Experience the strong connection between volunteering and health this holiday season
“Around the holidays, many of us feel the need to give back to our communities. It’s the time of year when our philanthropic energy skyrockets,” says Justin Lynch, regional volunteer coordinator for the United Way of Central New York. “Whether we volunteer at soup kitchens, wrap gifts at the mall for local charities, or give our time collecting goods for those in need, an act of selflessness can help spread cheer throughout the season.”
The benefits of being generous with your time go beyond improving the lives of those who are served; the givers also receive. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, research has established a strong relationship between volunteering and health.
Those who serve others gain more than just a social network to provide support and alleviate stress; volunteering also provides individuals with a sense of purpose and life satisfaction. Volunteers can strengthen social ties that protect against feelings of isolation or depression, while the experience of helping others leads to a greater sense of self-worth and trust. Voluntarism is linked to longevity, reduced heart diseases and overall wellness. There is a convergence of research, which concludes that giving your time to help others makes people happier and healthier.
“People who are active, focusing outside themselves, tend to do better in general. Medication can help people but a ‘magic pill’ is not always the answer,” says Sharon Brangman, M.D., professor of medicine and Geriatrics Division chief at SUNY Upstate Medical University. “Successful aging includes good medical care and good social interaction.” Brangman advises people of all ages to maintain social connections with friends and family. Remember, too, that volunteering can also extend your point of view beyond your own situation, which in the end can improve it.
“When you volunteer you are helping others and yourself. Stay active, stay involved, and you will stay healthy,” notes Patricia Gilbert, network and civic engagement director at the Oasis Institute.
Locally, Oasis/HealthLink Learning Center, sponsored by Upstate Medical University, offers those ages 50 and older a variety of classes for lifelong learning. Volunteers act as instructors, program coordinators and assistants. Volunteering knows no season. Lauren Feiglin, executive director of Oasis, 6333 Route 298, East Syracuse, says, “We welcome volunteers to use your strengths and skills.”
Tracie Alexander, Oasis program and volunteer manager, adds, “We always need more volunteers at the center. There are opportunities to give a gift of one hour, a couple hours or to volunteer on a regular basis.” Oasis is particularly in need of people with computer skills who can assist for any length of time in the computer lab. For more information on volunteering at Oasis, contact Alexander at email@example.com.
People who volunteer may live longer than those who don’t but a study published by the American Psychological Association suggests that when it comes to volunteering, unselfish motives are the most beneficial. According to the research, volunteers lived longer than people who didn’t volunteer if they also reported altruistic values or a desire for social connections as the main reasons for volunteering and not personal satisfaction. Motives matter and the best ones keep on giving.
Being generous can involve giving of our time, talent and treasure. Financial generosity is also linked to wellness. Liz Dunn, social psychologist at the University of British Columbia, reports to Scientific American, “We did an experiment where we gave people some money, $10. And we said, ‘You can keep all this money for yourself or you can give as much of it as you want away.’ What we found, consistent with past research, was that the more money people gave away, the happier they felt. Conversely, though, the more money people kept for themselves, the more shame they experienced, which raised their cortisol levels. Over time elevated levels of cortisol can cause wear and tear on the body.” Researchers feel this might be the missing link between generosity and health.
As you prepare for the holidays and shop for people close to you, notice opportunities for acts of generosity. It may be easy to pass by a Salvation Army Red Kettle bell ringer when you’re on a shopping mission or to pass up checkout donation programs at local grocery stores, but this holiday season consider that giving is good for all involved. It just might relieve some holiday stress and bring new joy to the holiday season.
Those who would like to give the gift of time during the holidays may still be able to lend a hand or learn about ways to volunteer in the New Year. Any time you volunteer, Lynch has this advice: “It’s important to take time and find an opportunity that’s the right fit for you. More importantly, vocalize your interest and highlight your skill sets when speaking to a volunteer coordinator. Articulating your goals will help make your experience a rewarding and fulfilling one.”
As you enjoy the holidays and look forward to the New Year, consider the many ways we can all be more generous. Make plans to give your time, talent and treasure to helping others right here in Central New York. It can benefit your health and wellness and our community.
To learn more about opportunities to volunteer, go online and link directly to the Regional Volunteer Center webpage at http://goo.gl/06503 or call Justin Lynch at 428-2240.
Marnie Blount-Gowan is a member of the Crouse Hospital Integrated Health Alliance, advocate of mind body health awareness, and editor of Realewell.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be a Santa’s helper: You’re guaranteed warm holiday feelings if you reach out to those less fortunate than yourself this Christmas season.