Schedules fill up, life gets busy, and between physical therapy, occupational therapy, Parkinson's support groups, seeing friends, staying active, managing medications, family time, doctor's appointments, and the many other responsibilities in our schedules, it might feel like there's no time for something like volunteering. But 2023 may be just the right time to think again. To volunteer is to live well with Parkinson's. Here are seven worthwhile benefits of volunteering.
#1 - It builds social connections.
Having Parkinson's sometimes inspires feelings of loneliness, and many people with Parkinson's struggle with social isolation. Volunteering is a fantastic way to overcome that isolation by meeting new people and sharing time with loved ones. Committing to a cause can connect you to like-minded people who share your passions. Serving your community is a two-way street: the project will benefit from your involvement, and you will benefit by making new friends and gaining a sense of fulfillment.
#2 - It supports your mental health.
Isolation isn't the only mental health issue facing people living with Parkinson's: depression and anxiety are both common non-motor symptoms. Volunteering helps people feel a sense of purpose, reduces stress, and makes them happier, more relaxed, and more positive, especially for people over 65. Recent research suggests that rates of depression and anxiety are much lower for those who volunteer than those who don't.
#3 - It keeps you fit.
Volunteering comes in many forms. Struggling with motor symptoms makes it difficult to imagine getting involved in a physical way. Even with mobility issues, there are many ways to serve your community. Join a clean-up crew at your local park or river. Help a cause you support with door-to-door canvassing. Even something like knitting blankets for premature babies can help as a form of physical therapy by keeping your hands flexible and active. Studies have shown that volunteering helps reduce stress and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, general illness, and mortality. A great way to stay fit and volunteer is to host your own Team DPF fundraiser.
#4 - It incorporates variety into your life.
Routine feels confining after a while, especially if you're newly diagnosed or your symptoms are worsening. Doing something novel that escapes your usual routines or engages your passions improves cognitive function and help break up the monotony and sense of being overwhelmed. Volunteering online is also an option if being involved in service projects on-site is too much.
#5 - It brings joy and fulfillment.
Is there a better way to make yourself feel better than making others feel better? Volunteering has been shown to help people feel more fulfilled. It also helps with anxiety and depression symptoms. You may have already retired or have decided to stop working. Volunteering can help reinvigorate a sense of purpose and meaning in your life. Sometimes called the "helper's high," when you help yourself, you help y our community!
#6 - It engages your passions.
There are many ways to become involved through volunteering— join or lead a support group, work an event like a fundraiser or 5K, get involved as an Ambassador—or do something else entirely. One great thing about volunteering is it can be integrated it into what you already do and care about! Spend more time with your children or grandchildren by joining their school's PTA or volunteering with one of their clubs or sports teams. Integrate volunteering into spending time with friends by signing up for causes together. Write letters or make phone calls for campaigns or initiatives that deserve your support. No matter where your passions lie—and even if you haven't had much time or energy to commit to them, there is a volunteering opportunity for you.
#7 - It improves your community.
We all care about the places we're from; our homes, social circles, and communities. But chances are you've seen something you want to address and improve in your community. Affecting positive change in your area helps you meet people, stay active, find purpose and joy, and offer a lasting impact. The power to create change is within you, and whatever passions you pursue, you can be an essential part of making your community a happier, healthier place.
In the coming days, we'll share stories about volunteer programs that started as seeds and have now grown into projects we chose to fund in 2022 because of the value they are bringing to the Parkinson's communities.
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