Helping others helps you. Why? Because when you do something for someone else, the reward centre in your brain is stimulated, releasing a ‘helper’s high.’
A recent report by the BMJ found that those who engaged in volunteering regularly appeared to experience higher levels of mental well-being than those who never did so, while a published academic review of 25,000 articles concluded that: ‘Volunteering can increase volunteers’ longevity, improve their mental health, keep them fitter, and enable them to cope better with illness when it occur.’ On top of that, your stress levels and immune system benefit, too.
Dr Paul McLaren, a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory, the UK’s largest independent provider of behavioural care, says that giving back in this way can be helpful in boosting confidence in people who have had to take time off work. In terms of how much time is beneficial, he says that: “It differs, we vary as individuals in how much we need social approval; but it will naturally increase our self-esteem, adoption of healthy behaviours and may reduce our overall vulnerability to depression.”
From buying milk and supporting dairy farmers to volunteering time to check in on an elderly neighbour and downloading local food sharing apps to give away your surplus birthday cake, here’s the little things that pack a big punch. Try these for a sunnier disposition: pronto.
1. Food share
Modern tech is used for daily good with the help of the Olio app. Completely free, Olio’s aim is to connect neighbours and local buisness’ so surplus food and other items can be shared, rather than going to waste. Be it that barbecue you had with food for 300 rather than 30, or you’re clearing your fridge before a big trip, don’t let fresh food go off, gift it to another – everyone wins.
2. Get your volunteer on
Giving back is just a click away at Do-it, the UK’s national volunteering database. You can build a personal profile stating your areas of interest and search by postcode to find those in need local to you. The Do-it team also run micro-site GoProBono, a ‘super hub’ for professional, skills-based volunteering. This means you can help someone out by using your specific area of expertise – whether that’s cooking, finance or organisational skills.
3. Get outside and garden
Sinking your hands into greenery is the ultimate restorative activity. Farmgarden helps you to find local projects in need of help all over the UK, from Manchester to Newcastle. Plus spending time with nature has many health benefits of it’s own, giving this idea double rewards. Win.
4. Make more of your caffeine fix
Don’t send your coffee grounds to landfill. As well as pepping up your mornings, your soaked beans can act as a fertiliser in your own garden or in community projects. Mix your grounds with more water and layer on top of soil to provide a boost to whatever flowers, herbs or veg are growing. It’s not just humans who need a little extra coaxing every now and then.
5. Buy local and seasonal
Consciously support your local business’ and farms. Industries such as dairy farming need your support to keep family business thriving and ensure the next generation has top quality milk, yoghurt, cheese and lots of other stuff we love on a daily basis.
6. Get social
Spare couple of hours? Take the time to meet some locals and potential new pals. With AgeUK you can become a community ‘befriender.’ This means you’ll be paired with an older person and visit them in their home or call to offer friendly regular conversation. It’s a simple task that can mean the world.
7. Support your neighbours
Whether you can offer an item to borrow, extra assistance at at event or to help out with a spot of babysitting, communicating with the people who live close by is a great way to add more impact and meaning to your days. If your British reserve is hampering your ‘get to know you’ efforts, you can always download an app that connects you with your neighbours. Try Nextdoor, which verifies people by postcode.