Every summer since eighth grade, I have spent one week volunteering as a camp counselor at my elementary school’s interactive science camp.
While I have done a variety of service-oriented activities throughout high school and college, these summer experiences are some of my fondest. Watching elementary schoolers expand their minds and learn creativity and teamwork in such a fun setting is inspiring.
According to a 2011 Huffington Post article, two hours is the average number of hours that volunteers in the United States contribute on a weekly basis. These two hours have obvious external benefits to the community and future generations, however a personal benefit of service is its positive impact on the mind and body.
Practicing altruism can increase your longevity! When you engage your community through volunteering, increased levels of the “compassion hormone,” scientifically known as oxytocin, are released.
The compassion hormone is one of many chemicals that are released in the brain when one contributes to the community. These “feel-good” chemicals like dopamine and even serotonin help soothe you and elevate your mood.
Not only does Oxytocin help you live longer, oxytocin decreases stress levels as well. Carving out time in your weekly routines to make a positive impact on your community can be stress-relieving.
Oxytocin limits the release of cortisol, or the “stress hormone.” It’s no wonder volunteering can put a smile on your face!
Improve social skills!
One of the multiple positive reasons community service is beneficial to your personal health is it improves your social skills. Most service opportunities involve meeting new people and communicating with them. The skills you practice while in a service situation can be applied to your personal relationships now and in the future.
It is important to realize that in order to reap these health benefits, the purpose behind volunteering and serving your community is still paramount. Maximizing these benefits requires a certain attitude when approaching service. Volunteering is not an activity to be taken lightly; the volunteer is not the main focus. Approaching service selfishly is ill-advised.
Volunteerism should not be driven by self-promotion, but is an opportunity for communal and personal growth. The service-oriented activities I choose to engage in broaden my perspective by allowing me to assume the role of a teacher rather than that of a student. These experiences have enriched my life and have been very fulfilling. Make volunteerism your personal mission and a consistent element of my life.
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