Happy to Help: Giving help and seeking help to enhance your wellbeing as the lockdown continues
22 May 2020
“We’re all in this together. Each and every one of us can make a difference by giving back.” Beyoncé
The coronavirus pandemic and continuing lockdown have made one thing abundantly clear; we need each other, and we need community. That’s why in addition to complying with lockdown regulations, hundreds of thousands have become volunteers in one capacity or the other. It’s been heart-warming to see such outpourings of kindness from all quarters and from people of all ages. Undoubtedly, without this continuous stream of kindness, the strains of social distancing and living in lockdown would weight more heavily on us.
It’s also worth pointing out that the kindness we’re witnessing is by no means one directional since each one of us belongs to multiple communities and may find ourselves giving and receiving help in various ways across our networks. So, this morning’s eager helpers could be this evening’s grateful receivers, and yesterday’s joyful receivers may likely become tomorrow’s knights in shining armour. It’s a cycle of reciprocity that epitomises the ideals of South African charity, Ubuntu — ‘I am, because we are’.
“Real giving lies in making a difference in another person’s life, or the life of a community, or in the journey of a nation. That’s the meaning of real giving which I learnt from Sheikh Zayed.” Sheikh Mohammed
But this outpouring isn’t all about physical needs and provisions. It’s also about mental wellbeing. In fact, research shows there are many mental health benefits to helping others through virtual or real-world volunteering. Being kind and helpful creates a two-way flow of benefits that results in the wellbeing of the giver as well as the receiver. So, if you’re looking for ways to give yourself a mental boost while social distancing, you should seriously consider playing a part in this beautiful cycle of reciprocity. While medical workers battle on the frontlines to contain the coronavirus, we can reach out to others from the privacy of our homes, armed with our smartphones, PCs and good intentions, and by doing so, make life while social distancing a lot less stressful.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi
The benefits of helping others
Research shows there are many positive correlations between helping others and experiencing greater physical and mental wellbeing. An online survey of over 4000 Americans conducted in 2010, during the fallout from the 2008 recession, found that 41% of Americans volunteered 100 hours of their time on average in 2009, up from 35% before 2008. Over 73% of the volunteering cohort said that volunteering made them happier and a significant number added that volunteering lowered their stress levels, improved their emotional health and helped them recover from loss and disappointment.
And there’s more. An article published in the Journal of Psychological Science in 2003 and another in the Journal of Gerontology in 2005 establish links between helping others and enhanced longevity. The separate studies cited in both articles showed that older people who consistently helped friends, relatives, and neighbours tended to outlive their peers who didn’t engage in such helpful activities. There was also a study conducted in the early 2000s and published in the Journal of Pain Management Nursing which showed that helping others led to a decline in chronic pain and pain intensity among people suffering from chronic pain.
These are just a handful of the growing number of studies showing overwhelming scientific evidence that helping others makes us physically and mentally healthier. These benefits come about through various physiological and psychological processes such as the release of endorphins associated with the euphoric ‘Helper’s high’ and reduced blood pressure. Also identified as important in understanding how volunteering makes us happier is the sense of purpose and fulfilment that comes from a lifelong dedication to helping others. Volunteering has been strongly linked to improved emotional stability, improved self-esteem and stronger social network.
Many of these benefits are especially relevant as lockdown conditions continue. For many of us, helping others could be what we need to overcome the loneliness, depression and feelings of isolation associated with social distancing while in lockdown.
“No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.” Taylor Swift
What can you do to help?
The answer to this is practically anything!
Data collected from the Happy to Help feature of our app shows the main reasons people felt sad and stressed since social distancing was introduced were finances, loneliness, missing loved ones, and either sleeping too much or sleeping too little. With movement restrictions and normal economic activity delayed even further, these things are likely to continue adding to the mental and physical strains of day-to-day living. That’s why being able to get help and give help remain as important as ever, and why we should do our part to keep the ‘kindness movement’ going. We need more people to join the beautiful cycle of giving and receiving.
So, if you’re trying to figure out what you can do to help, here’s some information to get you fired up about becoming a volunteer. Through Happy to Help, we’ve found that many of our users are eager to help members of their communities with tasks they can no longer handle due to social distancing. In April alone, there was an 400% increase in volunteers for grocery deliveries, shopping and dog walking activities. Interestingly, there has also been a marked increase in helpers giving virtual assistance related to emotional support.
Google searches also give us some insight into what people consider important while in lockdown. Searches for recipes, gardening guides and workout guides have increased many times over since March. Going by this alone, sharing your recipes or making YouTube guide videos around these topics could be of help to people around you. You could take it a step further by offering free one-on-one tutorials or guides on how to do anything you’re good at. And if you’re into crochet, stamp collecting or cross stitching, which many millennials have picked up while in lockdown, you could create starter packs for interested learners while also offering helpful tutorials online.
