Feeling stressed? It’s not just you.
Modern life is often fraught with obstacles to good mental health. Many of us are stressed at work, overcommitted in our home lives and struggling to maintain strong friendships and family ties amid all the responsibilities.
Corporations and state lawmakers are acknowledging the stress we all feel. Large companies, including Mailchimp, Mozilla, LinkedIn, Verizon and others, recently offered mental health weeks to their entire workforce to combat burnout. A Cape Cod restaurant gave their employees a vacation day they dubbed “A Day of Kindness” after bad customer behavior left multiple staff members in tears. It’s likely that both the restaurant staff and the rude customers could use a mental health boost.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health illnesses, it’s always best to consult your doctor. But if you’re feeling overworked, strung out and suspect you might be at risk of exploding at a restaurant worker, then there are steps you can take to not only feel better but help others along the way.
How? By giving your time and energy in service of others.
Research shows that feel-good hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities. There are dozens of mental health-boosting effects that contribute to the spike. Volunteers feel more empowered, socially connected, and an increase in self-esteem; they gain a sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging – all of which are strongly correlated with greater happiness.
Our partner Project Helping puts this research to work. The Denver-based nonprofit organization has a mission to improve mental wellness through accessible experiences that create purpose and connection. They facilitate in-person volunteer experiences for individuals, teams and companies. And their signature “Kynd Kits” help anyone volunteer, no matter who or where they are.
Kynd Kits are themed projects delivered directly to a home or office. Volunteers can assemble a military care package at home and ship it to service members, or opt for an interview-prep kit with words of encouragement and advice for those who are interviewing for their first job.
Project Helping’s experiences are built around making it “ridiculously easy to find a sense of purpose and create meaningful connections.” Science shows that these positive effects last well beyond the event itself. The social nature of volunteering and the perspective it offers can help to build more positive long-term habits.
Marta Oko-Riebau, MA, LPC, and therapist at Maria Droste Counseling Center, explains behaviors like being social and thinking from a place of abundance rather than scarcity have long-lasting benefits.
“When we feel that we have enough and that our relationships are enough, it’s much easier to feel like we are in a safe place, to feel that we belong, that we are connected to others. Because we are social animals, relationships are crucial to our well-being and psychological health. Gratitude can help open up, develop trust and develop relationships. Practicing gratitude can turn into a positive feedback loop: the more gratitude, the more satisfied we are with our relationships and the more connected we feel, which leads to higher satisfaction that leads to more gratitude, and so on.”
It doesn’t take long to reap the benefits, either. Studies show that 2-3 hours of volunteering per week will offer the greatest benefits, but you don’t need to start there. Just one volunteer day or project will be a rewarding experience with lasting health benefits that counteract the stress in your life.