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Volunteering reaps many benefits. I know firsthand, as I’ve served as one in different capacities for bigstock_volunteer_group_raising_hands__19543958quite some time. Many others would agree. Three-quarters of volunteers say volunteering has made them feel physically healthier and lowered their levels of stress, according to a study released by United Health Group and the Optum Institute.

Among those who’ve volunteered in the past 12 months, 78% say it has lowered their stress. Moreover, volunteers are more likely than other adults to report that they felt calm and peaceful most of the time, and that they had a lot of energy during that same time frame. In other words, volunteering invigorates them. I would concur, or else why would you do it?

In addition to physical and mental health benefits, employees who volunteer say doing so has helped them learn valuable business skills – and that’s a benefit that employers also appreciate, according to the study. Again, I would agree. I served as the president of a local Lions club for a year, and also as the club’s secretary for a number of years before that. The experience I gained speaking in front of a crowd, as well as in setting an agenda and leading meetings was invaluable. Sure you’re anxious at first, but you get more and more comfortable the more you do it.

I’m convinced that public speaking experience helped me from being a nervous wreck at the World EAP Conference in 2015. I was asked on short notice to run a meeting – something that I probably would have considered overwhelming at one time. But not last year!

Still not convinced? The United Health/Optum study found that 64% of employees who currently volunteer said that volunteering with work colleagues strengthened their work relationships.

“We know the lone wolf isn’t the kind of person that makes it in today’s world,” says Kate Rubin, vice president of social responsibility with United Health Group. “Working on a volunteering [project] helps build stronger relationships with colleagues and helps build that collaboration muscle.”

This all sounds well and good, but you might think, I don’t have the time to volunteer! Not necessarily.
“I realize that many of us are wrapped up with work and family, but I also know that if you do it right, volunteering can be a great stress reliever and source of joy in your life,” states Liz Sellman, owner of a pet care business and volunteer.
The key, she says, is to let passion be your guide when you decide to volunteer. Sellman’s tips include:

* Choose wisely. Many people get “roped into” volunteering for an organization because their boss is involved in the charity or a family member is working on a community project. That can be rewarding, but it’s more important to find what you love, and direct those energies into an organization that matches those passions. If you’re an animal lover, volunteer for a shelter or wildlife rescue mission. If you’re passionate about community service, the Lions is a great organization to consider. Knowing you’re helping the city where you live to be a better place is very rewarding. What are YOU passionate about? That’s the key.

* Watch your schedule. This point is vital! Most organizations will take as much time as you offer them, but that will leave most people burned out over time. If you only have an hour or two to spare each week, they’ll accept that, too! Again, I can relate. When I took over as club secretary, I dropped some other volunteering I was doing because I was feeling overwhelmed. Volunteering should be fun. When it seems more like a job, chances are pretty good you’re taking on too much. There is nothing wrong with saying, “No.” Everyone has their limitations.

Handle volunteering right, and it’ll add more to your life than it takes from your calendar.