An Overlooked yet Powerful Antidote to Stress: Compassion!

We spend so much time and money trying to figure out how to neutralize the negative impact of stress on our busy, information-overloaded lives! Yet one of the simplest, and also ultra-effective, solutions flies right under our radar: Compassion!

Compassion is our response and action towards relieving another’s suffering.

Study after study provides compelling evidence that when we approach life from a compassionate and altruistic place, we are much healthier, happier and live longer.

I have noticed that every time my life gets challenging, something pulls me toward volunteering in my community, which every time has proven to be a profound contributor to my level of happiness and ability to stay “in my zen.”

I recently was sworn in as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for abused children in my community. Despite the pressures and demands of being a single mother entrepreneur, making the time to volunteer has significantly enhanced my resilience and has added so much positive energy to my life. Regardless of my time limitations, I know that by being a child’s advocate, my CASA child is:

  • half as likely to spend time in long-term foster care,
  • four times less likely to re-enter the child welfare system, and
  • able to receive more court-ordered services, such as therapy and educational assistance.

I want to tell you why you should consider giving back and why it is one of the most effective strategies against stress.

  1. Voluntary work is a great way to make new, meaningful friendships.

Despite the ease by which we are able to find and connect to our elementary school friends over Facebook, today one in four of us do not have a person in whom we can confide. We are most probably living in the midst of the worst loneliness crisis in the history of our species. Offering as little as one of your 168 hours in any given week to serve as a volunteer gives you access to an incredible pool of people who happen to be just as wonderful as you and just as passionate about the cause you are passionate about—so much so, that they are also working on it for free.

  1. Volunteering is good for your health.

Study after study consistently reflect that compassion, altruism and kindness have a profound impact in your health and wellbeing. In fact a study by the United Health Group and the Optum Institute found that volunteering has a significant positive impact on our physical, emotional, and psychological health. Out of the study participants, 78% of the ones who had volunteered over the prior twelve months reported lower stress levels and 94% reported improved mood.

  1. Volunteering is an amazing way to enhance your skills for free.

We never stop growing and evolving until our very last breath. Commitment to continuing education is always the best investment of our resources. But have you considered that you can receive free training in invaluable skills at the same time as you are improving the odds for a happy and successful life for a fellow human being? The incredible training offered by the CASA advocates of my county enhanced my knowledge of human development, the needs of my community, and the court system. If there is a cause that is near and dear to your heart, giving back to that cause can significantly enhance your skill set and your abilities.

  1. Volunteering is a “career-enhancing” move.

When employers are considering the career advancement of their employees, community involvement and volunteering have always topped the charts in reflecting personal character and ethos. From the opportunity to collaborate and foster teamwork to having statistics that show the benefits and the direct impact of your efforts, volunteer participation can absolutely enrich your resume and boost your ranking when compared to other candidates being considered for a promotion. I will never forget the incredible sense of pride I experienced being part of reducing the HIV infection rate in East Yorkshire, England as part of my voluntary youth outreach work. And trust me, employers noticed it too.

  1. By volunteering you can really make a difference.

Whether you are helping raise funds for the underserved, providing community education, or helping a child learn better coping mechanisms to deal with adversity, it feels amazing to know you are making a difference by positively impacting someone else’s life. Studies have found that one of the most critical components in restoring work-life balance hinges on how we feel about the work that we do, rather than on the number of hours we spend working. The experience of positively impacting the life of another through the humble contribution of your time and skills carries incredible power.

Throughout my life, I have been blessed with adventure—overcoming adversities and succeeding in three different countries, excelling academically, and meeting and exceeding most of my professional goals.

Yet, my lengthy tenure as a volunteer for AIDS Action (UK), my service on the Council for Drug Problems, and, most recently, my involvement with the court-appointed special advocate (CASA) program in my county top the chart in terms of my sense of accomplishment, joy, and life satisfaction.

While we struggle to keep up with the demands placed upon us and look for ways to reset and restore our precious body system balance, giving back is often the last activity we would consider as an avenue for increased well-being.

We turn to many other strategies to manage stress at the end of the day. We may drink a glass of wine, watch television, or take a sleeping aid.

But why not try out volunteering?

I am not sure of where you are in life or the challenges you may be facing. But I can guarantee you that by volunteering you will form friendships that will last a lifetime, garner incredible new skills, and know that you are actually making a difference in building community wellness. Volunteering is one of the most robust ways to not only get the maximum return on your investment, but to actually improve your own well-being and be the change you want to see in this world.

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