Helping Yourself: How Volunteering Can Make a Huge Difference for Your Mental Health | Rice Psychology

Helping Yourself: How Volunteering Can Make a Huge Difference for Your Mental Health

Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.

A couple of months ago, I began feeling stressed and anxious due to the pressures of work. My husband suggested we take a small trip to take my mind away from the office. My mother, however, said she had a better idea and invited me to join her in volunteering at the local food bank. After a couple of weekends doing so, I began to feel better. I felt a bit more optimistic about my performance at work and my coworkers noticed the change in me as well. I guess I can chalk these new feelings up to the rewarding experience of helping others in need.  

If you’ve ever taken some time out of your day to help with a local canned food drive or to take care of dogs and cats at your local pet shelter, then you know just how good it feels knowing that you’ve helped others in need. In fact, recent research has shown that helping others can offer legitimate benefits to our mental health.

Our psychologists and therapists in Tampa want to offer some important, and perhaps even surprising, information that might help you if you’ve been dealing with stress or anxiety lately.

Know the Signs of Your Anxiety

Before we get into the main points of the discussion regarding the benefits of volunteering, let’s take a moment to review what we know about anxiety. Researchers and professionals in the field generally believe that anxiety is a result of several factors.

These may include:

  • Genetics
  • Stress-inducing situations and triggers
  • Changes in the brain

While the exact causes of your anxiety may be unknown to you, it’s still important to do something about it. First, try to recognize the different symptoms:

  • An overwhelming sense of worry
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of terror
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Numbness and/or tingling in the hands/feet

Educated Findings About the Benefits of Volunteering

According to Michigan State University’s public health research associate Rodlescia Sneed, volunteering has been found to promote “psychological well-being.” Through her work, she’s found that volunteering improves:

  • Depressive symptoms
  • One’s purpose in life
  • Optimistic emotions

While studies of this nature are still in their early stages, there are some clues that indicate a neurotransmitter called oxytocin can increase in individuals who volunteer often. Oxytocin is released when we are social and connect with people and animals. It gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. We believe it stimulates the production of two other “feel good” brain chemicals, dopamine and serotonin, and seems to reduce anxiety.

This, in turn, can help people manage stressful events in their lives much more effectively. Sneed revealed that some theories suggest that volunteering allows us to divert our attention toward an alternative, more useful perspective from which to view our own problems.

Keep in mind that volunteering is not a “cure” or medical treatment for anxiety. We are sharing this today because we know that there are many ancillary things that we can do to improve our mental health and outlook that do not involve psychotherapy or medication. And volunteering appears to be one of those that we can now add to an ever-growing list that already includes yoga, mindfulness, and spending time outside.

Talk with Our Tampa Therapists and Psychologists

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders can leave you feeling stuck and overwhelmed. At Rice Psychology Group, we want to help you go back to enjoying even the simplest things in life. If you or a loved one is struggling with any issue, know that our Tampa therapists and psychologists are here for you. Contact us today for more information.

About Rice Psychology

Rice Psychology Group is home to a team of psychologists who work tirelessly to help adults, adolescents and children deal with their issues. Whether you’re currently dealing with depression, going through a divorce or fighting an issue you just can’t understand, know that our Tampa psychologists are here to help.

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