The Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering - Humantold

The Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering

Humantold August 24, 2021

Community service is one of the least talked about ways to improve your mental health and increase feelings of self-efficacy. Here's why doing good for others does good for you.

Community service is one of the least talked about ways to improve your mental health and increase feelings of self-efficacy. Here's why doing good for others does good for you. 

Now more than ever, there has been an increased need for volunteers to help their communities. From serving in soup kitchens to distributing food, water, and clothing to the homeless, community service seems to be one of the least talked about ways to improve your mental health and increase feelings of self-efficacy.

What is self-efficacy? It's the belief that one can execute actions that are necessary to produce desirable results. When we have strong feelings of self-efficacy, we are confident that we can make a difference in the things we do. Self-efficacy is one of the many benefits of volunteering because we can see the results of our labor happening in real-time.

But what are the other most prominent benefits of engaging in community service? Here's the top five:

Less Isolation

Community service frequently happens by working together as a team. If, for example, you join a park cleanup, you'll be with others who are working together to clean up a public space, like a park, trail, or playground. Being part of cleanup will allow you to spend time with others and directly impact the community at large, leaving the area better than you left it. When working on a team to contribute to your community, you are more than likely to meet locals living in your area. When people come together to do the same activity, connectedness to one another follows.

One of the leading feelings of depression is a constant feeling of isolation or feeling like you don't belong. When you join a team that gives back to their community, you're not only part of the team. You make a concerted effort to show that you are part of the community receiving the action. It creates a positive feedback loop showing that you are both the provider and the recipient of service given by your own free will.

Opportunities to Network & Socialize

Since community service is often a team effort, it goes without saying that you will have many chances to socialize with others! Not only do you get to work alongside one another in the same activity that improves your community, but people also get the chance to know each other. After all, volunteering is enriched by getting to know each other if you're working together for hours. Plus, you already have one thing in common: you're doing something for the greater good.

Suppose you become a frequent volunteer in your local area. In that case, you will constantly be providing yourself chances to make new friends and expand your network. Plus, regular community service is always smiled upon and can open doors for you. It demonstrates that you care for your local community and engage in deliberate acts to improve it in various ways.

Reduced Stress

While it may seem ironic to reduce stress by doing more work, community service is one of the quickest ways to take your mind off your current worries. Imagine helping to plant fruits, vegetables, or flowers in a community garden. In doing this, you dedicate your energy to helping others by providing food for harvest. You can reap the joy of knowing you helped feed a neighbor less fortunate or made your community more aesthetically pleasing.

If you consider yourself someone who overthinks or ruminates often, community service can be one of the best ways to distract yourself for hours. It's a mentally stimulating activity that frequently has a social aspect that can give your body and mind a chance to take a break from stressful circumstances.

A Heightened Sense of Purpose or Meaning

Whenever we engage in community service, we learn and develop common skills like teamwork, communication, problem-solving, planning, prioritization, and organization. A sense of accomplishment arises by completing a service (such as distributing supplies to those in need). And sometimes, it can sound something like:

"If I can do this, what else is possible for me?"

"I managed to do that. What else can I do?

"I wonder what else I'm capable of if I'm able to change others' lives for the better?"

Questions like these after a successful job well done can motivate you to seek out more volunteer work. Or it can help give you clarity on what brings you joy, makes you smile, and creates a feeling of satisfaction. Doing good for others does good for you!

Feeling Needed

While giving back to our communities, there is one thing we may not fully realize: we are needed. The changes to the community's beauty, appearance, cleanliness, how well it supports its people, and its functions frequently come down to its volunteers. Community service is all about making both direct and incremental impacts on its community in a positive way. It is always open to newcomers wanting to give a helping hand.

So whether you choose to walk dogs for a shelter, deliver food and clothing donations, help in a food pantry or farmers' market, assist in a community event, clean public spaces, or pack safety kits, getting involved in community service will show you that your actions have a positive impact.

If you are looking for ways to volunteer in New York City, here are several resources below (keep in mind that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some organizations may have limited events for in-person volunteering):

New York Cares 

NYC Parks

City Harvest

American Red Cross

Robin Hood

The Salvation Army 

Food Bank For New York City

Ronald McDonald House

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