Volunteering and mental health: How to take care of yourself

Volunteering has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health and well-being, improving self-esteem, and giving people a sense of purpose. In a study from 2021, the Royal Voluntary Service found that 18% of volunteers, compared to 9% of non-volunteers, had improved mental health for the year in question. Research has shown that volunteering can improve not just your mood and life satisfaction, but it can even reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases and reduce cognitive decline.

However, volunteering can also expose you to difficult and demanding situations, such as working with vulnerable or distressed people or dealing with limited resources and support. There may be times it feels challenging; you may experience stress or worry about the beneficiaries you are helping, guilt that you are not doing enough, or perhaps that you do not have time for yourself, which can feel overwhelming.

It is not unusual for volunteers to experience feelings of burnout and compassion fatigue.

As volunteers at TaxAid or Tax Help for Older People, you may speak with vulnerable people, people who are suffering or struggling through their own circumstances. This can be difficult to hear, and can even relate to your own experiences and bring up difficult feelings.

Some signs of compassion fatigue and burnout are: emotional exhaustion, reduced empathy, irritability, sleep problems, physical problems, such as headaches, or stomach problems, and feeling less satisfied and fulfilled by your volunteering.

Experiencing some of these signs occasionally or on a particularly bad day can be completely normal, however, if you find that you have felt these things for a long time or that it is significantly affecting your day-to-day then you could be experiencing compassion fatigue.

How to cope with compassion fatigue and burnout

We wanted to pass on some suggestions on how to take care of yourself if you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms.   It is important to do this so that you are able to compassionately care for others. You cannot help anyone if you are yourself in a state of fatigue, burnout, or severe stress.

If you are a volunteer of TaxAid or Tax Help for Older people and you feel that your volunteering is affecting your wellbeing, through compassion fatigue or burnout, do not be afraid to reach out to your Volunteer Team Manager. It’s always okay to ask for help if you need it; we want our volunteers to know we are here for you and we will work with you to find a solution to help.

Of course, it may be the case that the support you need is professional help, either from your GP, a licensed therapist, or a free helpline, such as that provided by Mind here.

As volunteers, in order to help vulnerable people, we must have the emotional capacity available to provide them with empathy and consideration. Sometimes life circumstances, personal problems, health conditions, or anything else that causes stress, can get in the way of this. It is important to put our own well-being first when we are helping others, as you cannot draw water from an empty well, and volunteering can be demanding on our emotional resources. 

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 11th, 2024 at 2:23 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.