It Turns Out That Doing Good For Others Also Does Good Things For Your Mental Health

We all know that giving back is good for the world. But what about for you?

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So, the holidays are driving at us with the speed of the Polar Express, and suddenly you feel like you should be doing a little volunteer work. There are toy drives to be run and carrots to be peeled at the community center Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s all for a good cause, so you had better be out there helping, right? Of course, when we show up at any volunteer event to lend a hand, we have the best intentions in mind: helping others. But if you’re feeling the urge to give back this season, it’s okay to admit to yourself that you might also be looking for a little pick-me-up. It turns out volunteering doesn’t just help others. It can boost our own mental health in countless ways. And that’s a good thing!

Dumping Depression

Rates of depression tend to skyrocket around the holidays, with a chunk of the country facing less sunlight (and an increased risk of seasonal affective disorder) and the stress that comes with finances, family, and all that cooking. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, it might be worth swinging a hammer for Habitat for Humanity or lending a hand at your local food bank. Studies have shown that charitable efforts give us purpose when we’re feeling lost, and that can actually help us in a battle against depression. Helping others feel better literally makes us feel better!

Major Mood Boost

You don’t have to be facing full-blown depression to need a little good juju in your life. Sometimes the benefits of lending a hand come in the form of a simple mood boost. In one study, more than three-quarters of respondents said that volunteering made them feel better and even reported it helped reduce their stress levels. There’s no shame in taking a little satisfaction in knowing you’ve done something kind for someone else.

Loneliness? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Feeling isolated? When you’re trying to keep up with work and home, friends can (and too often do) fall by the wayside. A quick chat in a Facebook thread is great, but it doesn’t quite make up for those in-person gossip sessions with a girlfriend. That’s where a trip to the library to shelve books or an afternoon at the animal shelter walking the dogs could help fight your lonely feelings. Volunteering has long been shown to help people combat their isolation—at least when you pursue charitable acts that involve other people. It tends to put us in contact with new faces, and the grassroots needs of non-profits make working together a must. You can get the best of both worlds by inviting your BFF to volunteer with you—time to give back and time to gab!

Go where you’re needed.

There are dozens of charities that could always use an extra hand around the holidays, from the churches throwing holiday meals for the community to the organizations putting together toy drives for families who could use a little help playing Santa. But there are also dozens more that could use a helper all year-round. The folks at VolunteerMatch have a free tool that will partner you with a charity that could use your skills, so you know you’re truly making good use of your time. Or you can simply look around your neighborhood with your own interests in mind. Love dogs and cats? You can take advantage of the stress relief of spending time with animals while actually helping the critters at your nearby shelter become more adoptable. Have a knack for art? Give yourself a little art therapy while volunteering to lead painting classes at your local senior center. Whatever you choose, it’s okay to admit you’re taking something away from giving back.

Jeanne Sager
Jeanne Sager is a writer and photographer from upstate New York. She has strung words together for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and more.

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