive to mental and overall body health, though volunteers working with pets or other animals experience the most stress reduction and uplifted moods. Participants also benefit from gaining life structure and a sense of fulfilment through frequent volunteering. Self-confidence is boosted through feelings of control and purposefulness, which is particularly helpful to those recently retired or transitioning in life.
Developing Your Social Network & Making New Friends
Volunteering in a group setting within your community allows you to meet other like-minded community members and bond over a shared altruistic purpose. Group activities are great settings to develop friendships or professionally network. Those with a responsive support system are more likely to proactively process stress and have lower risks of depression. Volunteering also allows you to diversify your friend group by meeting other volunteers or charity clients from different ages, backgrounds, and nationalities. In fact, volunteers working within the UK charity sector are exposed to a growing percentage of diversity. According to nfpSynergy, the UK charity sector has a diminished gendered gap for volunteers and young people are four times as likely to volunteer regularly than any other age group.
Giving Back to Your Community
You're more likely to have long term benefits from volunteering when you frequently volunteer in a field you feel passionate towards, whether that be sports, arts, or humanitarian issues. Volunteers feel positive when giving back to charity sectors relevant to their personal hobbies or to communities they are already active within. In the United States, volunteers are more likely to be volunteering in religious, cultural and hobby activities, and youth services than political or health care services. These activities are deep rooted into local communities, and can be very immersive for volunteers. Community work is known to counter feelings of isolation, which is often a concern for elderly generations and those living with a mental illness.
Gaining a New Perspective & Empathy for Others
Volunteering within different areas of your community increases your empathy to those living under different circumstances within the same neighborhood, and you become more grateful for your privileges and your ability to help. Assisting those impacted by natural disaster or crisis allows you to feel a connection to others even though you have not been affected the same way. Many researchers discuss the benefits of volunteering on retirees, but teenagers and millennials have the benefit of gaining new perspectives by working with older generations as well. In general, volunteering increases your sense of belonging and acceptance into society.
So, it turns out volunteering is kind of good for you. What kind work will you do now?