Did you know that Australians spend an incredible 700 million hours volunteering every year? Many people who volunteer are well aware of the great feeling associated with helping others, but what people may not know are the proven benefits on overall health and wellbeing.
Although volunteers devote their time to helping others, it’s not uncommon for the volunteer to also experience positive mental and physical health benefits. In fact, volunteering offers a wide range of mental, physical and social health benefits. Here we take a look at just some of the profound impacts that volunteering can have on our own wellbeing.
Creating social connections
When you take the time to volunteer, you’ll often find that the shared experience helps to build quality relationships with like-minded others in the community. Working to create meaningful social connections with others can have a profound impact on your overall mental health and wellbeing. In fact, it’s not uncommon to make lifelong friendships when working with likeminded people that share similar hobbies or passions to you. The mere act of volunteering also creates an overall sense of community resilience, ultimately building a strong support network for everyone involved.
Chronic loneliness is reportedly on the rise, with one in four Australians feeling lonely at least one day per week. So what can volunteering do to prevent this? Volunteering addresses our need to belong and creates a human connection which often translates to quality friendships, learning opportunities and even the chance to mentor others in need. Volunteering can also prevent loneliness by getting us out of the house and introducing a sense of purpose and routine. Creating a regular routine for yourself and ‘somewhere to be’ can have a profound impact on your mental health. It’s also not uncommon to find a renewed sense of meaning in your own life by devoting time to helping others.
Improves mental health
There are countless mental health benefits associated with volunteering. From alleviating stress, anger, anxiety and depression to name a few, helping others can also have a positive impact on our wellbeing and mental health. By making a difference to someone else’s life, we’re more likely to feel good. A recent study showed that volunteers were 42% more likely to say they were very happy than those who did not participate in volunteer work.
Providing assistance to people in need and performing a selfless act triggers the rewards pathway in our brain, known as the mesolimbic system. This releases positive neurotransmitters, making us feel better about ourselves. This in turn can have a profound effect on your own self-esteem and relationships. By renewing your sense of purpose and providing you with a sense of direction, volunteering has the potential to boost your pride and even give you a new sense of identity.
Increases physical activity
Volunteering is a ‘sneaky’ way to stay physically active and healthy on a regular basis without you even realising it. Whether you’re volunteering outdoors looking after the environment, travelling to visit people at different locations or building care packages for people in need, the physical activity connected to doing something good for the community certainly has health benefits. Taking the time to head out into the community has even been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, and even reduce the risk of premature death, with a study showing that volunteering can reduce mortality rates by 22%. Another study also showed that 68% of volunteers agreed that helping others made them feel physically healthier.
Offers personal growth
Volunteering is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and try something completely new. From meeting people from different walks of life and cultures to learning new things, it has the potential to change your perspective of the world. By creating a positive change in people’s lives, you’re also expanding your own horizons and challenging yourself, potentially opening doors to new opportunities, increasing your self-esteem and confidence. When we take part in activities that reward us with a sense of achievement, this can lift our mood and have a profound impact on our mental health.
Is there a cause that you’re passionate about or that you’d love to learn more about? Perhaps an organisation has helped you and you’d love to give something back to them or the community. Whatever the reason for volunteering, it’s a great way to raise awareness for an important cause. While your contribution can make you feel better knowing that you’ve helped others, if it’s a cause you’re passionate about, you’re likely to add even more value and potentially inspire others to get involved too. Volunteering is also a great way for companies to increase their brand awareness, connecting their mission with community members and setting a good example.
Not only does volunteering have the potential to change the lives of individuals in need but it is often said that volunteering can offer more rewards to the volunteer than they could ever predict. From increasing our happiness levels, confidence and social connection, to bringing a whole new sense of fulfilment and purpose to your life, people who ‘give’ either by donating money or their time are reported to lead happier and healthier lives than those who do not. Volunteering is a two-way street and there’s simply no doubt that it has the potential to help you just as much as it helps those in need.
There are countless ways that you can volunteer within your community. These might include teaching, mentoring others, working with animals, conserving the environment, coaching, to caring for people. Ready to give volunteering a try?
Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Want to know where else you can get help? Find out how to access additional community support.
The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.