Health & Medicine

Help Yourself This Season by Helping Others

Although there are a lot of things to enjoy about the holiday season — spending time with friends and family, favorite foods and drinks, giving and receiving gifts — it can also be a very stressful time of year. Additionally, the cold, dreary winter weather can contribute to feelings of stress or depression (known as seasonal affective disorder).

There are a few common ways to help combat these negative feelings. Eating well, exercising, and seeking medical attention if necessary are all ways you can maintain some calm during the hectic holiday season. But there's also another popular activity that may provide more benefits than you ever knew — volunteering.

There are plenty of organizations that need extra hands this time of year, and devoting some of your time to help out can make a big difference in your own health. Volunteering not only makes other people feel good, but it is also good for you.

Recent studies have shown that there are numerous health benefits that are linked to the act of volunteering. For example:

Volunteering has been shown to moderate the loss of a sense of purpose among older adults who have undergone a major role change in life, like retiring from work or watching their children grow up and "leave the nest."

Volunteering has been shown to lead to lower rates of depression for people 65 and older.

Studies show that those who volunteer at an earlier age are less likely to suffer from ill heath later on in life.

In terms of seasonal affective disorder, fighting that depression can be aided by encouraging activity and socialization, and volunteering is a perfect way to incorporate both.

The benefits for your mental health can also been translated to your physical health — in other words, having a healthy mind can lead to a healthy body. Volunteering has been proven to reduce stress, which is a common cause of chest pain, trouble sleeping and elevated blood pressure.

The positive health effects of volunteering seem to be more pronounced in individuals 65 and older than compared to younger generations, most likely due to the fact that younger individuals don't have as much spare time to go out and volunteer outside of working full-time and/ or taking care of children.

To really reap the benefits of volunteering, make sure you choose an organization that provides services you truly believe in and can support. You are much better off genuinely volunteering to help others out, rather than just seeking to make yourself feel better.