There are many organizations in the United States and indeed around the world that would be unable to operate without their volunteers. According to the corporation for National and Community Service, 62.8 million Americans volunteered 7.9 billion hours last year at an estimated value of $184 billion. Tom Brokaw said it well, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”
Giving is good for our health
A 2008 Harvard Business School study found that giving money to someone else or performing regular acts of kindness elevated happiness levels in people more than doing something for themselves. In his book “Why Good Things Happen to Good People,” Stephen Post, a professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University, noted that giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis.
Giving promotes cooperation and social connection
Many mental health disorders are characterized by withdrawal from society and spending much time alone. Volunteering time or giving to others promotes social interaction which benefits mental and physical health. Helping or giving to others fosters a sense of interdependence and cooperation, the opposite of withdrawal and loneliness.
Whether a person is new to an area or a long time resident, volunteer work has the side benefit of meeting new people with a shared interest and engaging in fun and fulfilling activities. The sense of purpose provided by volunteer work distracts a person’s mind from their own worries. Regardless of a person’s age or physical condition, there is volunteer work to accommodate every requirement.
Finding the right volunteer opportunity
It’s important to find a niche where your particular skill will be in demand. The more a person enjoys volunteer work, the more they are likely to keep doing it. Think about the following:
- Do you like to work with adults, children, animals or remotely from home?
- Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team?
- Do you prefer behind the scenes or a more visible role?
- How much time are you willing to commit?
- How much responsibility are you comfortable with?
- What skills can you offer or quickly learn?
- What causes are important to you?
There are so many places in need of volunteers: community theaters, museums and monuments, libraries, senior centers, Lions or Rotary Clubs, animal shelters, youth organizations, non-profits, classrooms and after-school programs to name just a few. There will be information online for volunteers needed in your local area. Stephanie Watson, Executive Editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, says that in addition to mental health benefits, people who volunteer regularly have lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.
The benefits of volunteering
A study at Carnegie Mellon University on the effects of volunteering, published in Psychology and Aging found that adults over 50 who regularly performed volunteer work were less likely to develop high blood pressure, which was attributed to more physical activity and reduced stress when helping others. Lead study author Rodlescia Sneed, a doctoral candidate, said, “Many people find volunteer work to be helpful with respect to stress reduction, and we know that stress is very strongly linked to health outcomes.”
Volunteering is a win-win endeavor: the recipients of the volunteer effort benefit as well as the person who is doing the work, so why not give it a try?
Sovereign Health is a behavioral health treatment center. If you or your loved one is in need of help with substance abuse or a mental health disorder and would like further information, please call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer
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