Why Volunteering is Good for You.
“There is a strong relationship between the wellbeing, happiness and longevity of those of us who are compassionate. Doing good can help reduce stress and improve your emotional wellbeing.” Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of Mental Health Foundation
Globally, 300 million people have depression making it the world’s largest cause of disability and around the same number have anxiety disorders. Volunteering is often heralded as boosting mental health, in fact you may be familiar with the expression that it is better to give than receive, but did you know that this is backed up by research?
A 2019 YouGov survey involving over 10,100 people found that 77% of respondents said volunteering had improved their mental health, with just over half (53%) saying it had improved their physical health.
We all have so much going on in our lives, lots of strains and stresses. Being kind can get pushed to one side, in favour of what is urgent or what is trending now. But taking time to be kind to other people can make you feel good, help reduce stress and be beneficial for your own emotional wellbeing.
Volunteering is a great way to do something for others and research shows that it benefits people of all ages through increasing feelings of self-esteem, social connection, and wellbeing.
Here are some ideas for how you can get involved:
- Volunteer for a local community organisation.
- Offer your expertise and support as a mentor for those who are struggling.
- Check in with a neighbour who may be isolated.
- Get involved in a charity which is important to you.
- Involve your friends and neighbours in community projects. You could work together to create a communal garden, or you could start-up a book club.
- Volunteer your help in a crisis. If your community has experienced a bad flood or fire, help with the clean-up.
- Volunteer to help people in need in developing countries, through a well-established organisation. You could teach children in schools or help to build houses and hospitals.
The benefits of helping others can last long after the act itself, both for you and them.
- Helping others feels good
There is some evidence to suggest that when you help others, it can promote physiological changes in the brain linked with happiness.
Helping others can also improve our support networks and encourage us to be more active. This in turn can improve our self-esteem. The YouGov poll found that 47% of people agreed that volunteering had given them more confidence, with the figure rising to 84% among 18- to 24- year olds.
- It creates a sense of belonging and reduces isolation
Volunteering and helping others can also help us feel a sense of belonging, make new friends and connect with our community. Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a food bank can help reduce loneliness and isolation.
- It helps keep things in perspective
Many people don’t realise the impact that a different perspective can have on their outlook on life.
Helping others, especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, can help to put things into perspective and make you feel more positive. There is some evidence that being aware of your own acts of kindness, as well as the things you are grateful for, can increase feelings of happiness, optimism, and satisfaction. Doing good may help you to have a more positive outlook about your own circumstances.
- It helps make the world a happier place – it’s contagious!
Acts of kindness have the potential to make the world a happier place. An act of kindness can improve feelings of confidence, being in control, happiness and optimism.
It may also encourage others to repeat the good deed that they’ve experienced themselves – contributing to a more positive community.
YouGov reported that 96% of volunteers said that they were satisfied with their experience and 69% said they would recommend it to others. This underlines how volunteering can be a truly transformative for people’s lives.
- It affects your physical health in a positive and measurable way
It’s important to note here that a person’s motive for volunteering must be truly altruistic. Otherwise, it has been shown to have no positive effect on physical health.
It can lower the health effects of stress. Whether it’s a tough day at work or a conflict at home, even the most benevolent among us have some stress in our lives but helping others can ease the impact that everyday stress has on your physical health. Volunteering also has the “feel good effect” with the release of dopamine and serotonin to the brain. The more you volunteer, the happier you are. These positive emotions have a positive effect on your physical wellbeing.
It reduces the risk of drug abuse. In 2015, The Oxford Handbook of Prosocial Behaviour published a literature review showing that teenagers and university students who volunteer tend to steer clear of alcohol and drugs, along with other “problem behaviours” like delinquency and dropping out of school.
It can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Volunteering is a sneaky way to get out of the house and step away from the screens for a bit. As a result, it could aid in weight loss and lower your cholesterol. Volunteering is also good for increasing mental activity, stamina, and functional ability in older adults. In fact, older adults can benefit the most from volunteering.
It can lower your risk of death. All those health boosts add up as you get older. In 2013, a study in the journal Psychology and Aging (US) showed that volunteering reduced mortality risk in older adults by a quarter, even when the researchers accounted for how healthy they were before the study began.
If you are interested in our volunteering opportunities, you can find out more here.