As the holidays approach, we are reminded to express gratitude and give thanks for our health, good fortune, and loved ones in our lives. Many of us will extend our appreciation for others by volunteering our time, or donating money or gifts to a charity. Giving thanks around the holidays is important, but it is just as important to give thanks throughout the year. Expressing gratitude through volunteering can benefit both you and your community.

Self-care through volunteering

· Volunteering brings people closer together: As humans, even if we are introverts, we to be connected to others. Volunteering in your community not only strengthens your community but also can allow you to make new friends, expand your network, and improve your social skills.

· Volunteering is good for your mental health: Dedicating time to a project, or others, is a great way to increase your self-esteem and life satisfaction. Volunteering combats depression by bringing people together. Social isolation is a critical component of depression.

· Volunteering allows you to have fun: Spending time working on meaningful and exciting projects within your community can be a relaxing, energizing escape from your daily routine. Volunteering also provides you with renewed creativity, motivation, and a vision that can you can carry into your professional and personal life.

Community care: A different approach to self-care

Self-care often refers to taking time for yourself to unwind, relax, and do things that rejuvenate your mind and body so that you can function as a happy, healthy individual. Self-care may mean taking a long nap, taking a day off of work, going on a short vacation, reading a book, or taking up a new hobby, but this type of care does not necessarily contribute to others.

Community care is a branch of self-care that is a well-known social movement in the non-profit . Community care is defined as any care provided by a single individual to benefit other individuals in their life. Community care can be as simple as doing someone’s dishes or running someone’s errands when they are taking care of their kids during a tough time. It could also entail reaching out to friends who need to talk, or organizing neighborhood watch groups, community support groups, or neighborhood events. Sometimes self-care means helping others, and by lending a helping hand, you can feel rejuvenated and fulfilled.

Volunteering burnout

Expressing gratitude is an excellent way to care for others and care for ourselves, but what happens when we overextend ourselves\? Volunteer burnout is similar to work burnout,. Whether you are giving countless hours to a local charity, volunteering at your child’s school, or raising money for multiple organizations, sometimes giving too much can have a negative effect on your health.

As individuals, we naturally want to help others, especially those we care about. However, sometimes we overextend ourselves, leaving us feeling fatigued, unmotivated, and even resentful. As the holidays approach, it is essential to maintain a healthy balance of gratitude and extending that gratitude. You should be mindful of feeling obligated to give your time or money, and careful if you start to feel burned out from volunteering, especially when it can negatively affect your physical and mental health.

Volunteer ideas for the holidays

If you are interested in giving back to your community, below are a few fun ideas that the whole family can enjoy:

  • Volunteering at a soup kitchen
  • Donate toys to a local homeless shelter, toy drive or children’s home
  • Donate food items for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner to a food drive
  • Donate warm clothes to charities in need such as Warm Coats Warm Hearts Drive and The Pajama Program
  • Volunteer with high school students and organizations such as Let’s Get Ready to help them prep for their college applications (winter is college application season).
  • Donate pet food, blankets, and beds to your local animal shelter.

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases, including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.