Volunteering Is the New Therapy

Leah Twitchell

I made a commitment in 2015 to volunteer weekly at my local animal shelter, and it's one of the best decisions I've made this year. I spend about an hour and a half each Wednesday at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society walking dogs, doing laundry and spending time with the cats. It's honestly like taking a vacation from my life! I leave my phone locked in my car and just chill out with the dogs and cats who need a break from their cages, some exercise and some TLC. You'd be surprised, even folding their laundry is relaxing. If there's one chore at home I can't stand, it's putting away laundry, but when it's someone else's laundry? No problem, apparently. Maybe it's the fact that getting into service mode gets me out of my head and into the moment. Maybe I'm just grateful that I have an excuse to ignore the incessant dinging of notifications on my phone. 

Whatever it is, it feels good and I want to keep doing it. It makes me wonder why more people don't volunteer. I know some of the barriers I had were: feeling like I was too busy, or feeling like making another "commitment" was just too much to take on. But it has turned out to be quite the opposite. I really need this time to get away from my busy-ness, and making a commitment to help someone in need doesn't feel like a commitment at all, it feels more like a privilege. I'm getting so much more out of it in terms of my mental health and well-being, than what I'm actually putting in, which is time--which is the thing we all feel we don't have enough of--which is the way we actually need to stop feeling in order to realize that we have plenty of it. Because when you prioritize what's really important to you, you make time for it.

Also, hanging out with dogs is good for your health. Talking to and petting dogs has been shown to lower your blood pressure. Having a positive inter-species interaction can also raise happy hormones and decrease cortisol! Of course, there are many subsequent and more recent articles written since these studies came out, all about how dogs can increase your heart health, decrease depression, extend your lifespan, etc. My point is, there are many benefits to volunteering, especially because of the interaction with the animals. But if animals aren't your thing, I'm sure finding another way to give back to your community would be just as rewarding. However, if you are a dog-person and you want to take care of your physical and mental health at the same time, go walk some dogs!


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