Australians spend an incredible 700 million hours volunteering every year. Many people who volunteer know the great feeling associated with helping others, but what people may not know are the proven benefits on overall health and happiness.
There are so many ways that you can volunteer and contribute to the community. They might include teaching, mentoring, working with animals, conserving the environment, coaching, to caring for people.
Research suggests that volunteering can have a positive impact not only on those in need but on your own wellbeing too. In fact, 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.
Volunteering offers countless social, mental and physical health benefits. Here we outline some of the profound impacts of volunteering.
Creating social connections
A great benefit of volunteering is that while helping others, you’re also able to connect with others within the community. Making the decision to volunteer can be empowering as it gives you the chance to expand your social network and improve your social skills, all while doing something good. The act of volunteering also develops an overall sense of community resilience, building a strong support network for everyone involved. The act of creating meaningful social connections with others can have a profound impact on your overall mental health and wellbeing. It’s also not uncommon to make lifelong friendships when working with likeminded people that share similar interests or passions.
Research suggests that one in four Australians feel lonely at least one day per week with chronic loneliness reportedly on the rise. Despite technology making it easier than ever for us to connect with others, many people are still lacking meaningful relationships to provide a true sense of meaning to their lives. Volunteering addresses our need to belong and creates a human connection which can then translate to quality friendships, learning opportunities and even the chance to mentor others. Volunteering can also prevent loneliness by getting us out of the house and offering a sense of purpose and routine. Having a regular routine and ‘somewhere to be’ can have a profound impact. As a consequence, it’s not uncommon to find a renewed sense of meaning by devoting time to help others.
Improves mental health
There are countless mental health benefits associated with volunteering. From alleviating stress, anger, anxiety and depression, helping others can even have a positive impact on mental health recovery. By making a difference to someone else’s life, we’re more likely to feel good and unsurprisingly, this has can improve our overall mental health and wellbeing. Offering 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.
Increases physical activity
Volunteering is a great way to stay physically active and healthy. Whether you’re volunteering outdoors to conserve the environment, visiting people at different locations or filling care packages for people in need, doing good for the community can certainly come with physical health benefits. Making the effort to head out into the community has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, and even reduce the risk of premature death, with a study showing that volunteers has a lower mortality rate than non-volunteers. The study also showed that 68% of volunteers agreed that helping others made them feel physically healthier.
Offers personal growth
You’re likely to meet people from various backgrounds and cultures that perhaps you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interact with during your usual daily routine. Taking yourself out of your comfort zone to meet new people and learn something new provides an excellent platform for personal growth. Volunteering enables you to explore new concepts and ideas while immersing yourself in a completely different environment. This can be challenging, but can come with its own rewards. Doing something outside of your comfort zone can change your perspective on life and allow you to see things from a completely different point of view, as well as having a profound impact on your self-esteem and confidence.
Is there a charity or cause that you’re passionate about? Volunteering for a cause that is important to you has enormous benefits from the chance to have meaningful conversations, connecting with your community and learning new skills in a field that you’re already passionate about. You may even find opportunities to contribute towards a cause that you’re interested in helping. The rewards of volunteering will feel even more effective if you’re working for someone that shares your values or that you can truly relate to on a personal level.
Not only does volunteering have the potential to transform lives of individuals in need but it is often said that volunteering offers more rewards to the volunteer than they could ever expect. From boosting happiness levels 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 lifestyles than those who do not. There’s no doubt that volunteering is a two-way street and that it has the potential to help you just as much as it helps those in need.
Ready to give volunteering a go? Check out these websites for more info:
MensLine Australia is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with professional counsellors providing information and support for all relationship issues.