The Psychological Benefits of Volunteering and Helping Others – By Sadie G 

Purpose is something we all, in one form or another, seek from life. Maybe someone’s purpose is their family, friends, work, being part of a team, helping others, etc. and helping others is something which brings a sense of purpose and meaning for me. There are studies online which detail the benefits of volunteering and mental health. I cannot speak for all that is written, but I can relate to a lot of what I have read. Here I talk about my own experiences. 

I am proactive when it comes to helping others and have had several volunteer roles over the years, ranging from supporting older people, homelessness, and mental health. I often, if not always, end a volunteering session on a high, wanting to do it again. I have found my experiences to be extremely rewarding, and I enjoy being part of something bigger than myself. 

As well as ‘purpose,’ volunteering can serve other needs. Volunteering lifts my mood and gives me a sense of self. A sense of self can encourage my self-worth, and self-worth can help me to not feel invisible. I have a responsibility to show up and help those who need me. 

Another one for me was a social need and building new relationships with other volunteers. It can be difficult to make new connections as an adult, but through volunteering I have met lots of different people. Feeling part of a wider community helped to improve my mental wellbeing and can also help to combat social isolation. 

Volunteering has allowed me a broader perspective. Not necessarily “be grateful as others have it worse than you” – feelings are individual, and everyone is fighting their own battle. Depending on the cause, it can show how others are in a similar position, which has helped me to not feel so alone in my own battles. It can start conversations on important topics and normalise some of the issues we are facing. We can share experiences and offer support and in turn those people might go on to do the same. A positive ripple effect. 

Volunteering can be a great way to push yourself and try different roles, learn new skills, and gain knowledge and experience, which has helped me to gain confidence in my own ability, my judgement and myself. In some cases, it can lead on to paid work opportunities, or spark interest in a particular role, company, or sector. 

There is a large variety of different volunteering opportunities out there, and it can be beneficial to look for one which is the right fit for you. Think about what you enjoy, what causes you’re passionate about, and how much time you are able to give. I know I prefer structure, so I look for volunteering roles where I can sign up for certain days/times as opposed to on a more ad-hoc basis. I like physical roles where I can get stuck in and focus on the needs of others and take a break from my day-to-day. 

I feel it is important to note that there can also be overhelping and that it can be helpful to put in some healthy boundaries for oneself. You can only give what you can, and in this case, it is my time, and you can’t help others without helping yourself first. 

There are lots of non-official volunteer roles such as being parents, friends, caring for loved ones, which can also give a sense of purpose and fulfilment. But if you have a little time, see what volunteer opportunities are available near you.

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