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How Volunteering Can Help Your Mental & Physical Health

Many recent studies that have been done on volunteer work show how it’s connected to better health. Physical effects on the body, such as lowered blood pressure can be measured and impacted through helping others.

Though some of us are introverts, humans need social connection in order to survive and thrive. Helping others not only makes you feel good about yourself, but your actions have lasting effects on those you serve, which can be just as rewarding as knowing you’re contributing to your own self-improvement.

Here’s how volunteering can be beneficial for your health:

Improved self-confidence:

Feeling needed and appreciated for your work can boost your confidence. Volunteering on a regular basis can give you a sense of purpose, fulfillment and accomplishment. Helping improve the lives of others through direct action can help you see how valuable you are, and why community is so important. The reward of volunteering can make you feel better about yourself, and improve your self-confidence. Often, people can have trouble with social interaction, and volunteering is a great way of meeting new people and building meaningful connections.

Lower stress:

Stress and high blood pressure is inextricably related, so lowering your stress levels can also aid in lowering your blood pressure. A study from Carnegie Mellon University showed that those over the age of 50 who volunteered regularly on average had lower blood pressure than those who did not.

Aside from the physical activity performed while volunteering, being a volunteer helps you find a newfound sense of purpose, which can help you cope with stress in your personal life. Shifting your focus from your life to others can even help you forget about your stress. Being able to focus on helping those in your community and escape the everyday hustle can also help lower stress levels. Shifting your perspective and moving your attention to another’s situation can put your own problems into perspective. Having the feeling of making a difference for someone else might also make you feel like you can make changes in your own life.

Helps with depression:

Studies show that people who feel less lonely have a lower propensity to become depressed. The empathetic response felt while spending time with others in a volunteer capacity was shown to increase happiness through the study.

Volunteering with others who all work toward the same goal increases social interaction, thus diminishing the lonely feeling that so many face from living along — especially in old age. Surrounding yourself with people who share the same interests can help you build a support system, and having a strong support system has been shown to decrease depression, despite vulnerability as a result of genetic and environmental factors. By volunteering you also commit to being available to a person or an organization for a specific period of time. They count on you to show up at a certain time for a couple hours a week, making you accountable. When you have to get out of bed and show up knowing these people depend on you, it can be a great tool to cope with depression.  

Longevity:

A study from 2012 shows the life expectancy of volunteers to be longer than those who don’t volunteer. It is believed that the main reason those who volunteer live longer than those who don’t is because of lowered feelings of loneliness, as well as lowered levels of stress, as mentioned before. However, the results of this study apply only to those who volunteer for genuine selfless reasons, rather than those who volunteer for their own self-interests, like resume building. In fact, the data show that people who volunteer to help themselves have the same mortality rate as those who don’t volunteer at all. Volunteering for the right reasons on a regular basis can reduce early mortality rates by 22%, according to a review of the health effects of volunteering.

Once you start volunteering, you’ll know in your heart that the scientific evidence supports the positive outlook you have after leaving the soup kitchen, animal shelter or nursing home. Whatever reasons you start your volunteering journey, you will be surprised at the impact it has on your life forever.

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