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Volunteering in Recovery: Healing While Helping Others

Volunteering in recovery can be a great way to heal while helping others. Here are some tips and advice.Volunteering in recovery can be a great way to heal yourself while helping others. Volunteering reduces loneliness and enables someone to hone social or work skills in a low-stress environment. It builds confidence and makes someone feel like a valued member of a community. Many enjoy the structure and schedule that volunteering in recovery provides as they build their new life. And it offers the opportunity for someone in recovery to meet new people, who often times share in the same passion, interests or beliefs that drove them to volunteering at the same place.

In fact, a new study by the University of Exeter Medical School in England found that volunteering can improve mental health and help you live longer. Volunteers reported lower levels of depression, increased satisfaction in their lives, and an enhanced sense of well-being (PsychCentral.com). So where should you volunteer? There are websites like VolunteerMatch.org that can help you find opportunities in your area. You can also think of causes or projects that you are passionate about or enjoy. Try a couple out to see what works best for you.

It’s also important to remember that the experience is not always what we imagine it to be. Volunteering to help hungry children doesn’t always mean that you will be directly working with children. Or volunteering in recovery at an animal shelter doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be cuddling animals all day. You could be doing data entry or cleaning cages. Addiction Treatment Magazine recently ran an article titled “Is There a Downside to Volunteering During Recovery? Not If You Keep These Tips in Mind” in which they offered three simple suggestions to help make volunteering in recovery positive and enjoyable.

  •     Be realistic. Volunteering might not be the glamorous or high-energy activity you envisioned. It may be repetitive, menial, or even boring. Be positive but realistic.
  •    Create and maintain good boundaries. Non-profits are known for being short-staffed, don’t let your plate get too full or overdo it.
  •     Be aware of the social climate in the organization. As with any group of people, there are “office politics.” Test it out. If the group adds to your anxiety, insecurities or stress (risks for relapse), try another one.

Remember, the emphasis needs to be on you and your healing. So you want volunteering in recovery to enhance your experience, not take away your focus from what’s important.

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