Your expertise could also come in handy for people in need of professional guidance while in lockdown. For instance, there have been increased online searches for information on renter’s rights, how to deal with domestic abuse and how to handle home schooling. There’s also no shortage of articles on things you can do to help. Positive News shares tips ranging from working through local Mutual Aid groups to supporting home schooling parents. There are also guides on how you can help the elderly and what you can do to help if you’re a cyclist, an artist or a tech-guru.
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” Dalai Lama
Become a virtual volunteer today
Becoming a virtual volunteer can be as easy as downloading our SmartCitti app or joining any volunteering platform of your choice. What matters is that you go where you can help in a stress-free and sustainable way. Volunteering online can be as liberating as travelling to new places and meeting new people. If you’re based in Dubai, you can share yoga or healthy baking tips with someone who’s in London, and being locked down in Glasgow won’t stop you from learning how to make authentic curry dishes from a chef in India.
So, how do you begin? Start with what you can do best. If you believe you can do the most good by contributing funds or helping others raise funds for the vulnerable, then you’ll find no shortage of opportunities to fund charitable causes online. In addition to making your contributions, you can tap your family and networks to make contributions as well. Also, being short on time is no longer an impossible hurdle now that micro-volunteering projects have become quite popular. Through a platform like Help from Home, you can find small, short-term ways to be of service to others.
The SmartCitti app with its in-built Happy to Help feature is a great option for people who would like to keep things small, short-term and most importantly, community-focused. As a Happy to Help user, you can build your profile with various helper points of interest (poi) to indicate your readiness to assist in certain areas. Your helper poi could be a virtual one-on-one tutorial or a virtual class on tips for parents who are home schooling in your community. And because Happy to Help facilitates community interaction, you’ll be able to respond directly to requests for help from within the app and others will be able to see you as part of help available within your smart community.
Create the Good and Catchafire are two platforms that link volunteers to projects based on their unique skill sets. So, if you would like to try your hands at being a virtual volunteer in your spare time while working from home, these platforms could be right for you. If you’re more interested in international opportunities, you should look into UN Volunteers and the Red Cross. They support virtual volunteering in things like translation, teaching and virtual mentoring.
Finally, if you can dedicate the time, becoming a crisis counsellor through Crisis Text Line could be a great way for you to lend a hand considering the strains of social distancing and the fact that mental health crises have increased since the lockdown started. Psychiatrists have also complained that people are failing to keep their routine appointments. This worrisome downward trend presents yet another opportunity. Essentially, if you could find a way to help people keep their routine mental health appointments while in lockdown, you’d be doing a world of good.
The benefits of virtual volunteering
1. You can help others while complying with social distancing rules.
Virtual volunteering is done entirely over the internet or by phone. So, you can help your next-door neighbour from the comfort of your sofa.
2. You can help people across borders
Virtual volunteering is as borderless as the internet. Ideally, a person in London can help someone in Dubai through any of the reliable platforms which we explore here.
3. You have relatively low overhead costs
As a virtual volunteer, you have no additional costs to worry about besides the cost of internet access and the time you invest in fulfilling your volunteering goals.
4. You can put your professional skills at the service of people who need them
This is especially true for people in the service industry. As a virtual volunteer, you can use your professional skills as a teacher, writer, artist, lawyer, counsellor, manager, designer, etc, to help people who may not be able to afford the specialist services they need.
5. You can volunteer at your convenience
Not having time is one reason many people are not able to be volunteers. Virtual volunteering helps you overcome this hurdle by letting you volunteer when it’s most convenient. This could be during the wee hours of the morning or even late at night. What matters is that you’ll be able to meet your volunteering commitments in a sustainable way.
6. It’s easy to take a break
Times are stressful for everyone and while you may be disposed to helping on most days, some days may prove harder than most. As a virtual volunteer, it’s much easier to take a step back from your volunteering commitments to attend to your personal needs. Just be sure to inform your supervisor or manager so that alternative arrangements can be made to help those in need.
Kindness is contagious, kindness is empowering and makes you happy!
Kindness is contagious and thankfully, many of us are catching the bug. Kindness is also empowering. It makes the vulnerable in our communities less so and makes us sources of strength and stability to the people around us. Moreover, kindness empowers us with mental and physical wellbeing. These benefits are real and though it may take years to see them come to fruition, some benefits are near instantaneous. When we help others, we feel less lonely and less caught up in our own personal struggles. So, look around you. Observe the steady stream of kindness and the relief it has brought to thousands around the world and be inspired to lend a hand.