The purpose of volunteer work is to help others. You devote your time and energy to a larger goal, do what you can to improve the lives of these individuals, and focus on contributing to a cause that you care about.
Out of the many opportunities available, you’re sure to find an organization whose work makes you want to get involved. Even within a single organization that has a mission you believe in, there may be different volunteer positions you can explore to find the one to best fit your needs. A summer camp, for example, needs a variety of different volunteer positions to be filled—such as camp counselors, nurses, and activity leaders—for operations to run smoothly. This allows you to take on a role that you feel comfortable in, while still making an impact in the lives of others.
However, the advantages of volunteer work aren’t limited to the people, organization, or cause. As a volunteer, there are a number of ways you can benefit from donating your time to others. From improving your physical health to fostering social connections, here are some profound effects that volunteering can have on your life:
Health Benefits of Volunteering
Volunteering can have a highly positive impact on your overall well being, including both your physical and mental health. In fact, studies continuously find that it has numerous health benefits; some researchers have even concluded that volunteer work is a necessary part of an overall healthy lifestyle, similar to a balanced diet and regular exercise.
Physical Health Benefits
Some of the most noteworthy effects that volunteering can have on your physical health include:
- Increased physical activity: Volunteer work can help you be more physically active. Your level of activity can vary greatly, depending on who you volunteer for and what your duties are, but research indicates that volunteering generally encourages more movement and activity. For example, if you volunteer at a summer camp as a counselor, you will likely be very physically active.
- Reduced risk of high blood pressure: Volunteering can also help lower your blood pressure. Volunteering frequently and consistently can be good for your general cardiovascular health.
- Enhanced cognitive function: In older adults, volunteer work can improve brain functions and help enhance overall quality of life. Volunteering actually changes your brain activity patterns and can boost cognition, especially as it relates to organization and planning.
- Increased longevity: Volunteering can even contribute to a longer lifespan. People who volunteer with altruistic intentions regularly tend to live longer than those who don’t.
Mental Health Benefits
In addition to your physical health, volunteering can be advantageous for your mental and emotional health:
- Decreased stress: 78 percent of surveyed adults reported feeling less stressed after volunteering. This can be beneficial for volunteers everywhere, as stress has a huge impact on both your physical and mental health.
- Boosted mood: Helping others can boost your mood and make you feel happier. Researchers often refer to this increase positive feeling as the “helper’s high.” They even believe the helper’s high can dominate your body’s stress response, so not only do you feel less stressed, you also feel happier.
- Reduced loneliness: Volunteering can also greatly reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially in older adults. Feeling less lonely or isolated can also improve your general mental well being.
- Decreased risk of depression: Numerous studies suggest that volunteering can decrease the risk of depression. Researchers have attributed this effect to increased social interactions and a stronger sense of community, both of which help combat feelings of depression.
Personal Benefits of Volunteering
Volunteering doesn’t only benefit different areas of your physical and mental health; it can also be helpful for your personal development. In addition to providing you with additional experience for your resume or references who will sing your praises, volunteer work allows you to broaden your horizons and may change you how see the world:
- Increased sense of purpose: Volunteering gives you a greater sense of purpose and can add more meaning to your life.
- Expanded perspective: Volunteer work can help you change your perspective and see the world in a new light. It can expose you to issues, places, activities and people you may not have encountered otherwise. Researchers believe that, in this way, volunteering can actually make you a better citizen.
- Boosted self-confidence: Especially among teenagers, volunteer work can increase self-esteem and make you feel good about yourself. When helping others, particularly when they’re strangers rather than friends or family, you can achieve a greater sense of accomplishment and self-worth.
- Increased number of skills: When volunteering, you’ll learn a variety of new things, including skills that you can apply to other opportunities in the future. Volunteer work is a chance to explore something and grow from the experience.
Social Benefits of Volunteering
Volunteer work is good for the community at large, but it can also have social benefits for those doing the work. This can help enrich your life and make a lasting impact on the way that you connect with others. Some of the most notable social and community-oriented benefits of volunteering include:
- Strengthened social skills: Researchers have found that engaging in community service can help you improve your social skills. Whether you’re naturally outgoing or shy and reserved, volunteer work exposes you to different people you have to learn how to interact with, in a respectful manner.
- Enhanced bonding opportunities: Volunteering is the perfect chance to bond with others and do something active with your loved ones. It’s a great way to spend time with your family or friends that helps foster a genuine connection.
- Increased connection with individuals: Volunteer work opens up the chance to meet new people and develop relationships with them. It opens you up to a wide variety of people you may not have met otherwise, and, because you already have a shared interest, getting to know them is even easier.
- Improved connection with community: Volunteering makes you an active, contributing member of your community. It’s all but impossible to volunteer time without positively impacting and engaging with your community at large.
Of course, the purpose of volunteering is to help others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from this experience too. You only stand to improve both the lives of others and your own life by getting involved in volunteer work. Additionally, volunteering isn’t the only way you can support a mission; from making a donation to becoming a sponsor, there are many other ways you can give back that are still beneficial for you, the organization and the people they strive to help. Helping how you can—whether that’s by donating your time or making a charitable contribution—is what helps to make your community a better place.