A great many people suffer from depression these days, but if you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, or you’re being treated for it, you’re in a category all your own.
You could just about say depression is a normal response.
So this might surprise you: The latest research shows you need to be almost as concerned about treating depression as you are about treating your cancer. You see, regardless of the cause, depression is correlated with a higher risk of death in clinical study.1
Now, when it comes to cancer specifically, the clinical evidence confirming that depression causes cancer is inconclusive.2 Yet many of today’s top oncologists will tell you that a cancer patient’s mental and emotional wellbeing does influence whether a cancer grows or recedes. In fact, that’s why so many alternative doctors employ treatments that improve a cancer patient’s mental and emotional health while also fighting the tumor.
In the world of alternative cancer treatment, it’s widely accepted: Being happy and upbeat gives you a better chance of beating the disease.
So how do you get yourself to feel happier when you’re facing a cancer diagnosis?
There are lots of ways such as taking anti-depressants (but you need a doctor’s prescription). . . trying to get a “runner’s high” through physical activity (nice idea but not for everybody). . .meditating and focusing on spiritual health (good idea and accessible to all).
Well, today I’ve got another key to unlocking a happier you that you probably never thought of. . .
That’s right. According to studies, volunteering can have similar effects to mood-enhancing drugs or a runner’s high.
Volunteering releases a rush of endorphins – your body’s natural painkillers – which operate much like morphine. Even after some time has passed, just thinking back on the experience of helping others sets off a less-intense version of the endorphin rush.
This effect has been dubbed “helper’s high.”
So the age-old adage “it’s better to give than to receive” may be truer than we ever imagined.
Brain images confirm it
Brain scans support this theory. A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study showed that when people even think about donating to a charity, the same reward areas of the brain were activated as when they thought about food or sex.3
According to William T. Harbough, one of the study’s authors, “The surprising thing about this is that we actually see people getting rewards as they give up money to a cause.” Who would’ve thought?
A terrific longevity hack
Numerous studies suggest that active volunteers reduce their risk of premature death, and live longer, happier, healthier lives.
In a 1999 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, those subjects who volunteered with two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die prematurely, compared to those who didn’t volunteer.
Some studies note if you want to achieve that outcome, the reason for volunteering should be to help others, not to gain some personal benefit.4 A 2011 study was the first to find that motives for volunteering affected life span.
From a health standpoint, volunteering makes you feel good because you’re helping someone. You do well when you do good.
Feeling good while doing good – 8 mental health benefits
Volunteering gives many benefits…
- Combats depression5 – keeps you from thinking so negatively or being hypercritical.
- Reduces stress – focusing your attention on others takes your mind off your own worries.
- Increases motivation – provides a sense of accomplishment, yielding a “What else is possible?” mindset.
- Prevents feelings of isolation – gives you opportunities to make new friends and grow your social and professional networks. For the introverted, volunteering can help break the ice as you share an activity or passion you have in common with others.
- Boosts confidence6 – via new skills, mental stimulation, and a more positive view of self.
- Instills a sense of purpose and meaning – helps put your own life and troubles in perspective.
- Ignites passion – it’s a fun way to explore interests, whether new or long-standing.
- Makes you happy – as already noted.
The theory of the research is that volunteers live longer if they have altruistic or social reasons for volunteering. But given the complexity of human emotions and motives, this isn’t an easy factor for scientists to tease out. In fact, people volunteer for a host of different reasons.
“Why do you volunteer?” In their own words…
VolunteerMatch, a web-based volunteer engagement network, asked more than 7,000 volunteers why they did it.
Here are some of the responses:
- 66% did it to improve their communities
- 83% wanted to contribute to a cause they care about
- Over 35% said they did it to socialize
- About 33% of daily volunteers do so to build a particular skill set
Motivations for volunteering can be complicated, highly personal, and subjective – which is why scientists have such a hard time knowing whether a person’s reasons are purely altruistic or not. The results above reflect what people report about their own motives, and this particular survey did not investigate whether these people lived longer compared to non-volunteers.
Here are some of the reasons volunteers gave their time and energy to a cause…
- “I love animals.”
- “To fight depression.”
- “It gives my life purpose.”
- “To show my children and grandchildren the importance of giving back.”
- “So those I’m serving feel cared for.”
Choosing where to volunteer – cancer-related
Once you decide to volunteer, think about your interests, passions, skills, and expertise. Consider how you could use them to help promote the mission of an organization.
Cancer organizations offer many volunteer opportunities. If you’re into natural health, you may want to target those organizations that promote treatment approaches you support.
Within the cancer universe, here are some options to consider:
- Be a telephone hotline counselor – giving easy-to-understand info and lending emotional support over the phone
- Lead or co-lead a cancer support group
- Provide emotional and practical support to cancer patients and their families (providing specialty items, books, medical referrals, legal services, and rides to medical appointments)
- Help fund-raise
- Become an advocate, maybe even speaking publicly to promote a particular cause
- Become a research advocate – participating in grant review panels, research policy discussions, and the like
Other volunteer options
Your local school, church, or library can always use support.
Keep in mind that schools tend to be germ havens, so they may not be your best option if you’re a cancer patient with a compromised immune system. At a minimum, consider boosting your immune system with supplements first.
If you love animals, you can train support dogs, help at a riding stable for disadvantaged or physically challenged kids or adults, foster pets needing a new home, assist with animal adoption programs, and more.
Love sports? Volunteer as a coach or assistant coach (if your energy level allows), or perform administrative tasks for a team or sports program.
There are also organizations like Make-a-Wish, Big Brother Big Sister, Junior Achievement (great if you’re a business person), and more.
If you enjoy construction work, Habitat for Humanity or a similar organization might be a good fit.
Love to travel? If your health allows, consider overseas options like International Volunteer HQ – which offers opportunities in childcare, teaching, healthcare, environment, conservation, wildlife, construction, arts and music, sports, refugee support, eldercare, community development, and more.
Faith-based organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse also operate internationally (and domestically).
Obviously, there are far too many options to list them all here. These are just a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.
No two people have exactly the same skill set or the same passions. So pick what fits you.
One woman’s story
One outgoing cancer patient felt so extremely isolated during treatment that she offered to volunteer as a receptionist at her husband’s place of work.
The glitch came when the company’s HR department nixed volunteering, claiming that regulations wouldn’t allow them to have unpaid workers. So they made her a low-paid “employee.” Now she gets to use her skills and be around people four or five half-days per week.
It’s been a godsend for her, as it gets her out of the house and into a social setting. And it’s only five minutes from home.
Her “volunteering” pays more than she expected.
But her real jackpot is getting to be out with people instead of at home brooding and worrying about her health.
What if your health status prohibits volunteering?
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be part of an organization to make a difference in the world. The bottom line is that simple acts of kindness toward friends, family members, or neighbors can bring great joy and satisfaction.
And it still qualifies as giving back.
You’ll light up their life as well as your own. So plan to commit your next random act of kindness today.
And one more thing, don’t “guilt” yourself if your health is too weak to volunteer. You should carefully take into account how much your physical condition will allow you to do.
The idea is for volunteering to make you feel better, not worse!
- https://psychcentral.com/news/2013/08/23/volunteering-can-improve-mental-health-help -you-live-longer/58787.html