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The health benefits of volunteering

By Tricia Toth

Volunteering is a necessary component to the existence of many organizations providing essential and invaluable community programs and services. While these organizations benefit from the time and effort offered by the volunteer, the rewards are two-fold. Volunteers gain from scientifically-proven physical and psychological health benefits.

Assisting others helps combat stress, as it provides us with a distraction from other challenges in our lives. We are given a purpose, which allows us to witness the positive results of our efforts and enhance our sense of accomplishment. Volunteering provides an opportunity to socialize for those who may otherwise isolate themselves or have limited opportunity to interact with others; therefore it acts as a catalyst to combat depression and anxiety. Volunteering can trigger reward centers in the brain, essentially making us happier.

Community volunteers have the opportunity to establish meaningful connections with others, which may present friendships, professional opportunities and fun.

According to one UK study, employers were 73 per cent more likely to hire an applicant with volunteer experience than one without.

The volunteer is able to see the world from a wider lens and recognize how little acts of kindness can make a big impact. According to one study, those who volunteer are less likely to develop hypertension and have reduced hypertension (Cohen and Sneed, 2013); improving our heart health. Other benefits to volunteering include skills development, contact with others, social and professional connections, life fulfillment and purpose.

If you are uncertain where you would like to contribute your time and attention, consider where you would like to make an impact. For instance, if you are a parent, perhaps volunteering with children and families may be especially rewarding for you. If you were a war vet or employed in the public service field, offering your support to those affected by trauma could be an area that is particularly rewarding for you, or helping in the healthcare field (e.g., hospital auxiliary).

Many communities and organizations have volunteer coordinators, who can assist in matching the volunteer to the area they would be most useful in. You can explore volunteer opportunities in your own community by checking in with your local resource centre, health care auxiliary or facility, art gallery or council, museum, or Chamber of Commerce.

While helping to create a healthier community, you’ll also be a healthier and happier you.

Tricia Toth has over two decades of experience assisting individuals and families. She operates Great Life Counselling in Ladysmith.


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