How Volunteering Improves your Mental Health

In Australia, there’s a national initiative called ‘The Spirit of Mateship.’ In a word, it’s compassion for the needy. People volunteer in their communities to help out the elderly. Or, the sick and those in trouble. In fact, it’s not only in Australia that such national initiatives exist. It’s become a goal for responsible citizenship across the world. People are encouraged to join communities for the greater good.
Here in Kenya, there are plenty of community initiatives with opportunities to volunteer.
BUT perhaps you’re sitting there wondering how does this benefit me? What’s in it for me?
PLENTY!

The Power of Compassion

Yes, indeed. The Dalai Lama is a great believer in giving because this is essentially what tovolunteer means. When you volunteer, you give the best you have expecting nothing in return. Infact, he goes on to say that ‘“If you want to help others, practice compassion. If you want to helpyourself, practice compassion”. Compassion is the fuel that drives volunteerism. Volunteerism also comes from a place of belief in abundance. Because ideally you can’t give what you don’t have. But is it possible not to have anything at all that you can give away freely? Absolutely, not.
Every living being has something unique to give. It could be as simple as 30 minutes of your time every Saturday. Or as big as using your bubbly personality to rally up a group of 20 for a community project!

Have you ever wondered why people love pets so much? Particularly, dogs. That’s because they give all their love wholeheartedly. They’re not selective AND don’t hold back. They don’t care whether you have one eye, aren’t pretty or the most popular person in the world. They treat you like the most AMAZING person they’ve ever come across.
Similarly, active volunteers have an unexplainable fulfillment. Those in the know call it the giver’s glow or the helper’s high. Besides approval from spiritual experts, science, too, has tons of good things to say about volunteerism.

Mental Peace and Stability
Evidence shows that it lowers stress levels, eases depression, and gives you a feeling of general well-being. When you get accustomed to sharing and being in a community of like-minded people, you become stoic. To give of yourself increases your ability to deal with negativities. Like addiction and personal
losses such as bereavement. Additionally, as you become accustomed to volunteering, you start cultivating traits and habits that positively contribute to your mental peace and stability.

  1. Self-love: As you realize your usefulness to society, you start viewing yourself differently. Suddenly people genuinely appreciate you and the work you do. They look forward to seeing you. This, in turn, releases dopamines –the happiness hormones.
  2. Make Friends: By joining a community of like-minded people, it’s highly likely that you’ll meet one or two genuine friends. They’ll be the ones that you talk to and share burdens with. Together, they’ll rally a support system behind you that you can rely on in difficult times.
  3. New Skills: As you volunteer, you come across a lot of people and also learn new things. As you progress, you’re exposed to opportunities where these skills come in handy. Instantly, your network expands, and a whole new world with infinite possibilities becomes a reality.

Lastly…
Life’s unpredictability can wreak havoc on your mental health. But don’t allow this to be a life sentence. Look out for opportunities in your local communities and neighborhoods to volunteer. It can be as simple as a cleanup exercise, visiting the sick in hospital, or identifying the needy and giving care packages. Practice love and compassion to your family members, neighbors, and workmates. And as your network expands, you’ll be surprised at how much meaning your life will have and how people you impact will appreciate you.
Important to remember: Professor Wangari Maathai’s hummingbird story. One day, there was a deep crisis in the forest –a massive fire had broken out and was rapidly burning up everything in its path. The hummingbird, a very tiny bird, was shuttling around –between the fire and the river. In her tiny beak, she carried drops of water to put out the fire. All the animals laughed at her, amused that such a minuscule bird could be sooo ambitious. But she said to them with conviction, ‘I’m just doing the best I can.’

Be a hummingbird.

Written by Njeri Murage

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