Volunteering and Mental Wellbeing – A Student Perspective
It’s Volunteer SU intern Phoebe here to chat with you about how volunteering can help with mental wellbeing and share a few of my own experiences.
Firstly, it is important to recognise that volunteering isn’t the only assistance for mental wellbeing but it one of many steps you can take to improve your own headspace.
I find this is because volunteering gets you up and out, often moving around, meeting new people, having a chat, and getting you outside your comfort zone.
This can sound scary, especially if you are not feeling your best. I know this and I know there are times when you want to do anything but that, but all it takes it one attempt to try a new thing and put yourself out there. In my experience the satisfaction and confidence I have gained from a volunteering experience, even one-off events, has outweighed any initial feelings of anxiety before the event.
"I know my week always feels like it’s going better (quicker even) when I have things that I look forward to because I know enjoy them."
What is even better are regular commitments that you actively look forward to. These are a great way to get through other things on you weekly/monthly to do list. I don’t know about you, but I know my week always feels like it’s going better (quicker even) when I have things that I look forward to because I know enjoy them. Right now, this could be a time you set aside weekly for a remote volunteering activity, a time you set all other commitments and worries to the side and focus on one task, or in regular times when you get to go out into the community and meet other people and do something which makes you feel good.
When I was volunteering on my year abroad, I will admit the main reason I did it was to meet more people, and it worked! Initially, I was anxious as no one else I knew was going, but at the same time, that was kinda the point! I ended up having a great time and met some great people! The experience also opened my eyes to the number of options that were available out there, all of which were doing a good thing which helped others- and there is no greater feeling than that, no matter how rough you are feeling yourself.
Getting up and out can often make you feel better too. Right now, the temptation is there to lounge around in your comfiest clothes but the act of getting up and out in a proper outfit (you mean to tell me my 101 dalmatian PJ’s are not suitable for this in person role…how strange?) can make you feel much better mentally. I also find that getting up, out, and moving makes me feel better. What I love about some volunteering activities is that they tire me out! Standing up, moving things around might not feel like much, but over the course of a few hours it really adds up. If regular workouts aren’t your thing (they’re not my thing so zero judgement here), volunteering activities help keep you moving, which as we all know, research shows can really help improve your mental wellbeing.
Even just getting out and having a change of scene can improve your mood…even if it’s raining (and let’s be real it will probably be raining).
"More than anything else, having the opportunity to connect with other students was the best part!"
Back in Belfast, my time as Volunteer SU intern has enabled me to take part in some Handy Helpers events (one off community volunteering projects) and see the impact they make in the local area. From a student perspective, more than anything else, having the opportunity to connect with other students was the best part! Like many students, my classes have been 100% online, with no group projects and I don’t live in student accommodation - so there have been times this year when I’ve been lonely, and missing meeting new people (no offence to my friends who have to put up with me!)
Meeting new people is hard though, but the best way to make yourself feel better about it is to do it over and over again! Plus, the people you meet through volunteering typically will have the same motivations as you, to meet new people and make a difference (and even if you have nothing to chat about you can talk about the volunteering role itself!)
Having the chance to connect with other students is possibly more important now than ever. And I think we are all aware how hard this year has been to meet new people and do new things.
- Meeting new people is scarier in your head than it really is in person.
- Getting up and out of bed pretty much always makes you feel better.
- Having regular commitments which you look forward to can help your week.
- Fresh air and a change of scene goes a long way.
- Nothing beats the feeling of knowing you did a good thing and helped other people.
- Remember, volunteering is a great way to improve your mental wellbeing, but it takes time and is not a one-approach fits all, you know yourself best.
Phoebe is a final year History and Politics student here at Queen’s. She is also this year’s Volunteer SU intern, helping to match students to their ideal volunteering roles, creating the Volunteer SU newsletter, as well as helping out with admin, and drinking lots of cups of tea! Her advice for students looking to do something different during this period of restrictions is to research some volunteering options now! Even if they aren't recruiting at present, having an idea of where you would like to volunteer makes it easier to apply when the time comes, plus it’s something to look forward to! If you’re looking to volunteer, follow this link!