Chase the winter blues by helping someone

By Staff Writer • Published: January 10th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Do you have the cold weather blues? How about helping someone in need? It could warm the heart and spirit. People who volunteer are happier, more satisfied, less stressed and have higher self-esteem than those who don’t, many studies show.

But most studies of the effects of volunteering have looked only at a single point in time. A new study published in the Journal of Aging and Health looks instead at the long-term impact of doing good deeds.

In a nationwide evaluation of adults ages twenty-five to ninety-six, researchers found that, on average, levels of depression decrease over time for people who volunteer. Interestingly, older adults appear to benefit more from volunteering than do young adults and the middle-aged. For people older than sixty-five, the role in which a person volunteered and the amount of time spent doing so seems to predict a faster decrease in depression than for younger adults or the middle-aged. That might be because older folks see volunteering as a pleasing alternative to time at home, whereas younger folks might see it more as an obligation.

Either way, opportunities to volunteer are all around. You can hold newborn babies or help direct visitors at your local hospital, keep company with elders in a seniors’ home, serve soup at a shelter for the homeless or hand out groceries at a food bank. Even if you’re not a “people person” there are plenty of other ways to help, such as doing back-office paperwork for charitable organizations or unloading and sorting grocery bins at the food bank.