DO GOOD, FEEL GOOD – VOLUNTEERING AND MENTAL HEALTH

If I had to choose two words that best defined happiness for me, I would say kids and animals. I interact with school children once a week, where I teach them English and math, and that by far has been the most valuable experience I have  had in my college life.

What are the benefits of volunteering? The most common ones are usually “you make a difference in a person’s life”, or “it will look good on your resume”. However, studies have brought to light another advantage, and perhaps the most important one.  Volunteering is a proven mental health booster. According to “Doing Good is Good for You, 2013 Health and Volunteering Study”, volunteering helps people manage and lower their stress levels. 94 per cent of those surveyed reported that volunteering also improves their mood. Volunteers also scored higher than non-volunteers on emotional well-being measures including overall satisfaction with life.

I recently happened to watch the critically acclaimed Malayalam movie “Ustaad Hotel”. It follows the story of the protagonist who loves cooking, and aims to work as an executive Chef in a top restaurant abroad. Owing to disapproval from his father, he is forced to spend some time with his grandfather, working at his small yet popular hotel. What follows is a beautiful journey of self growth, where he comes to realize that serving the needy and the socially ostracized segment such as the mentally challenged, gave him much more satisfaction and joy than he would have ever received at any commercial, high end establishment.

Volunteering is also an excellent antidepressant. Social isolation is a risk factor for depression. Volunteering helps you develop relationships and support systems, both of which can help you overcome obstacles and fight depression.  Scientifically such interactions release a hormone called oxytocin, which helps us to bond and care for others and also helps us to handle stress better. Interacting with others and listening to their stories will not only take your mind off your troubles but also leave you feeling good about yourself.

On a personal note, interacting with kids, and volunteering at animal shelters has increased my self-confidence, and most importantly gives me immense satisfaction, joy and a sense of purpose.

So if you also wish you had fewer days where you just felt like curling up in a corner and feeling bad for yourself, put on those Good Samaritan shoes and volunteer for a cause that’s close to your heart!

-Ramya

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