A 2010 study found that volunteering has a positive impact on mental health, “such as increasing psychological detachment from paid work, and fulfilling important psychological needs such the need to connect with others, autonomy and competence.” It revealed that a third of the volunteers surveyed reported increased self-confidence, and a fifth reported an increase in their general health.
It’s that time of year again – deadlines are piling up, exams are imminent, and if you’ve got a dissertation you’ve realised that you should probably be writing it. It’s tempting to get caught up in the never-ending cycle of library-lecture-panic-sleep but sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is step back and take a breath.
Getting involved with volunteering – whether that’s committing an hour per week of your time or just taking advantage of a one-off opportunity – can be the perfect excuse to take some time out from your revision timetable while still doing something productive. No need to feel guilty about missing 2 perfectly good library hours when you’ve spent the time collecting shopping for an elderly person, or befriending a refugee. Taking time away from your desk can be a great way to refresh mind and body, and will help you be more productive in the long run.
Volunteering isn’t only a good idea when you’re stressed – nothing improves your mood like connecting with other people. Harvard researchers have found that the key to happiness in life is building successful and fulfilling relationships, and volunteering is a great way to do this, whether with your fellow volunteers or the beneficiaries you’re working with. Learning about the experiences of people from different backgrounds, areas or even just age-groups is rarely boring, and can be a great way to reassess your priorities and your worldview. In Bhutan, consistently ranked the happiest nation in the world, volunteering is seen as a vital aspect of creating the lively and connected communities which are key to happiness.
Finally, volunteering can give you a sense of purpose when you’re feeling lost. It’s easy, especially at university, to question your decisions and worry about what’s coming next. Having a cause to fight for, a community to get involved in, or a goal to work towards can give you a sense of purpose and grounding. It can remind you that you’re not as lost as you think you are, rekindle your love of your subject, or give you the opportunity to test out a potential new path to travel down. There’s something out there for everyone, and volunteering is a great way to try and find your thing.
You can get involved with volunteering at SOAS by reading the Careers Service newsletter, checking out what’s on offer with Student Hubs at SOAS or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to find the perfect opportunity for you. Go on, give it a go.