There are dozens of ways to maintain your health. You can eat nutritious food and exercise on a regular basis. Spending quality time in nature is always a good boost. Building a supportive community is also beneficial to your wellbeing.
Another way to influence your health is to volunteer. Giving back helps define your sense of purpose. It also allows you to see the good you can do in the world—often an important touchstone when you’re challenged during recovery.
How Giving Back Helps You
In an article for Psychology Today, author Dawn C. Carr, a specialist in aging well, lists five reasons why you should consider donating your time and expertise:
- Volunteers are healthier and live longer. Carr says volunteering allows us to have better psychological and physical health—but only if you start early and develop “meaningful volunteer roles” that you can continue throughout your life.
- Volunteering helps create better relationships. Carr cites a study that indicates “the prevalence of loneliness is at an all-time high, with about one in three adults categorized as lonely.” Loneliness in sobriety is often a serious issue for many people in recovery. Carr says “working alongside people who feel as strongly as you do about supporting a particular cause creates a path to developing strong relationships with others.”
- Volunteering builds career connections. It’s a tired old saying, but often true: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Broadening your social circle through volunteering helps keep you top-of-mind with other people looking for someone with your particular set of skills.
- Volunteers help establish a better society. No matter what your interest might be—faith, animals, social services, the arts, events, and so on—there’s an organization that will continue to do good in the world because of volunteerism. Thus, you’re instrumental in shaping the community you want to be a part of and feeling accomplished in that involvement.
- Volunteering provides purpose. Yes, we said that already, but now the expert reinforces it. “Volunteering serves to express and facilitate opportunities to carry out one’s sense of purpose,” Carr writes. “The very nature of volunteering means choosing to work without being paid for it. As a result, people choose to spend their time on issues they feel strongly about.”
Carr and other therapeutic experts suggest that “committing even as little as one hour a week can have a profound benefit on your life, and the organizations that rely on such help will be able to thrive.”
Does Giving Back Really Improve Your Health?
Numerous experts say yes. For example, HelpGuide details the following advantages when you volunteer regularly:
- It helps you manage anxiety and depression more effectively. Associating with others allows you to add to your support system and provides people you can turn to when you need help.
- It relieves anger and stress. When you know you’re contributing efforts where they’re appreciated, this adds to your wellbeing. Other research points to the effectiveness of helping animals and how it boosts your mood and relieves stress, especially if you can’t have pets at home.
- It scientifically prompts happiness. HelpGuide notes that “by measuring hormones and brain activity, researchers have discovered that being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure. Human beings are hard-wired to give to others. The more we give, the happier we feel.”
The Mayo Clinic provides additional proof of your volunteer health benefits:
- It reduces depression for people 65 and older.
- People who volunteer “report better physical health than do non-volunteers.”
- Studies indicate that “volunteers with chronic or serious illness experience declines in pain intensity and depression” when they help support other people experiencing chronic pain.
Harvard Medical School weighs in with a few more points:
- Volunteers report lower blood pressure than non-volunteers, which helps stave off more serious conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
- “Mentally-stimulating activities, like tutoring or reading, might be helpful to reduce anxiety and improve memory and cognition skills.”
- Your health benefits from volunteerism are only effective if you’re truly altruistic—meaning that you have to help others, not simply yourself.
How to Get Started
Giving back starts with you deciding what matters in your life and how you’d like to help. It’s that simple. The only “rule” of volunteering is that once you commit, you take that responsibility seriously. Show up when you’re scheduled. Do what you said you’d do. Offer support from the heart. These factors might assist your recovery journey because the routine adds to your daily structure and reinforces your sense of purpose.
Here are some ideas:
Support your recovery community. Some people don’t want to be surrounded by former addicts all the time. However, others find that helping individuals along the journey of recovery provides reason and purpose. Consider organizing a 12-Step support group or becoming a sponsor, or contributing your time to an inpatient rehabilitation facility, sober living house, or at-risk adolescent shelter.
Focus on what you’re interested in. If you love animals, you’ll always be welcome at a shelter or rescue group like Full Circle Farm Sanctuary. If you’re good with children and don’t have a criminal record, a mentoring program such as Big Brothers Big Sisters throughout Georgia might be an option. If you enjoy working with your hands, try Rebuilding Together or Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County.
Be open to help on various projects and events. There are many clearinghouse volunteer sites where organizations post volunteer needs for a particular fundraiser, a large community event, or semi-regular activities. Your support may be required for any number of situations, such as a city marathon, a community clean-up day, or a festival. Hands On ATL, Georgia’s Volunteer Match, and United Way in Georgia are a few places to find ideas.
You can also discuss volunteer options at a Willingway continuing care community group and see what suggestions other people have. Willingway’s Statesboro, GA, facility offers a full continuum of treatment to help you recover from substance use disorder and maintain a healthy lifestyle into the future.