Environmental Volunteering for Mental Health
“The environment is no one’s property to destroy; it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect.” – Mohith Agadi
Moith Agadi’s sage words on environmental protection sum up the reasons why so many people across the globe choose to “give back” through beach and forest clean-ups, environmental fundraisers, and many more initiatives. But those who do give a little of themselves for the greater good may not realize that they are doing wonders for their mental health in the process. A 20-year study by Karl Pillemer and colleagues revealed that volunteering is linked to improved mental and physical health. If you are keen to know how this altruistic activity can help you stave off mental conditions like anxiety and depression, read on, and discover ways in which you can do your share in your home, workspace, and community.
The Link Between Environmental Volunteerism and Better Physical and Mental Health
Pillemer’s study was carried on almost 7,000 adults. Results showed that volunteering positively impacted mental health for various reasons. Firstly, this activity leads to a higher level of physical activity, which is known to promote better sleep and reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Evidence shows that individuals who volunteer are 1.8 times more likely to meet the CDC’s guidelines for physical activity than non-volunteers. The second reason is the direct mental health benefits of ‘generativity’: doing something that leaves a positive legacy for future generations. Environmental stewardship is an ideal way to connect to actions creating a better future. The third reason is the impact that nature has on mental health. Various studies have shown that spending as little as 10 to 20 minutes in the Great Outdoors reduces stress and acts as an important buffer against anxiety and depression.
Working Towards a Common Goal
Environmental volunteering provides people with a chance to work together on a common cause—and study after study has shown that being part of something larger than oneself is a powerful booster of mental health. The National Institutes of Health reports, for instance, that compared to those with a positive sense of community connection, those lacking this sense have a significantly higher chance of reporting depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. Signing up for a volunteer initiative enables you to meet people you might never have come across in your daily work or social life. It fosters discovery, learning, and mentoring and for many, provides a sense of spiritual fulfilment. As found by Harvard Divinity School professors, Angie Thurston, and Caser Ter Kuile, many members of younger generations are fulfilling their need for spirituality through volunteering, group exercise, and other means of working together towards a goal and receiving and giving support.
How to Become Involved in Environmental Volunteering
There is a myriad of volunteering efforts to choose from. To make it impactful for your mental health, select one that resonates with you. Some efforts are centered on environmental restoration, while others are focused on wildlife (for instance, restoring the habitats of endangered species). You can also start initiatives of your own. For instance, you can work on bringing nature into your office in simple ways, inspiring others in your team to do so. Currently, the biophilic design movement is holding sway in workplaces across the globe. It involves blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor living by filling indoor spaces with plants, embracing the use of natural, eco-friendly materials, and relying on natural rather than artificial light. If you are a manager or business owner, think of ways to involve your employees in transforming your workplace through therapeutic landscaping and design.
Where Should You Begin?
Talk to others in your community to discover local initiatives. Also, look into state initiatives. Some of the most powerful organizations for volunteering in the US include Literacy for Environmental Justice (in San Francisco), NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program (in Baltimore), and Village Creek Human and Environmental Justice Society (in Birmingham, Alabama). There is also a myriad of international organizations that are keen to accept more volunteers. These include African Impact (offering numerous programs in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zanzibar, and Zimbabwe), A Broader View (a US-based organization offering the chance to volunteer in 32 countries), Love Volunteers (for opportunities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas), and Volunteer Latin America (for opportunities in Central and South America).
Environmental volunteering has a myriad of physical and mental health benefits. Studies have shown that it can lower stress and help stave off depression and anxiety. You don’t need an abundance of time to do your share. However, any time you do invest will pay back immense dividends, not just for you but also for future generations.
Written by Jennifer East