You may be thinking you have been giving back for as long as you can remember. You give to your family members, your friends, and your job. You donate your time volunteering. You help others in times of need.
You are right! You have been giving back.But are you giving back in the right way?
You can know this by answering this question, how does giving back make you feel?
If your answer includes words like “stressed” or “tired” then you are not giving back in the right way. You are most likely giving your time up for activities in which you lack passion. You may even be participating in activities out of obligation to family and friends.
If this is the case, the first step you can take to connect giving back with good mental health is to learn how to do it right.
Choosing Projects, the Right Way
Let’s face it, there will always be a few small projects or activities that you must do just because you should do it. Like attending parent meetings at your child’s school. Or, baking cookies for your kids’ annual class party.
But saying “yes” to everything people ask you to do is not only unrealistic, it can be damaging to your physical and mental health. Saying “yes” all the time has negative effects.
Choosing a project can be done by asking yourself a few simple questions.
Am I Passionate About This Project?
If this event represents a theme you have a personal connection to or have had a passion for, go for it. If you were abused and want to participate in a domestic violence event, do it. If you love pets and want to raise funds for the local pound, that’s great!
But if you have no feelings towards and lack interest in the theme of the event, say “no”.
How Many Projects Am I In Already?
If you are already involved in three or more projects, say “no”. You want to be the best volunteer you can be. Stretching yourself too thin will make things worse.
What is My Inner Gut Telling Me About This Project?
When you are first asked to volunteer, you will notice your stomach either feeling great with excitement, or a knot filled with dread. Listen to what these symptoms are telling you. These are your instincts and they are usually correct.
Now that you have figured out how to engage in or reject a project, let’s discuss how giving back the right way can benefit your mental health.
You Get the Helper’s High
When you give, it is rewarding. In fact, giving triggers the reward center or the mesolimbic part of the brain. It releases endorphins and tells the brain to feel good. It has sometimes been called the helper’s high.
This “high” is due to the excretion of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, which are all feel good chemicals found in the brain.
It Is Contagious
Just like a yawn, giving can be contagious. You see someone yawning and then almost immediately, you find yourself yawning. This is somewhat like the contagious reaction to the act of giving.
When people see you give, it inspires them to give. When they give, they inspire others to give. And it continues and on. Even those who give out of guilt are known to feel good mentally after they have given to someone or something else.
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Giving back the right way has proven physical health benefits. It lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.
You find yourself laughing more and having an enjoyable time at events you have a passion for. It is hard to have a negative outlook when you are laughing and having fun. Therefore, giving back the right way can reduce depression.
Other physical traits associated with volunteering include being able to get better sleep and less anxiety.
Sense of Purpose
When you feel worthy and valuable, your mental health becomes stronger. Giving back or volunteering can give meaning to our lives, making us feel we have a purpose. Some research suggests it does so because giving back connects us to other people.
When we build relationships and feel close to others, we get a sense of belonging. This leads us to feel important and that we are here for a reason. Usually that reason relates to helping others rather than a self-gratifying purpose.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to connect with other people. You can meet new people or bond with people you already know. This type of bonding can reduce depression and anxiety.
Loneliness is a feeling that is overcome when giving back the right way. This is because loneliness is associated with isolation and a lack of social activity.
Socialization is connected to stabilizing emotions. Volunteers with serious mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anger issues, and even obsessive-compulsive disorders have reported feeling more emotionally stable after giving back to others in need.
Giving back allows you the opportunity to share your skills with others. This can boost your self-esteem and give you much-needed confidence.
Recovering addicts claim giving back during recovery is an essential part of overcoming addiction because it makes them feel worthy. It makes them feel the struggles they endured happened for a reason.
It can also improve necessary skills.
Gives You Tools
Volunteering gives you tools to fight mental health issues when they arise. It does so by helping you build your support network. Each time you give back you can meet people who are positive assets in your life.
Volunteering gives you a place to practice your social skills and learn how to build friendships. It raises your self-esteem each time you realize you are making a difference in someone else’s life.
In the end, giving back just feels good. It feels right.
When you see the reaction of the person on the receiving end of giving, it is rewarding.
Take time to find your passions and start giving back today. Your mental health will benefit the most.