If you’re in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) or a mental health disorder, it might feel like all of your time is committed to either your day-to-day responsibilities or to your treatment. Work, family, yard care, house care, child care, pet care; recovery meetings, support group meetings, therapy, doctor’s appointments; and of course self-care: exercising, eating well, sleeping regularly, meditating, etc. There’s just so much.
If you’re a primary caretaker of one or more people, you might feel all you do is give, give, give. How can you be expected to add volunteering to your long to-do list?
If the very notion of giving back fills you with anxiety, relax. This is not a guilt trip. We want to introduce you to the possibility that giving back somehow might make you feel better, less stressed, and more hopeful–even in a busy time like the holidays.
Or maybe your life is the opposite of what we described above. Maybe you feel like you don’t have enough to do, and you’re filling your time with things that make you feel tired and groggy–like binge-watching TV or TikTok or playing video games all day. You’re lonely, bored, and becoming slightly agoraphobic, not wanting to bother with the effort it takes to leave the house and do something different.
Whatever the case, we offer giving back as part of the solution. There are many benefits of giving back this holiday season.
Giving Back Benefits Your Health
According to the Mayo Clinic, giving back offers three substantial benefits, all backed by research:
- It boosts mental and physical health. In older populations especially, those who volunteer have better physical health and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Volunteering releases dopamine, which creates good feelings and reduces stress. Less stress means less risk of heart disease, stroke, and general illness. Overall, volunteers have a lower mortality rate. Want to live longer? Volunteer!
- Because you know you’re providing others with something they really need, volunteering gives you a sense of purpose and builds self-esteem. You’ll also learn valuable skills that can potentially lead to new career opportunities.
- Depending on how and where you volunteer, you’ll likely meet new people. For those struggling with mental illness, social interaction is crucial in helping them manage stress levels and develop healthy coping mechanisms. According to VeryWell Mind, “People who are socially isolated also tend to experience a higher amount of work-related stress, are more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol, and have lower satisfaction with their life.”
The evidence is clear that volunteering and giving back this holiday season has a good chance of making you a happier and healthier person. But it can still be hard to get started.
How to Get Started Volunteering & Give Back This Holiday Season
In a blog post on the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) website, writer and NAMI volunteer Trish Lockard, who struggles with anxiety and depression, believes that it’s important to give back to a cause you believe in. She writes, “I had always shied away from volunteerism because no cause had ever inspired the passion required to keep me motivated. Now, eight years later, I am still a NAMI member and vocal activist for mental health.”
Lockard turned her passion for mental health into a vibrant volunteer mission. This might be an ideal path for you if you feel like you’re floundering right now, not sure what you want to do but knowing you have significant time to commit. Figure out what you’re passionate about and how your skills can be of use, then forge ahead.
But maybe you don’t have a lot of extra time. You want to do something to get out of your head and gain perspective and gratitude, but you’re not sure what. Start small. You could help an elderly or ill neighbor do their yard work. You could write letters for people who can’t do it themselves. You could rock babies in the preemie ward. You could visit people in nursing homes or hospitals, help them pass the time with talk or a game.
The website VolunteerMatch.org allows you to find what is needed in your local community. According to the website, current opportunities in Bettendorf, IA, cover a wide range of interests and skill sets: holiday food fundraisers, habitat restoration, business education, hospice, and much more.
However you decide to give back this holiday season, whether it’s via a formal opportunity or in small ways that support friends and family, do so in a way that makes you feel good. If it starts to feel stressful or overwhelming, reevaluate. Giving back is not a “should”; it’s a potential opportunity to increase your happiness.
Help for Mental Health & SUD at Eagle View
If you’re struggling with mental health or substance use (or both) this holiday season, give yourself a gift of extended treatment. Let our compassionate team give to you our expertise and our guidance so that you can find your footing and begin the journey to recovery.