By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
There are many tools we can use to help better our overall mental health, but there is one thing we can do that can better someone else’s life in addition to our own life. This tool is the act of giving service to others. There are many reasons to give service to someone else, but it has been lesser known until recent years that many mental health benefits are associated with volunteer work. Since there are so many health benefits, it is now considered a form of self-care.
When you gives to others, your brain releases chemicals, including dopamine and oxytocin. These chemicals are responsible for brightening your mood and giving you a sense of calm and harmony. When you are experiencing a lot of stress in your life and are having a difficult time managing stress, giving service to a family member, friend, or your community could help improve your mood. It is another tool to add to your mental health toolbox that can help bring your mood back to a more manageable level.
Philanthropy also has some physical benefits. One study found that when a person volunteers on a regular basis, that person’s risk for developing hypertension (high blood pressure) decreases significantly. The same study also found an association between regular volunteer work and increased psychological well-being and physical activity. Both these factors are important for better overall health.
Helping others can also help establish purpose in our lives. It can help us discover our role within our community and help us feel more connected. In addition, it could lead us toward finding something we are passionate about and open new doors for us. I know multiple people who have found new careers they are passionate about from volunteering within their community.
Sometimes it can be difficult to find time to volunteer when you have so many other things going on in your life. There are ways you can give service to others without being part of an organized volunteer group or event. Offer to mow your neighbor’s lawn when you are mowing your own. Bring a friend dinner when they are sick. Volunteer to help strangers load groceries in their car if you notice they need assistance. Little things like these are considered giving service to others, and they are easy tasks for one to complete.
In my personal life, I try to be mindful of how I can give service to others each day. When things are busy, it can be hard to notice little things, but by being in a mindset of giving service, it helps open my eyes to things I can do to help others. Whether it’s opening the door for someone or picking up trash in my community park, there are little things that not only help my community, but also help my well-being and mood.
Renter, Elizabeth, “What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy.” U.S. News Health, May 1, 2015, https://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2015/05/01/what-generosity-does-to-your-brain-and-life-expectancy. Accessed March 30, 2018.
Sneed, R. S., & Cohen, S. (2013). A prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 28(2), 578-586.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0032718. Accessed March 30, 2018.