The act of volunteering — giving your time and energy with no expectation of anything in return — benefits both physical and mental health. Serving others activates the reward system in the brain and releases dopamine and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters that help reduce stress and boost pleasure. If the volunteer activity involves being physically active, the built-in activity can lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
In terms of countering feelings of loneliness, volunteering provides natural opportunities to build a sense of belonging and community. “It’s something you can do with family, kids, a friend, a religious group — or just show up for an activity and meet strangers who may share similar values,” says Dr. Ho. “When different types of people from all walks of life come together for a unified purpose, it can help you feel less alone.”