Five Ways to Improve Your Mental Health by Volunteering
Helping others helps us feel better about ourselves.
Posted May 16, 2021 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
- Volunteering can improve your mental health.
- Service with others builds community and connection, as well as solving social problems.
- Being present for another and deeply listening are important forms of service.
- Gratitude develops among those who volunteer.
Now that Covid-19 restrictions are beginning to ease, we have an opportunity to re-engage with our communities and improve our mental health as we do so. Volunteering in support of activities you care about is a great way to feel better mentally and emotionally. Whether your passion brings you to volunteer with groups that serve animals, youth, the homeless, libraries, or any number of fabulous causes, volunteering will improve your mood and overall outlook on life.
Here are five ways volunteering can enhance your mental health.
Getting Out of Self-Centered Thinking
The relative isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many of us to become hyper-focused on ourselves. What’s happening with me, my health, my job, my family, my community? When we volunteer, our focus moves outward to those we are serving. Who is getting the delivery I am making? How many loaves of bread does the soup kitchen need me to bake? Who can I call to help organize a new fundraising effort? Am I able to listen to someone and brighten their day simply by being present? These are all common actions that take place when we volunteer that help us to take the focus off ourselves.
When we help others, we feel better about who we are. When our skills are put to positive use, our feelings of self-worth grow. What skills or knowledge do you have? Can you help with a community garden? Do you know how to sew or knit? Are you able to teach? Can you repair a car? The needs in the community and among community organizations are broad.
Sometimes, we might feel like we don’t have much to offer. Maybe our skill set doesn’t seem to have broad application. Yet nearly all of us can listen to others. We can give our time and attention. Simply paying attention to someone can mean the world to them. There are many people who have little contact with others. Being available to listen is invaluable.
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl discusses that having meaning or purpose in your day allows you to move through even the most trying times. What is it that brings a smile to your face or gets you out of bed? Is it walking your dog or bringing coffee to a friend something that gives you purpose? Do you find meaning in your garden, training a dog, or painting? Would you value helping someone build their home? Whatever it is that gives your day usefulness, do more of it. If you can do that work as service to others, all the better.
Volunteering helps us develop connections not only with others but also with our community. We develop community values through service. Whether you’re helping out at the library, the soup kitchen, a youth-serving agency, or an animal shelter, odds are you’re going to come in contact with like-minded people and work toward a common purpose. Together, we can make changes that individually we can only dream of. This community connection may serve to inspire you to new heights of service and personal growth.
When we work in areas where there is deficit, we often experience gratitude. Feed someone who’s hungry or provide a coat for someone who is cold and you may find that you are grateful that you have the ability to help. We sometimes overlook our many blessings. Whatever our deficits, our lives are filled with gifts that others only long for. Volunteering can help us see what we have and be grateful for it.