It is so well-established that giving to others is of benefit to your health that it is one of the Five Steps to Mental Wellbeing recommended by the NHS on how to deal with common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
At first sight, though, this can come as a surprise as it seems counterintuitive that giving up your time and putting the welfare of others first can give you something too. However volunteering can improve your health in eight crucial ways.
Eight Things Volunteering Can Give You
The power of social connection
It’s often said that the times we live in are a narcissistic celebration of the self through social media and selfies, but human beings are social animals wired to help others, and we suffer without it. Studies show that social connectedness is a protectant against stress. That is, volunteering provides emotional and tangible resources that help us to better deal with the things life throws at us. It not only increases the number of people you meet and interact with, it can also involve a genuine connection which means you appreciate others more and feel more appreciated and valued yourself.
A rush of endorphins
Doing a good deed, even just smiling at or greeting people that you otherwise wouldn’t, can have the same effect on your body as exercise does, releasing endorphins that make you feel good naturally. It is this that explains the phenomena of “the helper’s high”.
A change in thought patterns
One of the most persistent and difficult to deal with symptoms of depression is negative thought patterns and a self-attacking internal dialogue. These “cognitive faults” can be debilitating and cause you to become apathetic, procrastinating and inactive, because everything you do leads to negative thoughts or self-attack so it feels safer to just do nothing. Volunteering can break this pattern as it is a positive action that gives structure to your life and gets you out of the house. It also gets you out of your head in that can change your focus and break that cycle of negative thoughts.
A shift of perspective
Depression causes a sort of fog to descend making it hard to see things from a different angle or point of view. Getting involved in helping your community can lift this fog and allow you to see different perspectives by bringing you close to people you may never have met without volunteering. It can also shift your perspective about yourself, and help you to see that you have talents and skills and that you really do have something to give and that you can make a change for the better in the world.
An improvement in self-esteem
Recent psychological studies have shown that volunteering can improve the self-esteem of volunteers. And as your self-belief and self-worth improves, you will find your mood lifting.
More Emotional Stability
Volunteering does not only help those with depression, it can also have a positive effect on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, low self-esteem, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When people with these conditions sign up to help others they develop an increased sense of purpose, and this can lead to a lessening of their symptoms and a marked improvement in social function.
What goes around, really does come around — the fact that you are thinking of others and giving them help and support can increase the likelihood that if you are ever in need there will be people around to help you.
A boost in overall health
Many doctors and researchers think it is not helpful to make the distinction between mental and physical health, and that it is all, in fact, just your health. And studies have found that volunteers have better physical health than non-volunteers. A recent American study showed that volunteering in older adults meant that they were significantly less like to have high blood pressure, and that it not only had a beneficial effect on stress levels but also improved longevity.
If you are tackling depression and need some support, call 020 8673 4545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and the reception staff will book an appointment with one of our therapists. We have centres in Clapham and Tooting and no waiting list.