The end-of-year holidays are a popular time to volunteer at charities and non-profit organizations. However, many people might not realize that as they help others, they also help themselves.
Volunteering improves physical health
There are many ways that volunteering helps improve mental and physical health, though it may benefit the latter even more. In 2002, doctors studied more than 6,300 retired persons at senior centers and found that those among them who actively volunteered had less than half the risk of dying than those who did not. This is because volunteering—at any age—is associated with lower blood pressure. According to Harvard.edu, high blood pressure is an important indicator of health because it contributes to heart disease, stroke and premature death. As a result, volunteering directly reduces the risk of heart disease and other symptoms of chronic pain.
Volunteering improves mental health
Happiness is hard to measure, but not impossible. Researchers who looked at hormonal and brain activity discovered that being helpful to others generates immense pleasure. In fact, a study reported in Natural Health magazine in 2007 showed that 95 percent of volunteers said they gained a “helper’s high”—a feeling of euphoria and energy—and HelpGuide.org says that volunteering causes the same dopamine rush that one might feel after vigorous exercise. Volunteering can give people a sense of identity and pride, helping improve self-confidence and giving them a more positive outlook on life and their goals. People who volunteer regularly have also been shown to have better thinking skills and find it easier to cope with everyday tasks. Overall, volunteering helps people feel less depressed and angry and makes them more likely to find purpose and meaning in their lives.
Social interaction reduces stress
Volunteering, especially if it involves working with animals, has been repeatedly shown to reduce stress and anxiety. The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can be exceptionally beneficial to one’s psychological wellbeing, as is the building of a meaningful connection with someone through volunteer work, whether they be fellow volunteers or the recipients of help. Perhaps even more positive to one’s mental and physical health is interaction with animals, particularly dogs. Numerous studies have shown that simply petting or hugging an animal can quickly reduce stress, and the American Heart Association has found that pet owners are less likely to be depressed, less likely to experience heart disease and have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Even if you don’t own a pet, that’s a compelling argument to volunteer at an animal shelter.
Volunteering helps improve disabilities
It may seem to people with chronic health conditions or disabilities that volunteering is out of their reach, yet it is just the opposite. HelpGuide.org says that adults with disabilities or health conditions—everything ranging from diabetes and digestive disorders to heart disease and hearing or vision loss—have shown significant health improvements after volunteering. You don’t need to be mobile to get involved with the community: many modern organizations need help with web-based tasks like writing, email and graphic design, and some may allow volunteers to do their part completely remotely.
Volunteering is more powerful than we commonly think. These holidays, help your community by volunteering and you will find that the act of giving is giving you something back in return.