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Have you ever been stuck in your own head? It’s like being made of the coldest, most dense ice from the harshest, most remote steppe.
That’s isolation, depression, deep sadness. You grow cold and unresponsive to the world around you, remaining stuck in your own ways and rigid in your thought.
But maybe it’s not that deep. Maybe you just have the sensation of being on autopilot, navigating the tall, stone labyrinth of your days by making sure it never changes.
It feels like automation. You've found out that monotony gives you a sense of control in a weird way, and you can avoid stress by making sure no new factors come into your life.
Whether it's the icy maelstrom of self-contained sadness or the frigid stone of days on autopilot, that cold distance from everything can be comfortable.
But life comes at you fast. When you realize you want to be more than alive—that you want to live!—you might find yourself overcompensating and chasing happiness. WRONG MOVE. Euphoria and thrills can be a quick route to a short end.
Volunteering has a way of igniting a flame that melts those barriers to the outside. It might be the flame of passion for the mission of the organization you’re volunteering for, or the spark that begins a beautiful friendship or romance if you meet someone that moves you. It could even be the kindling for a warm community that gives you meaning and helps you feel and heal.
I recently volunteered for the Atlanta chapter of a national education nonprofit. While I only discovered that it would make me feel amazing afterward, the personal benefits fired me up and I'm finding myself doing all sorts of volunteering—including at the local animal shelter.
Prior to volunteering, I was... well, you read the introduction to this piece. Even while taking my counselor's advice to be more social, I was listlessly doing what I was told because that's what I do as a Millennial professional (or is it as Capricorn Rising?): I take orders and execute, least I feel like a failure as I've only hit 99.99999%. After volunteering once and then continuing to do so because it just kept leading to the next opportunity, I felt life a fiery wind was breathed into my stomach. A soulfire, so to speak.
You might not be ready to leave your head yet, but when you are, you can take advantage of these benefits that come with volunteering your time and talents. It’s not a cure, but there’s a net-positive for everyone involved—the wider community that benefits from your efforts, the organization you volunteer through that benefits from your work, and you who benefits in the following ways.
Volunteering reduces stress. When we give our time to some cause we care about or give our attention to people who can benefit from our efforts, our sphere of attention expands and we can take focus off our own issues for a moment to attend to issues that go beyond us.
We stop focusing on the trees to see the forest, and when we eventually refocus on our specific tree, we come back with the energy and tools necessary to help our tree grow. In other words, we gain perspective.
Anti-depression and anti-isolation
Volunteering also has the added benefit of combating depression and isolation. Like how our stress decreases, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable broadens our horizons and fights the conditions that allow depression and isolation to take root: withdrawing and focus on the self.
Working with organizations whose mission you believe in inevitably brings you into contact with others that also believe in that mission. That social aspect does wonders when it comes to bringing you back to your body and back into the moment.
It’s hard not to feel good after you’ve made a positive impact on someone else’s life or in your community’s space. After putting in hours where your energy has been directed outward and your thoughts away from yourself, who wouldn’t feel good?
Not only do you create positive bonds with the people you’ve worked shoulder to shoulder with, you also have the opportunity to connect with communities you otherwise wouldn’t, or see things from a perspective that you’d have never seen things from before
Of course, there’s nuance to volunteering—finger-painting with kids might make you feel good and might improve their Saturday, but giving back has its limits and isn’t a substitute for mental health care if you need it, or economic justice for communities that need it. Conversely, done without a proper assessment of the community you’re entering and its needs, you can do more harm than good and not even know it.
So what’s the word? Are you going to volunteer with some local organization? Let me know by dropping me a line on IG.