One of my biggest coping techniques for living with chronic pain is distraction. I like to stay so busy that I don’t have time to notice how badly I feel. Volunteering accomplishes this task and so much more.
Volunteering takes us out of ourselves, out of the house, out of our solitary environment and into opportunities to see that we’re not alone. Even if you can’t get out of the house, there are many opportunities to volunteer right from your own home.
Relational Benefits of Volunteering
Pain tends to isolate us from friends and family. We may feel “trapped” in our homes or our own bodies. Spending time (whether outside the home or volunteering online) outside of ourselves gives us an opportunity to develop/re-establish relationships.
Whether its helping people who are living with pain as well — or anyone in need – from elderly people just in need of a companion to children in need of homework help, volunteering can introduce you to wonderful people you never would have met otherwise.
I have always volunteered. As a child and teenager, it was at church. As a Marine, I volunteered to serve my country. And later in life, I found a whole community of people living with pain and found that when I help them, I’m actually helping myself. Spending time with such wonderful people in TPC’s chat room or discussion forums gives me perspective. I see people who are dealing with so much more than I am and I’m able to pull myself out of the cocoon of pain and my own personal pity party and get back into the world. I’ve met so many amazing people who give me hope and encouragement and the time I spend volunteering comes back to me ten-fold in renewed strength and motivation.
Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering
According to a 2007 report from the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) entitled, “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research,” volunteers have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression than those who do not volunteer.
According to the findings, volunteers who spend a “considerable” amount of time (about 100 hours per year) volunteering are more likely to see positive health benefits.
A more recent study from Harvard found that participants who volunteered out of a desire to help others saw the most physical benefits from volunteering.
In “Doing Good is Good for You,” 76% of the people who volunteered in the last year said that volunteering made them feel healthier and 94% reported an improvement in their mood. Volunteering helps manage and lower stress levels and participants “felt calm and peaceful most of the time.”
One of the biggest struggles I faced early in my pain journey was the feeling that my life, as I knew it, was over. I was so focused on what I had lost and what I couldn’t do, that I had lost sight all all that I could still do. Volunteering gave me back that sense of purpose and brought me out of “the pit” of depression.
Every year for the last 25 years or so, I volunteer to help those in need at Christmas. During the interview process, I have the opportunity to talk to hundreds of parents who are struggling for various reasons. Some had lost their jobs, some had health issues that prevented them from working, some had children who were very sick and in need of constant care. Whatever the reason for the need, each story reminded me that there is always someone worse off than we are. They were just grateful if I could help them get school uniforms for their child or even a new toy. The interviewing days were long and it was difficult for me to sit that long to interview everyone who came through the line, but at the end of the day – though physically exhausted – I felt like a burden had been lifted and I knew, without a doubt, that I still had a purpose in life and a way to help others.
Professional Benefits of Volunteering
Many chronic pain patients end up having to make hard choices about their careers. They may not be able to do as much as they could do before they had pain. Volunteering can be an opportunity to learn a new skill or trade that could lead to future employment. For some, it’s just enough to have that sense of purpose again. Learning new skills and finding ways to work around the pain can help build self-confidence and coping skills and aid in better self-care.
This was definitely the case for me
Finding a Place to Volunteer
There are literally thousands of non-profit organizations out there serving the community in various different ways. If you have access to a computer – or a phone book, you can find ways to help in your area or across the country.
- Start with local places of worship and civic organizations
- Check out the CNCS searchable map by state
- Call the United Way at 211
- Check out Volunteer Match to find local causes
- Consider volunteering here at TPC (contact us for ways you can get involved)