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by Margaret Fiero
Sometimes getting a lift to your mood can be as simple as helping someone or volunteering your time to support a cause that is meaningful to you. While it sounds too easy, I feel there is some validity to it, as I am still riding a high from taking part in the NAMIWalk last Saturday. On seemingly the most humid day in Austin, our team joined a throng of folks walking to support NAMI, an organization that strives to bring awareness to mental health issues and to eradicate stigma.
The following are some reasons why chipping in and helping others can make a difference in your own life as well.
Go figure: it feels good to do something for the greater good. If you’re mired down by the demands of modern life, it can be liberating to take a step away to contribute to others. This is especially important if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, which both draw the individual inward, stifling them by their own rumination. When you shift your focus from your self to the outside world, it can help you to reach out beyond your own self-perpetuated fog.
It provides perspective. We usually don’t promote comparing ourselves to others, and we don’t want to invalidate our own struggles. That said, sometimes a good dose of gratitude can go a long way. When we help others who are much worse off than we are, it tends to make us more grateful for our own lives. Being thankful can subsequently motivate you to improve the life you have.
It’s an antidote to apathy. Have you seen the antidepressant ad of a cartoon woman being stalked by her bathrobe? While undoubtedly creepy, there is some truth to it. I’ve been overwhelmed too by the apparent quagmire that is Earth. It’s tempting to think, “What’s the point?” But you can’t be paralyzed. No, you’re not going to save the world and that’s OK. If you can make any kind of difference, no matter how small, that’s something. Apathy is dangerous to your mental health and should be fought with vigor.
It can boost your self-esteem. It may sound pathetic, but I was proud of myself for walking a 5K! Tutoring a kid who goes on to ace a test, assisting in the building of a house, and even unloading boxes off a truck at the food bank, are all examples of accomplishments that you could achieve as a volunteer. It makes us feel good to accomplish things, and the more we do of that, the better we’ll feel about ourselves.
It provides a social network that’s not online. What?? Yes, such things do exist and you should join one. Technology can be a wonderful tool to assist in connecting with others, but it’s not a substitute for the real deal. By joining with others out in the world to advocate for a cause, you can find like-minded people. NAMI is a terrific organization for those who struggle with mental illness, but there are charities and organizations out there for almost every cause. Surely you can find one that gels with your ideology.
It may give some meat to the meaning in your life. The rush and materialism of modern life can leave meaningfulness behind. This can be especially acute for those suffering from mental illness, who often complain of emptiness in their lives. While it perhaps won’t solve an existential crisis, working for a cause and/or helping others can add some depth to the daily grind.
I’m not saying you should drop everything and join the Peace Corps, or that you should adopt all of the stray animals and humans in your neighborhood. While you can’t fix others to avoid fixing your own life, contributing to the betterment of society is a critical piece of the puzzle to unlocking mental health. If you liked this post and would like to read more about personal growth, you can read The Power of Transition or Activities to Promote Self-Esteem.