Mental Health

One of the well-known impacts of volunteering is its benefits for your mental health. According to many studies, the social contact aspect has a profound effect in helping you to maintain a sound mind. The meaningful connections that you create help to relieve stress, anxiety and loneliness. It also helps to provide a sense of purpose which increases your self-confidence. For many, these enormous benefits have been one of the factors encouraging them to keep offering their time and services to worthwhile causes. Even in recent times when customary systems have had to undergo a huge upheaval, many have not faltered in taking out time to volunteer.

One of these upheavals has been a transition from physical to virtual meetings for so many activities. The non-profit sector has not been exempted from these changes; Virtual Volunteering could become the new norm . This new and popular alternative which we are all now exploring eliminates the social contact aspect of volunteering and is also wrought with a few challenges in which social isolation, burnout and technology overload, top the list of concerns. But due to these challenges, is volunteering at a risk of losing its mental wellbeing benefits?

As many volunteers may be juggling other commitments with their volunteering tasks, coupling that with the challenges of virtual volunteering could lure them to neglect their mental health. In my experience, it is easy to view the support that the cause you choose to help provides in your community as a substitute for your own mental health support. It is imperative for non-profit organizations to reiterate to virtual volunteers that their mental wellbeing will and should always be a priority. As we all know, you cannot give what you do not have. If a volunteer is feeling mentally overwhelmed, it would be much harder for them to capably offer vital help to people in need. Virtual volunteering can replicate the beneficial culture of in-person volunteering if a few extra measures are taken.

Thus, here are a few mental health support tips for virtual volunteers:

  • Know what is Expected. Volunteers should fully understand and be comfortable with the time commitment and the tasks expected of them. A detailed explanation and onboarding process coupled with some room for flexibility could be a well-needed guide on when not to over commit and avoid burnouts.
  • Communication is Key. Distance from the outcome of their work might cause some volunteers to feel like their work has less of a purpose. Hence, it is important to regularly communicate and connect with volunteers so they can constantly be in the loop. An open and engaging environment even online can really help to keep morale high and be a means to share the impact of your work.
  • Do not be afraid to Disconnect. Although it is thanks to modern technology that virtual interactions are fast becoming a convenient substitute for physical interactions, constant use can easily become overwhelming. It is much harder for people to healthily coexist with technological advancements when they are aware that their volunteering work benefits their community. But, do not hesitate to regularly take some time off. A line-up of several virtual activities can be mentally exerting and an assault on the senses. Technologically disconnecting for a while should be encouraged as it can help volunteers refresh and realign.

It is important to remember that volunteering should be an enjoyable and benefitting experience for the volunteer and the organization. A transition to a virtual format of volunteering should not deprive both parties of that experience. Enjoying yourself means that your mental health is in check!!

Zuwairah Sani

Resource Development Manager

Volunteer Lethbridge

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