I have good news: you are capable of overcoming those feelings of loneliness that have been hanging around. And the better news is that you’ll reap additional benefits in the process. So, what does it take? It takes stepping outside of yourself and stepping up to help others. While there are other solutions, I promise you that volunteering in your community will successfully remedy your loneliness and isolation.
Perks of Being a Do-Gooder
“Volunteering can absolutely help combat loneliness! If you think about it, most volunteer positions are in roles that help other people, so some level of exposure to other humans is almost a guarantee,” Erin Parisi, licensed mental health counselor and certified addictions professional, explains. “First, you’re introduced to a whole new batch of ‘coworkers’ who have a similar interest (assuming you picked a volunteer opportunity that is of some level of interest to you), which provides a safe place to strike up conversation and begin to build friendships. If you’re volunteering on a schedule, chances are you’ll see some of the same people each time, giving more opportunities to build friendships with the people you have more things in common with.
Also, there’s interaction with the people you’re serving, whether it’s one person (like the big brother program) or many (serving food at a homeless shelter). Aside from the actual face to face with other people, you see people who are often less fortunate than you are, which lends itself naturally to a comparison. Someone who feels lonely may go into a helping role thinking poorly of themselves, or thinking only what’s wrong in their own life, only to have a volunteer opportunity point out what’s going right. Volunteers see a different perspective, a window into the lives of others, by putting themselves in a position to help someone else.
I also imagine that the positive feedback could help combat negative self-talk. Granted, some positions offer more positive environments than others, seeing a happy child or animal, progress in an adult’s ability to read, providing comfort to someone, or building a house a family will live in has got to create some warm fuzzies. And you did that! And you don’t know what kind of positive ripple effects that could have, how many people might be helped by you donating your time. It’s really special!”
Find the Right Volunteer Opportunity For You
Start by volunteering a little bit of your time at a local charity. Maybe a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen that’s just around the corner. See how this experience goes (my guess is that you’ll feel pretty great afterwards), and then, if it fares you well, start dedicating more time to helping people in need. Doing so puts the world into perspective. It connects you in a meaningful way with others. It gives you a purpose. And if you’re liking those research-backed benefits, it is also scientifically-proven to reduce stress—which certainly doesn’t hurt either.
To find volunteer opportunities near you, do a quick search on VolunteerMatch.org. Trust me, this is the only resource you’ll need. Go to the front page and click the highlighted phrase “I want to help,” located in the upper righthand corner under “Volunteers.” This will redirect you to a page filled with volunteer opportunities near whatever location you enter. What’s cool about this site is you can narrow the search even further to find opportunities in specific areas that resonate with you, such as education, health, or arts and culture. What’s even cooler is that you can find virtual opportunities too. (Super convenient when you can’t work up the energy or motivation to leave the house.)
Do you feel confident about stepping up and volunteering in your community? If you’re still feeling a little unsure, don’t worry. You’ll get there. As I mentioned earlier, it helps to start small and work your way up. Consider taking on the following tasks first and you’ll soon work up the courage to assume a greater presence in your community:
- Smile. It all starts with a simple, warm smile. Wherever you go, smile and spread positive vibes. You’d be surprised at the difference it can make.
- Be kind. Upgrade that smile to an overall friendly demeanor and kind personality. When you see someone in need—maybe a busy mom with her hands full of groceries or a distraught neighbor whose car won’t start—offer to help out.
- Step up at work or school. If your boss or teacher asks for someone to run out for coffee, call in lunch, or just answer the phone, volunteer. You can also take it upon yourself to help with little tasks of the like without being asked. If you notice something that needs to be done, do it!