Whether you’re someone with years or just weeks of sobriety under your belt, there might be moments in life when you feel lost or disconnected from your recovery. Volunteering is a healthy way to spend your time and provides structure and a sense of purpose. Giving back to your community helps you practice gratitude, which is a large factor in changing an individual’s life and mindset in recovery. Learn about the benefits of volunteering in recovery below.
Why is Volunteering Beneficial for Recovery?
Research shows that by helping others, you’re also helping yourself. According to Mayo Clinic, people who volunteer report better physical health than non-volunteers. Additionally, service work keeps your mind active and leads to lower rates of stress, depression, and anxiety. By helping others, you will find a sense of belonging and become a part of a positive and caring community – something that is critical for long-term recovery.
Moreover, you can’t expect to be instantly happy simply because you volunteer once a week. The trick is to engage in something you’re truly passionate about, whether it’s serving food at a homeless shelter or cleaning up pollution at your park so future generations can have a clean environment. Here’s how volunteering your time can strengthen your recovery and mindset:
- Build connections – Volunteering is a meaningful and rewarding way to get reacclimated with your community. If you’re looking to connect with people who have similar interests and make new friends, this is an amazing way to strengthen your support system.
- Boost your confidence and self-esteem – When you help other people, you feel good about yourself. It’s not the temporary feeling of euphoria you get from alcohol or drugs that fades when the substance leaves your body: it’s a steady feeling of accomplishment and purpose. Seeing the positive and tangible results of your actions builds back your confidence, something that may have been lost during addiction. And if you’re shy or fearful of new experiences, service work can force you to get out of your comfort zone and show that you can take on new things.
- Learn new skills – Giving back to your community can teach you many practical life skills. It gives you the opportunity to refine your communication skills, something that may have been neglected while in active addiction. In addition, you can learn how to collaborate with others to meet goals and solve complex problems. If you are working in a community garden, you can get in touch with nature and contribute to a beautiful space that everyone can enjoy. Or if you prefer something more physically demanding, building homes for impoverished communities can teach you construction skills.
- Add to a structured routine – In recovery, it’s crucial to establish a structured routine that prioritizes mental and physical health. While getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously, and exercising are all important components of a healthy routine, filling up your free time with something productive is just as important. Periods of boredom or loneliness are issues that could lead to relapse if left unchecked. Volunteering is a great way to spend your time and replace old, destructive habits with positive ones.
- Become more selfless – Oftentimes, many people who struggle with addiction may become self-centered, only focused on their own needs, and disregarding other people. By giving back, you are sacrificing your time and energy, and providing a service without expecting anything in return. When you consistently volunteer, this feeling of selflessness becomes engrained in who you are.
- Experience helper’s high – Believe it or not, helping people in need can fire up the reward system in your brain, releasing tons of endorphins (similar to when you exercise). Commonly known as “helper’s high,” this feeling creates a positive cycle: endorphins make you more likely to be generous, and being generous produces more endorphins, which makes you more likely to continue being generous.
How Can You Get Started?
There are countless opportunities to give back; all you have to do is find the cause you’re most passionate about or the one that best matches your skills. Below are some ideas to get you started.
For many who are suffering from a serious illness, cooking a healthy meal can be an impossible task. Through God’s Love We Deliver, you can help provide individuals in need and their families with much needed nutritious meals as well as hope and compassion. Whether you volunteer to cook, package, or deliver meals, you will have a tremendous impact on someone’s life, all while becoming part of a tight-knit volunteer community.
The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our communities. With over 41 million people unemployed nationwide, organizations like Feeding America are more crucial than ever. By helping to sort and deliver food, you can actively fight hunger in your community during this challenging time. Volunteering at a local homeless shelter or food kitchen is also a great way to give back.
Seniors often feel lonely and isolated from their communities. By volunteering with Meals on Wheels, you let them know there are people who care. Every meal delivery and safety check you make provides a senior with the ability to continue to live independently in the community they call home and ensures that no one is left hungry or isolated. In certain areas, you may also have the opportunity to help seniors with tasks such as pet food delivery, home repair services, and transportation, further improving their quality of life.
Having a safe place to call home can completely transform someone’s life. Through Habitat for Humanity, you can play a role in ensuring that individuals in need get the safe and affordable housing they deserve. Whether you’re an expert with power tools who can help build and repair homes or you have unmatched customer service skills that you can use at Habitat for Humanity’s resell store, volunteering at Habitat for Humanity is always a fun and rewarding experience.
Every summer, there is an increase in abandoned pets, often leading to overcrowded and understaffed animal shelters. By volunteering with the ASPCA or your local animal shelter, you could be saving an animal’s life. Whether you are feeding the animals, cleaning their enclosures, helping to socialize them, or assisting at adoption events, your time and effort can have a tremendous impact.
Having a sense of belonging within your community can make all the difference in your overall well-being. When you spend your free time volunteering, you are taking care of your mental and physical health, and essentially strengthening your recovery. If you are feeling isolated or lost, then now is the perfect opportunity to spread positivity and hope to others by volunteering your time for a meaningful cause.