I caught this article on Motherboard and it really, really got me thinking. The article itself is certainly worth the read, but I’ll try to summarize the points and add my own spin on it.
The article notes that volunteering helps with depression. This happens a few different ways:
- First, there are mental and physical benefits to volunteering. Volunteering can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of hypertension and make you physically feel better. This happens, in part, by noting that oxytocin (feel good brain chemical) gets released when you regularly volunteer.
- Volunteering helps you keep things in perspective. It gets much harder to be depressed when you are working with someone much less fortunate than you. I’ve always found this to be a helpful strategy, to be honest: On moments when you are depressed, compare yourself to someone who has it worse than you.
- Volunteering gives you social connections and social interaction, a challenge for people who are depressed.
It’s actually the second point that I want to talk about more than anything else, because that’s something I’ve always found to be powerful: Volunteering gets you out of your own head. Let me point back to a blog entry I made some time ago about depression and rumination: Thinking obsessively about yourself, and your own problems, can be tied very strongly to depression.
That’s where volunteering can come in. Not only are you exposed to people in legitimately worse situations than you, but it can help you out of your own head, as it is much harder to think about yourself when you are trying to help others. Sometimes, your brain needs that extra kick in the butt to stop the thoughts of yourself. And that’s where volunteering can come in. According to the article, there is no volunteering that is better than others – doing good means feeling good.
I do want to add one clarification here, however: I’ve made volunteering sound like a selfish exercise designed to the volunteer feel better. That’s not the attitude that you should have when you go to do good. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with volunteering because you want to feel better and are hoping to build some social connections and make a difference. But I would remind you that the only way to truly reap the benefits of volunteering is to do so by approaching it from an ultimately selfless perspective. Go somewhere with the hope of doing good, and the rest of it will fall into place.
As always, I am curious to hear your perspective. What good experiences have you had with volunteering in the hopes that it will help control depression? How about negative ones? I know I’ve felt both ways when volunteering, and I’m curious to hear other perspectives. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!