The Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering

Those who devote themselves to volunteering believe in the valuable virtues of benevolence, compassion, and generosity. Volunteers often partake in community services to enrich the world around them in a wide array of areas. While volunteering
enriches the community and society at large, it also produces its own amazing, mental health benefits for the volunteers themselves. Here are eight ways in which volunteering boosts mental health.

1.) Volunteering has been shown to help prevent depression or at the very least control it. Those who study this, believe it is because of social involvement, which combats the depressive symptom of feeling alone in the world. Volunteering leads to increased feelings of fulfillment as well, which assists in boosting low mood for those with depression. Volunteering provides an outlet for increasing motivation, which is a major side effect of depression. Volunteering may also lead to developing a valuable support system which helps
ease depressive symptoms even more.

2.) When it comes to seeking a self-esteem boost, volunteering may be an excellent way to to do just that. Studies show that regular volunteering leads to higher feelings of purpose and usefulness. Likewise, through volunteer work, there is a fresh learning experience with every hour of service. With this, skills are bound to become stronger and learning new abilities becomes commonplace. Because of this, volunteering helps give volunteers feelings of achievement and accomplishment that they may not have developed otherwise.

3.) Research has demonstrated that volunteering increases brain activity, especially in older adults. John Hopkins University partook in research studying this very subject. Researchers discovered that volunteering reverses declining brain functions in older adults. Older volunteers also showed an increase in activity in areas of the brain that improve cognitive abilities. Likewise, these seniors showed increased moods and better mental health than seniors who didn’t volunteer.

4.) Volunteering can reduce stress levels. We could all do with a lot less stress in our lives. Stress is often a cause of poor mental health care. Fortunately, volunteering can be a useful coping tool for lowering stress. Regardless of what many may assume, that it would add to stress levels, it does the opposite. Studies show that spending time with people reduces stress when a meaningful
connection has been cultivated. Volunteering with animals has proven to be an even more effective way to diminish stress levels.

5.) Volunteering boosts the “Happiness Effect.” This brain phenomenon refers to the increased release of the hormone, dopamine, in the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. Dopamine is the “pleasure” hormone released while eating, having sex, and taking substances. However, dopamine has also been shown to increase during volunteering tasks. Research also suggests that weekly
volunteering, causes happiness levels comparable to a life-changing salary boost!.

6.) Serving others can be fun. It’s understandable that fun experiences can boost mental health. Because volunteering increases brain activity in pleasure centers of the brain, it makes sense that it correlates with fun experiences as well. Volunteering has the capability to boost creativity, it allows for the exploration of different interests, and it enriches hobbies such as working with animals, artistic
skills, and fundraising. Likewise, volunteering opens the door for trying new things with new people. What could be more fun than that?

7.) Volunteers have higher empathy skills. With increased empathy skills, healthier relationships are likely to be formed. Likewise, social skills should improve overall. Such social skills that improve volunteers’ lives are enhanced altruism, braod advocacy skills, and a stronger passion to bring about social change. Because of these improvements, life satisfaction increases. Oftentimes, the more someone volunteers, the more they will continue doing so.

8.) Volunteering can lead to lower mortality rates. As if these other benefits weren’t enough, studies show that those who volunteer tend to live longer, healthier lives compared to those who don’t volunteer. This is especially true if the deeper motivations behind volunteering are examined, such as being others-focused as opposed to self-focused. In older adults, volunteering has been shown to lower chronic pain symptoms and decrease the risk of heart disease. Since physical health correlates strongly with mental health, it appears volunteering can help enhance both.

While these mental health benefits are truly encouraging for those who wish to become more involved in their communities, it should be stated that it is possible to volunteer too often. Many of the studies outlined here, emphasize that the benefits of volunteering have a threshold for no more than one to two hours of service a week. This amount of time is considered optimal for having the most results. We could always benefit from learning about more ways to improve our mental health. If there is a way to help ourselves while helping others, volunteering is an effective and fulfilling way to accomplish that. Go out into your community and offer your unique skills and services. You may start to notice radical improvements in your mental health.

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