7 Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering

The Annual Giving Drive is underway and King County employees have until November 18 to hold fundraisers, promote causes they are passionate about, and sign up for payroll donations to a participating Employee Giving nonprofit.

But did you know that you can also use up to three sick days per calendar year to volunteer at a nonprofit in the Employee Giving Program? Besides providing necessary support to an organization, volunteering for a cause you are passionate about can improve your own mental health and help you feel good. Below are seven mental health benefits of volunteering, adapted from behavioral health program AbleTo.

7 Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering

1) Reduces Stress
Whether we are working with adults, children, or pets, a meaningful connection can take our mind off our worries when we put our attention on someone or something else. The richer the experience, the more we feel satisfied with giving of our time and talents, and that results in improved mood and less stress.

2) Combats Negative Thinking
Volunteering can keep the mind distracted from a destructive habit like negative thinking or being overly critical (especially of oneself). It can also increase motivation by providing a sense of accomplishment. We think, “If I can do this, what else is possible?”

3) Prevents Feelings of Isolation
While volunteering, we can also make new friends, growing our social network and possibly even our professional one. Picking an activity that we enjoy gives us a higher chance of meeting people who share our values and worldview. Like-minded, like-hearted people come together over common interests. It’s possible to create friendships that can last long after the volunteering ends. And, especially for those of us who are naturally shy and more introverted, a volunteer activity can help break the ice while helping others.

4) Increases Confidence
Some volunteering activities require learning new skills. Gaining a new ability coupled with being in an unfamiliar environment can provide mental stimulation that we would otherwise not experience. Also, in growing our skill set to make a difference for others, we can gain a sense of pride and identity, which can lead to having a more positive view of oneself.

5) Gives a Sense of Purpose and Meaning
Volunteering can give meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in ways that are different than what we do or have done for work. Whether it’s with seniors, children, animals, or due to a natural disaster, the willingness to do what’s needed in the moment no matter how humbling the task can put things in perspective and help grow compassion for others while expanding our minds and worldview.

6) Ignites Passion
Volunteering is also a fun way to explore different interests or even perhaps work alongside a master. It can be an energizing escape from your daily routine, especially if you sit in front of a computer all day and long to be more active and in the outdoors. Look for opportunities to help clean up the woods you love, walk dogs for an animal shelter, or volunteer at a youth camp.

7) Makes You Happy
Research shows that feel-good hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities. Humans are designed to be in community, serving one another. It’s impossible not to impact a community when you volunteer. Just being there and doing whatever is needed is contributing to the greater whole. Volunteering makes the world a better place by aiding a community in need and helping others provides immense pleasure.

To learn more about how to use your sick days to volunteer, visit the King County Employee Giving Program webpage and click on ‘Volunteer Time Off’.

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