This month’s Career Corner (p. 22) offers suggestions for coping with stress at work. For many of us, a major source of stress is the feeling that we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. There’s a counterintuitive solution to this problem: Give some of your time away — i.e., volunteer.
A team of researchers, led by psychological scientist Cassie Mogilner of the Wharton School at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, compared groups of people who spent time helping others with people who wasted time, spent time on themselves, or unexpectedly received free time, and found that spending time on other people relaxes a person’s perceived time constraints. Mogilner believes this is because giving away time boosts one’s sense of personal competence and efficiency, and this in turn stretches out time in our minds. “Although feeling starved for time generally leads individuals to prioritize spare hours for themselves, our results suggest that if people instead spent time on others, they might feel less time-constrained and better able to complete their myriad tasks and responsibilities,” she explains.
Volunteering has many well-documented health benefits. People who volunteer feel better — physically, mentally, and emotionally. In its most-recent study of health and volunteering, UnitedHealth Group found that, among people who volunteered in the past 12 months, 76% said that volunteering has made them feel better, 94% said it improves their mood, and 78% said it lowers their stress levels. Participants also said that volunteering enriches their sense of purpose in life, that they are helping to make their community a better place, and that volunteering helps them learn valuable things about the world and about themselves.
Older adults who volunteer have a lower risk of developing cognitive problems. “The benefits of volunteering extend beyond emotional and physical health. Volunteering helps people preserve their memory and their ability to think and make decisions as they age. Furthermore, our study shows that even for older adults who have never volunteered, newly engaging in volunteering over time also shows positive benefits,” writes Frank Infurna, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Psychology at Arizona State Univ. According to Eric Kim, a research fellow in Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Sara Konrath, an assistant professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana Univ., older adults who volunteered spent 38% fewer nights in the hospital and were more likely to take precautions such as getting flu shots and cancer screenings.
An earlier Career Corner article (Feb. 2016, p. 19) pointed out that volunteering can also have positive impacts on your career. Among other things, it allows you to: develop your skills; expand your network; explore new occupations or industries; learn more about yourself; boost your confidence; learn new ways of doing things; and stand out from the crowd.
This is all good news for an organization like AIChE, which would not exist were it not for its member volunteers. This month’s Your AIChE Membership article, “The 30-Minute Volunteer” (p. 75), explains micro-volunteering — i.e., easy, quick, low-investment tasks. So if you want to feel like you have more time, enjoy better emotional and physical health, reduce your risk of cognitive impairment — and enjoy the numerous other benefits volunteering provides — check out some of the opportunities listed at AIChE’s Volunteer Central, https://engage.aiche.org/volunteeropportunities/volunteeropportunities-about, or visit www.aiche.org/volunteer.
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