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How Volunteering Improves Your Mental Health

Published on August 3, 2015 11:09 AM EST

Being a volunteer can make you healthier, to the extent that doctors even recommend it alongside other treatments. Not just good for the body, volunteering can also have a positive impact on mental health.

But what are the benefits to your mind? With several studies having looked into the impact of volunteering on mental health, it’s clear that it could be a symptom alleviant.


Volunteer sending organization Original Volunteers have written the following overview of the different ways volunteering could help with your mental health.   

1. Confidence

Volunteering gives you a boost in confidence, especially regarding your work-related skillset. As you’re developing skills for the good of others, rather than for financial stability, any pressure to improve comes from within yourself.

When you later use those skills for your job, or in your personal life, you’ll feel more confident. And you might be surprised at how much you learned and improved without really noticing. Go you!

2. Anxiety

Worry, stress, and anxiety are on the increase  – amongst economic and political uncertainty, social media addiction, and too much choice. Volunteering isn’t going to make that go away, but it could help alleviate anxiety.

Volunteering allows you to try things without so much pressure to get it all right. On top of that, it can take you away from your own problems for a while, and force you to think about someone else’s issues. This can give you a fresh perspective on your own life or simply distract you for a while – which is sometimes just what you need.

3. Dementia

By getting your brain engaged in something different, volunteering could help to fight against dementia. Whether locally or abroad, by volunteering you’re exposing yourself to new people, new situations, and new problems to be solved.

Being a volunteer could also help fight depression, which is thought to be a factor in the development of dementia.

4. Loneliness

Having to get out and speak to people face-to-face, whether that’s your manager or members of the public, means that volunteering helps to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness. Loneliness has started to be seen as a serious social problem – both in young people and older. It’s often attributed to the rise of social media making people feel left out. 

No matter your age, as a volunteer you’re having more in-person social interactions, making new connections and meeting new friends. You may start feeling less isolated and more connected to the world around you. In turn, this can help combat depression and possibly help reduce risk or symptoms of dementia.

The connections you make as a volunteer are likely to be quality ones, too. You’re meeting people with the same passions you have and a similar way of looking at the world. Plus, they’re going to be people with whom you probably wouldn’t otherwise have crossed paths. By interacting with such a variety of people, you can learn a great deal from them.

5. Self-esteem

When you experience gratitude from the people you’re helping, you begin to internalize that and see yourself as someone useful. By being able to contribute to a cause or project, you become aware of your strengths. Appreciation from others allows you to have an appreciation for yourself.

Volunteering can make you feel that you’re worth something to the universe, and that you’re useful and necessary to society. For someone who struggles with self-esteem, that can help you to think more highly of yourself and begin the journey towards loving yourself. 

6. Depression

All of the previously mentioned points could also go towards helping with depression. But the cherry on top of the cake, volunteering can give you a “helper’s high” – a feel-good effect from the release of endorphins.

Doing something kind for someone else can trigger the release of dopamine, which is the one that makes you feel happy when you exercise or listen to music. Looking back on your kind deeds can boost serotonin activity – which is what antidepressants do.

Again, volunteering won’t make depression disappear completely, but it’s possible that it helps to relieve some of the symptoms.

Helping to improve mental health is just one of the many benefits of volunteering – it could also improve your physical health, your resume, and your relationships.

But the greatest thing about volunteering is the opportunity to do something good in a world that can often leave you despairing. Being the kindness that you want to see in the world is a reward in itself.

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