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April 8, 2024

Volunteering as a way out of the loneliness epidemic

In a world increasingly connected by digital threads, the irony of the growing epidemic of loneliness is hard to ignore. With societies around the globe witnessing a surge in feelings of isolation and disconnectedness, the quest for solutions has never been more urgent. 

In April 2023, the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and public health authorities recognized loneliness as a significant public health concern. The growing epidemic of loneliness is increasingly acknowledged for its profound impact on both mental and physical health. Studies and reports, including those from the HHS, have highlighted several critical aspects of this issue including its prevalence, health risk, social changes.

To address the loneliness epidemic, experts have suggested interventions such as social prescribing, community engagement initiatives, and policies aimed at increasing social connectedness. The goal is to build more resilient communities where individuals feel valued, supported, and connected.

a tutor and a student read a book at a desk in a classroom

Understanding the loneliness epidemic

Today, loneliness affects as many as one in four adults, and it can stem from the fact that many kids and adults have a hard time connecting with the physical world.  In severe cases, it can be a mental health illness that can transition into other health disorders.

A recent study revealed that people who spent more time on social media were more likely to experience feelings of loneliness, especially if their motive for being on social media was to maintain contact with friends and family. The study found that “More time spent digesting other people’s happiness on social media may accelerate one’s own feelings of loneliness and distress, possibly fueled by envy.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) underscores the gravity of loneliness as a public health concern, likening its impact to well-established risk factors such as smoking and obesity (“U.S. Department of Health and Human Services“). This comparison is echoed by research indicating that prolonged loneliness can significantly increase the risk of premature death, paralleling the mortality risk associated with smoking up to fifteen cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2015).

a student in a blue shirt smiles at the camera

Volunteering: A path to connection and community

Feelings of loneliness stem from feeling disconnected to the community and world around you. So, to overcome those feelings of disconnection, one way to fight loneliness is to seek connection. 

Volunteering is one of the best ways to reconnect with yourself and others. It’s a physical act that provides many therapeutic and rewarding benefits. 

Giving back feels good

Volunteering is often said to be altruistic. And to a degree this is completely true. However, volunteering can be a great way to feel better about yourself. It feels good to give back to other people. Often, teamwork is required to accomplish a goal, whether it is raising money, building something physical, or collecting donations.

A great example of this is the Reading Partners program. Many volunteers who start tutoring end up having a long term partnership with a student and return year after year. This is true for even volunteers who plan to have a short-term commitment. Much of this has to do with the lasting impact that high-dosage tutoring has on children.

a tutor fights the loneliness epidemic by teaching a student how to read

Volunteering requires a physical and mental presence

Volunteering doesn’t allow us to be on our phones wishing we were someone else. It typically requires us to be present and to show up for someone else. Whether you’re sitting with a student to help them boost their literacy skills, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, participating in a beach clean-up, or engaging in other forms of community service, you’re reaping all the benefits of being physically and mentally in a place where helping others is the goal.

Finding purpose in helping others

One of the most significant ways volunteering combats loneliness is through the sense of purpose it provides. Engaging in meaningful work that benefits others brings a profound sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. It shifts the focus from one’s own struggles to the needs of others, creating a perspective that is both outward-looking and positive. This sense of purpose is instrumental in mitigating feelings of loneliness, as it reaffirms the individual’s value and impact in the world.

Expanding your worldview

Volunteering often provides a new perspective on the world. It can introduce us to new ideas, communities, and ways to be grateful for what we already have. When we practice gratitude, it can stave off feelings of loneliness and help you build a more enriching life.

a tutor fights the loneliness epidemic by teaching a student how to read

Taking the first step into volunteering

For those seeking to feel more connected to their communities and avoid feelings of loneliness, volunteering offers a promising path. The first step is as simple as identifying a cause you’re passionate about and reaching out to local organizations in need of support.

With a wide range of opportunities available, from literacy tutoring to environmental advocacy to elder care, there’s a fit for every interest and skill set. A personalized weekly planner can help you visualize your week at a glance, identifying free time that can be dedicated to volunteering. By setting aside specific blocks of time for volunteer work, you ensure that these commitments are treated with the same importance as other appointments or responsibilities. This proactive approach prevents overbooking and ensures that you can dedicate your best self to the causes you care about.

By building resilience, encouraging mutual aid, fostering a culture of caring, addressing social needs, and strengthening the social fabric, volunteering lays the groundwork for more inclusive, supportive, and empowered communities. As individuals continue to give their time and talents, they contribute to a legacy of cooperation and compassion that will benefit generations to come.

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