Science proves that when we help others, we enhance our health, too.
From reducing blood pressure and stress to promoting happiness and wellbeing, regular volunteering offers notable benefits. Georgia State University’s Counseling and Testing Center outlines the following:
- Giving back in meaningful ways helps reduce depression, especially among older adults; counteracts the impact of anger, anxiety, and stress; and provides opportunities for increased mental and physical activity.
- Regular social engagement through shared interests improves a person’s overall outlook on life and wellbeing.
- Fulfillment found through volunteering is often relaxing; helps identify a sense of purpose; and stimulates “creativity, motivation, and vision that can carry over into a personal and professional life.”
Other research centers such as the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School point to additional benefits of giving back, such as healthier aging, lower blood pressure—which reduces the risk for heart disease and stroke—and less chronic pain.
Choosing to be an active volunteer is also one way to express gratitude in your life. Practicing gratitude improves your physical and mental health, allows you to deal with triggers and other stressors more healthfully, and gives you more authentic joy each day—all of which add to a successful recovery journey.
What Makes a Good Volunteer?
Here are some tips from Non Profit Hub:
- Know what’s going on. Even for a few hours, you’re the face of the organization. So it’s important to understand its purpose, goals, and intent. It’s more than saying “it’s a good cause:” educate yourself to better serve the organization, feel more grounded in your responsibilities, and be more professional.
- Present a positive attitude. When you sign up to help, you’re not always in control of what you’ll do. Keep in mind that not every volunteer task is enjoyable, but it’s always valuable—think about the people who clean up the streets after a 5K run, or stand in the rain directing traffic, or deliver meals at 10 p.m. to members of the homeless population. No matter how weary the task, take pride in how you’re helping others in your community, and let your attitude reflect that.
- Respect differing opinions. Giving back during recovery enhances socialization skills. Quite often, you’ll choose to participate in activities that reflect your interests. But even in those environments, there will be someone who sees the world differently than you, or you’ll encounter challenging individuals or circumstances that take you out of your comfort zone. Learning to accept and understand differences will serve you in all areas of your life.
- Allow yourself to form new connections. Whether you connect with other volunteers or the organization coordinators, your attitude and work ethic will open doors to interacting with people intent on doing good in the world, and this will help you stay focused on your life goals.
Network for Good provides additional suggestions:
- Expect to be interviewed. In some situations, you may go through an interview process and fill out an application. Just as you would for a job, answer all questions honestly and provide proper references. Stress any relatable skills you have to offer, even if it’s only a “can-do” attitude.
- Don’t over-commit. It’s better to start small—say the two-hour morning shift at a community arts festival handing out maps—and see how you feel about the process. If you have a specific cause or interest, you can always prioritize more time in your schedule.
- Follow your heart. Some people may be required to do community service as part of a legal agreement and, consequently, don’t have a lot of say in their volunteer assignments. But you do, so focus your attention on choosing an effort that reflects what you’d like to improve, change, or experience. Believe you have something valuable to offer.
Finding Volunteer Opportunities
Thousands of organizations rely on the skills and goodwill of people like you who make giving back to the community part of their lives.
If you like animals:
Pet therapy expands upon the animal-human connection and is especially beneficial for people in recovery. Maybe during a visit to Twin Lakes, you became attached to Maverick and Goose, the therapy mini-cows! There are many sanctuary farms in Georgia eager for additional helping hands, including Sweet Olive Farm Animal Rescue in Winterville. If you live near a PetSmart, the company’s charity program provides numerous rescue, adoption, and emergency relief volunteer options.
If you’re a history buff:
Maybe you have a special interest in Civil War memorabilia. Georgia has dozens of places where your knowledge is welcomed. The Georgia Historical Society is also a good resource for other opportunities with this focus.
If you want to get involved in your community:
No matter where you live, there are endless options to volunteer, whether at an arts center, festival, athletic event, farmers’ market, concert, theatre or civic center, car show, and other happenings. Review your city’s commerce or tourism website to get a better idea of what’s going on—for example, Monroe Downtown lists all events for the year. Then contact specific event organizers to see how you can help.
If you want to help people in need:
Social and civic services, churches, hospitals, shelters, and missions rely heavily on volunteers to meet the needs of people in the community. From tutoring kids after school or delivering meals to the elderly to becoming a volunteer firefighter or helping veterans, look to Volunteer Match, Idealist, or All for Good to find opportunities.
You may have also encountered volunteers during your inpatient rehabilitation or outpatient substance abuse program. At a 12-Step program, you might also have noticed that the majority of people running things are volunteers. Bring up the topic of giving back during a Twin Lakes Alumni meeting and hear what others have to say.