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Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

7 Reasons Why It Pays To Volunteer

By January 17, 2012

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Recently on my stress management Facebook page, one of my readers commented that volunteering was a great way to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and I couldn't agree more. In fact, I would love to see more people (including myself!) volunteer more often to help others in their communities, their social circles, and their lives, not only for all the wonderful benefits that come from spreading kindness (read how kindness can be contagious), but for the great benefits that people experience when they help others.

As I've seen with some of my more giving friends and acquaintances, as I know from research, and as I've experienced in my own life, helping others, altruism and finding meaning in life all have their hand in stress management. While donating your time or unneeded possessions doesn't always solve your problems or ameliorate your stressors, acts of kindness and volunteer work can provide the following effects:

  • A good feeling about oneself. Having a positive sense of self can actually help you feel less reactive to stress, and bring more enjoyment to all of your activities.

  • A feeling of connection to others. Having a sense of community, a supportive circle of friends and other forms of social support can increase your resilience as well as your longevity and quality of life.

  • A sense of meaning and greater purpose in one's life. Having a greater sense of meaning can help stressors seem more manageable, feel less threatening and be less be less likely to trigger your stress response.

  • Perspective about one's stressors--others may have greater problems. Having a change of perspective can help your stressors seem much smaller to you, and may help you realize that you have more control in life and more options than you realized.

  • A reminder to feel gratitude. When you're feeling more gratitude about what you do have, your whole life feels better, and those things that you lack seem less important, less stressful.

  • An opportunity to use one's own unique gifts. Especially if you're battling burnout or in a job that doesn't thrill you, it's important to have outside activities that 'feed your soul', that challenge you in ways that make you feel alive. Often, volunteer opportunities can provide that, while you provide others with gifts that they can really use as well.

  • Something to think about other than one's stress! Distraction can be a beautiful thing, and distraction from stress can give your body a chance to recover from chronic stress and feel healthy and calm again.
All of these effects can help with stress management, and are reasons to continue to volunteer well after the holiday weekend is over. So far, I'm cleaning out my closets to donate warm coats and blankets, and plan to donate blood tomorrow--small things that will still make a big difference to someone in need. (When I have more time, I do more, but the point is do to what you can, rather than thinking that you're too busy to maka a real difference!) Are you a regular volunteer, or do you plan to do something to help others this weekend? Share your good deeds in the comments below.

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January 18, 2009 at 5:51 am
(1) stress says:

Someone called VolunteerWords just started following me on Twitter–apparently they give words of support to those who volunteer (how cool is that)! Here’s a recent quote they posted, which I thought was really cool:

Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless. ~Sherry Anderson

October 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm
(2) Harshman says:

A very nice article indeed. I myself volunteer at a hospital, my intial reason to go there was to get my hours and be done with it; but when I actually volunteered there, I feel that what a volunteer does might seem useless initially or too little to be of any significance, but it does make a lot of difference to the one who’s being helped. Like the article above implied, what we volunteers do may be to less to make a mark but makes a huge difference to the needy. All I do at the hospital as a volunteer is to transport elderly and those who can’t walk in wheelchairs through the hospital. Seemed quite a morose and pointless activity to me, but now that I’m there, I realize how much difference it makes to me only because of the difference it makes to others. The moment the elderly see me, their face flush in a smile for it means a lot for them to even get someone to ease their burden by transporting them on wheelchair.

I think this feeling or the essence of Volunteerism can’t be put in words, to have that experience one will have to volunteer and then see what difference it makes.

December 25, 2012 at 8:52 am
(3) Silvia says:

You said it ..the feeling is immense …. it makes me so aware of the abundance in my own life…A little perfume always lingers in the hand that gives the rose..

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