Volunteering Can Help Reduce Loneliness

It’s easy to underestimate the power of volunteering—not all people find value in it and not all communities have many opportunities for it. However, continued research into the benefits of volunteering has shown that it can provide tremendous relief to the causes it serves, as well as the people who are serving.

For people who have lost a spouse, recent research suggests that volunteering just a few days a week can help mitigate immense loneliness from that loss—a win for both physical and emotional health.

It is estimated that the risks of prolonged loneliness, especially from losing a spouse, can be vast. Not only is depression a risk, but physical health can suffer and early mortality can result. Researchers from Georgia State University published a study in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences that revealed just how helpful the act of being there for others can help stave off these risks.

Nearly 6,000 participants over the age of 51 were followed and data was gathered on their history of spousal loss and rates of consequent loneliness. What they found was that the widows who were volunteering about 2 hours per week saw a reduction in loneliness levels so that they mirrored that of married couples who volunteered at the same intensity.

“Becoming a widow is one of the most difficult transitions that people face later in life,” co-author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University Dr. Ben Lennox Kail told Science Daily. “We found that for people in general, widowhood was associated with increased loneliness over time. Among people who became widowed, if they started volunteering 100 hours per year, which is about two hours per week, this reduced loneliness to an extent that they almost look exactly like those people who never became widowed at all.”

The promising effects are suspected to arise from a reduction in a person’s ability to socially integrate at the levels they once could. Dr. Kail explains, “So if you have this robust social network, and you then experience some loss, what you need to do is begin something new. It’s the new social integration that can make up for loss.”

If volunteering could serve such a rewarding purpose for people going through extreme times of grief and loss, it is safe to say the benefits could also exist for those going through other types of loneliness periods, as well. And rewards abound for those who aren’t feeling lonely, but rather want to support an important cause or be useful to their surrounding community. If you are interested in starting out, follow these tips to becoming the best volunteer you can be.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

98 comments

Val P
Val P24 days ago

interesting

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Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Richard B
Richard B3 months ago

Thank you

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Winn Adams
Winn Adams3 months ago

:-)

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Catrin Schuetz-Kroehler
Catrin S4 months ago

Of course it can because it gets you out of the house, makes you meet new people.

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Kelsey S
Kelsey S4 months ago

Thanks

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Karen Martinez
Karen Martinez4 months ago

My recently retired brother-in-law moved to the family ranch 4 hours away from where he lived for 25 years. Saw him last weekend, and the talked about moving back as "there's nothing to do here, and no-one comes visit me except you two." My husband and I have talked about moving up to the ranch eventually, and I know of all kinds of ways to keep busy--the church we attend when up there is VERY active in community affairs, there's a library, a food pantry, a Hospice thrift store, all kinds of things to do in a tiny little town 30 miles from a big city. Of course, he never volunteered for anything, and is as lazy as the day is long, so he doesn't think along those lines. I retired as well, and I'm working with immigration organizations, our church, and volunteering at the library where we live. I sometimes wish I had time to be bored. Volunteering does so much for a person. I'm thankful that I was raised with this mindset, and my children have been as well.

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Roberto M
Roberto MARINI4 months ago

thank you for this interesting article, Katie.

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Past Member
Past Member 5 months ago

of course.

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Hannah K
Hannah K5 months ago

Thank you

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