If you’re looking to up your wellbeing, research has found that this selfless act can seriously benefit your mental health – and help others out as well.
According to Susan Albers, PsyD, psychologist for Cleveland Clinic, there are several studies that indicate that volunteering is an absolutely game-changer for your mental.
“It has been shown to decrease stress levels, depression, anxiety and boost your overall health and satisfaction with life,” she explains.
Dr. Albers adds that when you help other people, it activates the reward centre in your brain and releases serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.
A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies discovered that those who volunteered at least once a month reported better mental health than participants who volunteered infrequently or not at all – and those who who self-reported as having ‘low mental health’ prior to volunteering saw major boosts in how they felt.
As stated in The Scottish Government Volunteering for All: national framework: “The evidence base is clear. We know that volunteering can improve individual physical and mental health and well-being.
“We know that volunteering strengthens social networks and bonds within and between communities and can help to create experiences and connections that lead to better lives.”
But what do those who’ve started volunteering say? Have they seen a significant change in their wellbeing?
HuffPost UK spoke to volunteers from Mary’s Meals, a charity which provides a daily school meal to more than 2.4 million hungry children in some of the world’s poorest countries. The charity’s work is only made possible by the dedication of volunteers across the globe, including people in the UK who raise awareness by organising fundraising events and giving talks in local communities.
“It has given me a sense of purpose”
Patrick, from Belfast, believes volunteering has given him a ‘sense of purpose’, while he also relishes feeling part of a community. The 72-year-old began donating his time to Mary’s Meals three years ago, after retiring.
He says: “As a volunteer, I enjoy getting out and meeting new people through giving talks in churches, placing collection cans in shops, doing bucket collections and helping at fundraising events.
“I really enjoy being able to contribute in a small way to feeding hungry children and it has given me a sense of purpose since my retirement and helps maintain a positive outlook.
“In Northern Ireland, there is a great community of volunteers who are always keen to share ideas, support each other and celebrate successes – and it really spurs me on to do more.”
“I like to sit down at the end of the day and feel like I’ve done something constructive and worthwhile”
Martin, 49, from Motherwell, has been volunteering for Mary’s Meals for almost a decade, helping out one day a week in the warehouse and often two days a week in the office, sharing the charity’s story and raising awareness of its work.
He and his wife were involved in a bad car accident 14 years ago, meaning Martin had to quit his job. After feeling he had too much time on his hands, his brother suggested he contact Mary’s Meals.
Martin feels that volunteering has given him the structure he needs in life, while also giving him the opportunity to socialise.
He says: “I think it’s a really worthwhile thing to do and I thoroughly enjoy it to tell you the truth.
“I get bored stiff sitting in the house. I like to get up and get on with it. I like to keep myself busy and I like to sit down at the end of the day and feel like I’ve done something constructive and worthwhile. Coming into Mary’s Meals helps you to do that.
“I like to keep my brain active, keep myself stimulated and give myself a bit of structure. I feel you definitely need that in your life. Coming in here really helps me to do that.
“You meet a really nice group of people and different types of people. You’re obviously coming into the office too, interacting with people and having a laugh.”
“It’s made me more mindful and feel ‘it’s not all just about me’”
Jodie, 29, from Rutherglen, has volunteered with Mary’s Meals for four years, helping with administrative tasks in the charity’s Glasgow office. Jodie says volunteering with the charity has been ‘life-changing’ and has given her gratitude for the life she has.
She says: “It’s certainly opened my eyes and made me more aware about things, not to take things for granted - there’s obviously people out there less fortunate than ourselves.
“It’s made me more mindful and feel ‘it’s not all just about me’. It’s made me more grateful for what I have.
“It gives me a great sense of achievement and makes me feel good within myself, to be able to give a child a life that they deserve.
“It’s an amazing opportunity and one I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on. It’s life changing. You’re making a difference and that’s what it’s about.”