Volunteer to start new year

Most everyone begins the New Year with a resolution involving a healthier lifestyle. Many also pledge to give back to their communities. If you have welcomed in 2017 with one or both of these on your list, consider volunteering. From national foundations with Michigan chapters to grassroots community organizations, opportunities abound to make a difference in the lives of others. And Hospice of Michigan is one option.

Medical professionals report emotional, social and physical benefits for those who donate their time to worthy causes. According to study findings shared by Health Fitness Revolution, the personal perks of volunteering include:

Building self-esteem and creating a sense of purpose

Volunteering can force you out of your comfort zone, which can help you grow as a person. It can also provide peace of mind by helping you meaningfully engage in a cause you can identify with and believe in.

“Volunteering at Hospice of Michigan provides me with an emotional connection to people that I wouldn’t otherwise have,” says Pierrette Templeton. “I was young when I lost my parents and grandparents, and have lacked the connection and emotional bonding that those relationships provide. My patients anchor me emotionally and spiritually with their stories, advice, worldviews and even just their presence. The fulfillment I receive from serving this community is so much more than the time and effort I give.”

Alison Wagner, Hospice of Michigan director of volunteer services and complementary therapies, shares how another volunteer cherishes moments with everyone she meets. With the passing of the volunteer’s father and the death of her precious granddaughter, she decided to volunteer in order to heal. She finds her involvement “extremely rewarding and a blessing in her own life.” With the special bonds and dear friendships she’s developed with her patients, she reports just sitting with someone is very gratifying for her.

Alleviating loneliness, reducing stress and instilling a sense of happiness

The social connections you make through volunteering can combat depression. And helping others can reduce general feelings of anxiousness and alienation. Volunteering also creates a sense of contentedness and positivity with studies supporting the notion that people who volunteer more often report being “very happy.”

“As a volunteer, you are the answer to someone’s prayer,” says Kathy Lodge, a Hospice of Michigan floral delivery volunteer. “When I deliver flowers to a hospice patient, it makes both of us happy. The look on their face when you hand a hospice patient a bouquet of flowers makes the whole room bright.”

While these emotional and social benefits are tremendous, most eye-opening is the impact volunteering can have on your physical well-being, including:

Cardiovascular health

Medical professionals identified a tentative link between volunteerism and a decreased risk of hypertension among adults 50 years or older. While the study did not identify a definitive link, it suggests the higher levels of physical activity and better mental health that come with volunteering are the reason.

Interestingly pet therapy, like that provided by Hospice of Michigan, is also credited with providing cardiovascular health benefits to seriously-ill patients. It’s additionally shown to lower blood pressure and lessen overall physical pain, as well as alleviate a host of emotional and social issues.

Wagner notes that volunteers who accompany therapy dogs on patient visits report their interactions with patients and families are, in the words of one, “rewarding beyond words” and that the recognition they receive for their volunteer efforts “pale in comparison to the personal encounters they’ve had with patients living out their last days.”

Lower mortality rates

Along with improving cardiovascular health, research has also linked volunteering with a longer life through the greater social support those who volunteer enjoy. Research further suggests volunteering for others enhances mortality five years down the road.

Whether it’s partnering with Hospice of Michigan or any of the hundreds of organizations across Michigan dedicated to enhancing life in the Great Lakes State, volunteering is certainly a path to health and happiness in the New Year.

For information about volunteer opportunities and upcoming training sessions, or to learn more about hospice and palliative care, call 888-247-5701 or visit www.hom.org.