April 28 is Pay It Forward Day, a global initiative that seeks to make a difference by creating a huge ripple of kindness felt across the world. There is tremendous power and positive energy in giving, with numerous benefits attached to paying random acts of kindness.
One way to get involved with #Payitforwardday is to volunteer. Studies show that volunteering can have many positive implications, not only for those you help, but also for your own mental wellbeing.
Individuals who volunteer not only feel more socially connected; warding off loneliness and depression, but have also been found to have lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan!
The study, titled Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers conducted by The University of Exeter, had researchers review 40 studies from the last 20 years, looking at the link between volunteering and health. They found a strong positive association, with volunteers having a 22% lower mortality rate than non-volunteers, and also having higher levels of self-esteem and happiness.
Mental benefits of volunteering
Reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, stress
By volunteering, you are consistently socializing. It forces you to keep in regular contact with others and make meaningful connections. This social contact, can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being. Not only does it improve brain function, you will also develop a solid support system, protecting you against depression and anxiety.
Volunteering can give you peace of mind, and help counter the effects of stress and anger. Working with pets and other animals has shown to improve mood and reduce stress.
Cure for loneliness
Social isolation is one of the most severe epidemics in the world today. By volunteering, you not only feel a sense of belonging, but will also strengthen your community and social network, making connections with the people you are helping and cultivating friendships with other volunteers.
Volunteering can also increase your social and relationship skills. Some people are naturally outgoing, while others can be shy and have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests. Once you have momentum, it will become easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts.
Can make you feel happier, more optimistic and improve your self-esteem
By volunteering you can bring a sense of fun and fulfilment to your life. Studies have shown that being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure. As human beings we are hard-wired to give to others. The more we give, the happier we feel. By helping others, you will trigger the reward pathway in the brain known as the mesolimbic system. This releases “feel-good” neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and vasopressin. Sometimes known as “the helpers high”.
Volunteering also forces you to get out of your comfort zone. By trying something new, you’ll gain confidence, especially if the experience was challenging. While performing acts of kindness has also been shown to boost your mood and make you more optimistic and positive.
Working with others within the community, provides a natural sense of accomplishment, and develops self-esteem, confidence, and feelings of self-worth.
Develops emotional stability and a sense of purpose
By volunteering, you are focused on the cause – focused on others – which means you are not focusing on yourself, or dwelling on your own problems. Putting your problems aside, even if for a few hours a week, helps give you peace of mind and emotional stability.
As a volunteer, you will gain a sense of achievement, pride and identity. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals with a clear sense of purpose.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), low self-esteem, and even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have all been helped by volunteering. When people with PTSD, OCD or anger management issues volunteer, they lean to feel more connected to others. They will have an increased sense of purpose.
Pay It Forward
Older adults too, especially those who have retired or lost a spouse, can find new meaning and direction in their lives by volunteering and helping others. Whatever your age or life situation, Pay It Forward by volunteering and help take your mind off your own worries and keep yourself mentally stimulated.
If you need to talk to a counsellor, call Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
If it is an emergency, dial 000.