Caring for Yourself While Voluteering

Categories: Well-being

Caring for Others… and Yourself:

As a UCF student who has spent the past several years volunteering throughout the community, I find many people miss the importance of caring for oneself while caring for others. Simply put, being a volunteer will often make you aware of the size and scope of suffering within our communities and the world, which can be difficult to process and handle. Despite this challenge, I encourage all to volunteer; to lend their time, talent, and treasure to improving their communities. It can be very rewarding. This article is meant to be provide 4 tips that I have discovered over the past few years that help me care for others while being conscious of my own mental health.

  1. Know what you Control

Perhaps the most important tip is to be mindful of what is within your control. Food insecurity, housing insecurity, addiction, poverty; there are a plethora of existential issues that will not be solved by one person, if ever. It may be difficult to accept, but you must focus on what you can do, not on what you cannot do. Knowing what you control, helps execute the second tip.

  1. Manage your Goals and Enjoy your Achievements

Knowing what is within your control will help you make manageable and achievable goals. Instead of having a goal to feed every child in your community, make your goal to volunteer every other Saturday or to help pack 500 meal boxes in October. Sometimes as a volunteer, I found myself simply going with the flow and never reflecting on what I accomplished. Ultimately, I started to lose sight of the good being done and demotivation ensued. Another related source of dissatisfaction is a prevailing feeling that I was not doing enough. I looked at the impact of others and felt that my work was relatively insignificant.

  1. Make your Contribution Unique

I volunteered at a food pantry last year and one day I noticed two unused yet relatively new carts. After inquiring, the manager stated that were inoperable due to improper installation. The damage wasn’t complex and I was able to fix the carts. I felt that my impact was unique. Organizations often have needs beyond the obvious; someone to fix carts, someone to review paperwork, someone to beautify the premises, someone to maintain vehicles, etc. Contributing your unique talents can be invaluable and will invigorate you with renewed purpose. Be open about your skills and ask how they can help solve unique issues. Be of use.

  1. Know your Limits

You can still feel burnout despite offering something unique and it is normal to tire of your work. In fact, when that happens, it is often better for you to take a break. Admittedly, this can be difficult to identify when it happens. I once regularly volunteered at the dementia care unit of a retirement home. However, it became difficult to see residents confused, living past lives, unable to recognize family. To connect over months and slowly see their minds deteriorate. To go from holding a conversation, to holding their spoon, to holding their hand on their deathbed was emotionally devastating for 20-year-old me. My experiences seeing care workers, patients, and families battle this dismal disease eventually destroyed me. In hindsight. I should have taken a break, and maybe stopped volunteering there, but I continued, and it wreaked havoc on my mental health. I eventually grew resentful of the work. While I experienced much growth and don’t regret my experience, I wish I knew my limits and had the wherewithal to take a break.

There are many other tips that I could share. These are just a few that came to mind with my experiences. Volunteering for a cause can help provide fulfillment. However, you must ensure you are taking care of yourself as well.

Looking for more? While writing this post, I thought readings I found to be inspirational, and wanted to share:

  • The Enchiridion of Epictetus is masterpiece that helped me understand and accept what is within and outside of my control.
  • “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann is my favorite poem. It serves as a sort of creed that I try to follow in life.
  • “To be of Use” by Marge Piercy is another wonderful poem and most directly relates to my third tip.

About the Author

Juvens Jean-Noel is a UCF graduate currently pursuing a degree in Nonprofit Management and Public Administration. He will graduate in May 2023. This summer, he completed an internship with Healthy West Orange. His interests include music, psychology, leadership, and rugby.

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