I’ve noticed that I usually feel best about myself after having done something for someone else. It’s not self righteous pride, but the humble happiness of seeing someone smile, laugh or finally tackle that tricky spelling that they’ve often got wrong, because I was there. So when I was told that University Mental Health Day would take place across the UK on the 2nd March this year, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share something I realised not too long ago – that my relationship with myself and my mental health benefits from volunteering.
I’m not a scientist, but I have read research which shows that volunteering and social action improves our wellbeing. Whether it’s becoming more independent, increasing our general happiness levels or even extending our life-span, it seems that kindness to others can also translate to kindness to ourselves – a win-win situation!
The New Economics Foundation, on behalf of the government, developed a set of five actions back in 2008, that tell us how we can be looking after ourselves. I’ve found that I do all five whilst volunteering. Read on for a few examples that show how my volunteering experiences have directly impacted my wellbeing.
Five Ways to Wellbeing
1. Be Active
If you know me, this isn’t my strong point. In fact, I am undeniably a couch potato, but volunteering has seen me join my first ever ceilidh with older people in my area, do an obstacle course in full army gear with children from disadvantaged backgrounds and I’ve signed up for an elderly resident’s ‘Strictly’ next Tuesday. *shimmy shimmy*
I’m pretty sociable, but I can sometimes be held back when meeting new people. I was never the person who would introduce myself first and through volunteering my confidence has grown so much. I’ve met so many cool people, from doctors and nurses who love a gingerbread challenge, to entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses, to people who I work with who I never realised lived close to me.
3. Take Notice
Working in a job where a lot of my work is going with the flow, I used to never consciously stop and take notice. Through volunteering I’ve taken notice of my own community. I’ve realised that there’s a small park right around the corner from me, there’s a library up the road where I read now and I look at Milky Way celebrations in a completely new light after a wonderful and meaningful conversation with a homeless man who told me about his first love. (If you’re looking for love, apparently offering a Milky Way on a tube journey is your answer, folks).
4. Keep Learning
Through my volunteering I’ve learnt about the UK benefit system, the way my council allocates funds, I’ve learnt how to dance (though still not very well), how to make a structurally sound ginger bread house, how to be brave and step out my comfort zone and how to cook a mean breakfast with a tiny kitchen and 20 people to feed. I think what’s most important is that I’ve learnt that if I want to be, I can be part of a community, and that has made me feel less alone.
I’ve given up my time to volunteer, but actually, it doesn’t feel like I’ve given anything away because I have received so much in return. This has seeped into other parts of my life too. I love giving people compliments and positive feedback and found that this is also the best remedy when I’m feeling a little jealous too!
So this University Mental Health Day, put yourself first by doing something for someone else. Maybe it will make you feel good about yourself, or maybe you’ll find a new spark when you try something different. Kindness to others can be kindness to yourself. After all, it’s a win-win, remember?
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