Health and wellness is about much more than simply treating our pain or symptoms. Our overall wellbeing relies on so much more. This time of year especially we begin to think about ways we can help our communities. Did you know that volunteering has health benefits?

Here are ten benefits of volunteering that can help you as well as others.

  1. Part of your brain is activated by helping others. While it doesn’t happen every time or to everyone, when a person volunteers a portion of the brain called the mesolimbic system is activated. It creates good feelings throughout your body and releases chemicals like dopamine and serotonin naturally.
  2. Oxytocin is the compassion hormone. A natural hormone that generates the feelings we call love is called oxytocin. For instance, it is released during childbirth to bond a mother to her baby. When you volunteer to help others, this hormone is also activated making it nearly impossible for you to feel hostility during those times.
  3. Oxytocin also helps overcome stress. The release of oxytocin during a volunteer project also keeps our bodies from feeling stress. It helps us to avoid the triggers of stress all together. If you volunteer you can feel good about what you’re doing for others and eliminate or reduce stress with your body’s natural hormones.
  4. Even thinking about volunteering can help your immune system. In a fascinating study conducted at Harvard in 1988, students were shown either a video of St. Theresa working in Calcutta or people doing menial tasks such as peeling potatoes. In the group that watched St. Theresa the levels of immunoglobulin A, a marker in saliva that indicates the strength of our immune systems, were higher.
  5. Your efforts must be genuine. People who volunteer for causes they have no connection to actually have the opposite experience. Stress levels are higher for someone who commits their time for an action they don’t care about. Choose your project wisely.
  6. Donating money can be beneficial as well. Individuals who are unable to personally volunteer still feel the good health effects if they donate their money to a cause they care about.
  7. Volunteering can boost your confidence level. It has also been shown that individuals enjoy volunteering more when they feel confident about their ability to contribute. This can provide a needed boost in self-esteem and overall health.
  8. Help others in your situation. Individuals dealing with chronic conditions feel better when they can help others with the same concerns. The person being helped will not feel so alone and the same benefits are felt by the volunteer. If you live with chronic pain, for example, you can join a global Facebook group at ChronicPainSupportGroup.com that allows members with chronic pain to help and cheer each other on.
  9. Volunteer two hours a week. Researchers have seen that this is not only the average time for people to volunteer in the United States but also the threshold for feeling good about what you’re doing.
  10. Be a good example to your children. Parenthood can reduce the time individuals can spend volunteering for others, but it has been shown that children raised in compassionate households reap the benefits throughout their lives.

What kind of volunteering can you do to boost your health?

Image by BLM Nevada via Flickr

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