Volunteering Can Improve Your Mental Health—and It's Still Possible to Give Back While Social Distancing
In light of the coronavirus pandemic and demands for justice and equality in the Black community, more people than ever before are offering their time and money to help necessary and important causes. While donating to nonprofit organizations or marching for the Black Lives Matter movement are worthwhile ways to give back, a new study has found that there are personal health benefits to volunteering, too. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that adults over the age of 50 who volunteer at least two or more hours a week volunteering had a reduced risk of mortality, higher physical activity, and better psychosocial outcomes including feeling more optimistic and a deeper sense of purpose in life.
That's not all. Researchers also found that volunteering lowered people's depressive symptoms including feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and isolation from friends. Approximately 13,000 participants were randomly selected from the Health and Retirement Study, and were monitored between 2010 to 2016. "Volunteering might help enrich our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and optimism, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depressive symptoms, and hopelessness," author Eric Kim, a research scientist in the department of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told CNN.
Because social distancing guidelines are still in place across the country, there may be fewer opportunities to volunteer in large groups. That doesn't mean that you can't lend a helping hand in other ways. Volunteer to pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor and leave them on their doorstep, water plants or mow the lawn for a busy neighbor, sew masks for local hospitals and rehab facilities in need of PPE, or donate blood through the American Red Cross.
There are a number of different online services that use virtual volunteers as well. Career Village connects low-income students with professionals in various industries for career advice. Translators Without Borders is a non-profit organization that provides people with vital information in their first language. If you're passionate about reading, Bookshare is in need of volunteers to scan and proofread pages of books for disabled children and adults.
"Whatever the cause, now is a moment in history when society needs your service the most. If you are able to do so while abiding by public health guidelines, you not only help heal the world, but you might help yourself as well," says Kim.