5 unexpected health benefits of volunteering

group of people collaborating

By National Eczema Association

Published On: Dec 13, 2018

Last Updated On: Jul 15, 2021

You know that happy, feel-good sensation you get after a good workout? It comes from a release of dopamine in the brain. Volunteering has that same effect. By measuring hormones and brain activity, researchers have discovered that being helpful to others brings people immense pleasure.

Volunteers experience greater increases in life satisfaction and greater positive changes in their perceived health as a result of volunteering. In other words, human beings are hard-wired to give to others. The more we give, the happier we feel.

So, whether you’re helping someone in need, contributing to a worthwhile cause or doing something to benefit the community at large, volunteering isn’t just something we do to make others feel good—it can be beneficial for our own health too.

Here are the top five reasons why volunteering is good for our health.

1. Volunteering keeps you physically and mentally active, and helps you live longer.

Volunteer activities get you moving and thinking at the same time. A study at Johns Hopkins University in 2009 revealed that volunteers actually increased their brain functioning. Another study found that, in general, volunteers report better physical health than non-volunteers.

 2. Volunteering helps counteract the effects of stress and depression.  

The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on us psychologically. Research has shown that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression because it keeps you in regular contact with others and enables you to form a solid support system, which in turn protects you against depression.

Volunteers feel a greater sense of empathy and appreciation for others, which can be calming, especially when you live with a disease like eczema that can make some people feel lonely or isolated.

Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection with another person, right? How about a meaningful connection with others across the country who share something in common, whether it’s a passion for human rights, a love of animals or the tribulations of a chronic skin condition?

3. Volunteering boosts your self-confidence and gives you a sense of purpose.

Being a volunteer can give you a sense of pride and identity. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have future goals and a more positive outlook on life.

A 2016 report in Psychosomatic Medicine pooled findings from nearly a dozen studies to reveal that people with a higher sense of purpose in life had a lower risk of dying from any cause, compared with people who had a lower sense of purpose.

Psychologists encourage those who have experienced a loss, retired from a career, or live with a chronic disease to volunteer because it can occupy their time in a more meaningful way, perhaps filling a void or giving them a new purpose in life.

Whatever your situation, volunteering takes your mind off your own troubles, keeps you mentally stimulated, and gives you a new zest for life.

4. Volunteering helps you meet likeminded others and boost your social skills.

Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new contacts and expand your network of support. One of the easiest ways to find likeminded individuals and strengthen your support system is to participate in a shared activity together, like volunteering.

According to a 1998 Duke University study, a healthy dose of civic engagement can also boost your social skills. While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and might struggle making new friends and acquaintances.

Volunteering gives you a chance to practice and develop your social skills since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests. The more time you spend with them, the more comfortable you feel interacting with others. Once you gain a little self-confidence, it’s much easier to branch out and make even more friends and contacts.

5. Volunteering is particularly beneficial to people with chronic diseases.

People with chronic diseases might assume their health problems automatically disqualify them from volunteering, but that is far from the case.

There have been countless research studies over the years that prove adults with disabilities or chronic health conditions, ranging from hearing and vision loss to diabetes and inflammatory disease, all show improvement after volunteering.

The studies have found that volunteers with chronic or serious illness experience declines in pain intensity and depression when serving as peer volunteers for others also suffering from pain and depression.

That’s why volunteering with patient advocacy organizations like NEA is important—by helping others, you help yourself!

Become a NEA Ambassador

NEA Ambassadors are volunteer champions working to improve the health and quality of life for people with eczema and their families. All you need is a desire for change and a passion for an eczema-free world for our community.

NEA volunteer opportunities:

  • Grassroots Advocates— It can be easy as writing a letter to your representatives all the way up to visiting officials in your state and even Capitol Hill to urge Congress to consider the needs of the millions of Americans coping with eczema.
  • Speakers Bureau—Do you have a way with words? By participating in the Speaker’s Bureau, you elevate the experience of the eczema community to such groups as the Food & Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Citizen Journalists—If public speaking isn’t your thing but you still want to get your eczema story out there, grab your pen or keyboard and write for NEA’s blog and print magazine.
  • Eczema Warriors—Warriors engage with eczema community online to make it a safe, respectful and helpful space for all. Share NEA’s posts, create your own, or send in content for us to share.
  • Events Coordinators—You can volunteer to help support a NEA event like Eczema Expo or host an event of your own such as a bake sale or an Itching for a Cure walk in your hometown.

Remember, don’t go overboard!

When you have a chronic health condition, things come up that might force you to cancel a volunteer engagement. That’s completely understandable. Still, it’s important to follow through on your word. Make sure you volunteer only the amount of time that feels comfortable to you.

Volunteering doesn’t have to be a full-time or even a part-time commitment. In fact, research shows that just two to three hours per week—or about 100 hours a year—are enough to reap the benefits.

How much you volunteer is entirely up to you. Baby steps might be best so that you can assure the organizers and yourself that you are willing and able to follow through on your volunteer commitment.

Read: Why I became an eczema advocate

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