It Does You Good To Do Good: The Mental Benefits Of Volunteering And Tips To Help You Start
A few years ago I found myself with a bit of extra time on my hands and decided to try my hand at volunteering. Before jumping in to the first thing that came to mind I spent some time thinking about what I would enjoy and what skills I might bring to the table or what skills I might pick up in a volunteering role.
A childhood spent mainly mucking about with ponies started me thinking that I would love to get involved with anything horsey. I researched my local area and found out that the Riding For Disabled were just about to start a new branch in my area - BINGO!! I got in touch, met the organiser and become part of a small team challenged with the set-up. Although only a small cog in the well-oiled machine of the RDA the sense of satisfaction I get from knowing I was instrumental in the set-up and running of this division and the wellbeing I feel at the end of each session helping all ages - our youngest rider is 2 years of age, our oldest in their 60’s - with a range of mental and physical disabilities, enjoy the wonderful interaction of horse and rider. I have to admit when I became involved I did so more out of a sense of duty - I felt it was about time I gave something back. Now I will freely admit that I love it!! The children’s faces when they are up on the ponies and trot for the first time, the sense of achievement from the older riders when they realise they are steering the horse and the pleasure the parents and carers get from watching their loved one enjoying a different experience is amazing. Sometimes its hard work and we can be walking and running around a riding arena for 3 hours but the group of volunteers involved are a great laugh and what better way to keep fit.
Many of us don’t think about volunteering until later in life - I know I didn’t. Time constraints are probably one of the main reasons deterring many from getting involved but there is growing medical evidence that volunteering is good for you. It gives a sense of purpose, improves your skill set, encourages socialisation and improves well-being. Research carried out by NHS suggest people who volunteer are healthier, potentially with lower weight, reduced cholesterol and more stamina, flexibility and less stressed. The secret to feeling better about your lifestyle might not be the gym, but instead, volunteering. GP’s and health professionals are all buying in to the benefits of volunteering and are prescribing volunteering instead of medication for stress, anxiety, weight loss and depression.
“This is a very interesting area of healthcare,” according to Kartik Modha, NHS GP and founder of myhealthspecialist.com. “It’s common sense that those who are more engaged in a community purpose that they’re genuinely concerned about will feel better.”
According to NHS Live Well most people would agree that giving to others is a good thing. But it can also do a lot of good for your own mental wellbeing. Small acts of kindness towards other people, or larger ones like volunteering in your local community, can give you a sense of purpose.
It can make you feel happier and more satisfied with life. Sometimes we think of wellbeing in terms of what we have: our income, our home or car, or our job. But evidence suggests it's our actions and our thoughts that have the biggest impact on mental wellbeing. Positive mental wellbeing means feeling good about yourself and the world around you, and being able to get on with life in the way you want. Helping and supporting other people, and working with others towards a shared goal, is good for our mental wellbeing.
So if you want to do a bit of good that might end up doing you a bit of good…
Take a moment to think about your hobbies and interests and consider whether you could put these to good use volunteering.
Consider whether you can volunteer on a regular basis or would one-off projects suit better.
Look close to home to see whether you can become involved in projects that effect your community.
Consider volunteering in sectors which might improve your skill set or qualifications.
Ask your employer what charities or voluntary projects they are involved with or would like to become involved with and offer to contribute.
There is a huge variety of volunteering opportunities from animals, sport, youth, environmental, community, international - take your time to decide which would suit you best and then rope in a friend and go and give a little back.