The unexpected joys (and health benefits) of volunteering

The unexpected joys (and health benefits) of volunteering

What is the opposite of being egocentric? And what are the health benefits of volunteering? The results may surprise you….

Hi All. I hope that you have all had a good week. How did you find my blog post from last week? I know that it was not an easy topic to explore or talk about, suicide, but I felt it was an important topic to explore and I thank those who read it and who gave feedback. Hope that you found the blog to be of use. If you or anyone has been affected by this subject, my deepest condolences, and please see your GP or health professional if you identify with any of the issues which were raised in the last blog.

With that said, lets move toward to the blog for today. But before we do that, let me present a question to you.

What is the opposite of being egocentric?

To understand what the opposite of egocentric is, I guess it is important to start to understand what being egocentric means.

According to Clark (2019), egocentric: “refers to someone’s inability to understand that another person’s view or opinion may be different than their own. It represents a cognitive bias, in that someone would assume that others share the same perspective as they do, unable to imagine that other people would have a perception of their own.

Being egocentric means to be all about the self. It can therefore be suggested that if one is to be selfish as egocentric, then the opposite of that would be to be selfless.

The antonym for egocentric is to be allocentric, which is to: “have one’s interest and attention centered on other persons” (Merriam-Webster, 2019).

Many of us are so preoccupied by what goes on in our lives and in our own heads that we forget about those around us.

We run around, running to meet deadlines, running to do things for us and for our sense of self and personal gratitude. If we want to perk ourselves up, we go out and buy something. If we want to get a break from our routine, we book ourselves on for a holiday.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with looking after the self and treating the self for work hard done, how often do we consider the needs and wants of others above our own?

How often do we focus on the needs of the other?

Back in 2015 I had been having a few holidays by myself. I was qualified, making nursing money, sharing a room in a house with others. I was buying things for myself and doing things for myself and yet I felt like I wanted more: a sense of meaning. It was around this time that I was inspired by a work colleague who had done some health relief work overseas as well as an old friend who to this day has done some amazing work with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF – Doctors Without Borders). MSF do some amazing work. They are a non-profit international humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation. Check them out. They do some amazing work. https://www.msf.org/

The work colleague who had done health work overseas worked with International Volunteer HQ, or IVHQ. IVHQ is a volunteer abroad organization, offering the largest range of safe and impactful volunteer programs in 40+ destinations around the world. https://www.volunteerhq.org/gb/

I decided, motivated by a friend and a work colleague, at my next holiday, to not have a holiday based on meeting my own needs. It was round about this time 4 years ago that I decided to volunteer to set up and support a health relief project in the slums of India. I was scared and excited, doing something I had not done before, not knowing what to expect, but looking forward to meeting like minded others and to help others who needed my help.

A 24 hour flight with a few stopovers along the way brought me to a dry and hot Delhi airport where a small man of Indian origin greeted me with a sign of my name and some broken English. I followed this small man to a beaten up white Isuzu Buddy van. He put on the radio and Indian music was playing and we drove silently toward destination unknown through hot and busy dusty roads.

I arrived at the IVHQ camp where I was paired off with some American female nurses, to keep the groups balanced but also to look after the women as unfortunately, what we were told, is that in some parts of India women are looked down upon by men. So while I was exploring and helping in India, I was also looking after some female travellers. Some of the female travellers paired off after the first week and I met a youthful and energetic American male nurse who made a fun travel companion for the rest of my time there. We stayed by a slum a drive away from Delhi and stayed with a family in an apartment below their own. The baking heat saturated the apartment, so that washed clothing put up in the morning would be dry in the evening. Ceiling fans spun and were effective so long as you slept directly under them. I guess if you are comfortable sleeping in a helicopter, then sleeping under a feverishly spinning ceiling fan will work for you.

The family we stayed with were warm and lovely. It was doctor, his wife, their two sons, and the father’s grandfather. They lived in a minimalistic but comfortable flat, with a TV on the wall screening Indian TV programmes and a small table positioned in the middle of the living room surrounded by sofas. The mother would make us delicious sweet tea each morning and would make us breakfast and lunch to take to our health mission days. Despite not having a lot, they shared with us.

We spent time travelling in the beaten up Isuzu van, driven by the quiet but friendly small Indian man, dropped off from slum to camp. I remember one day spending a day at a dusty site with an old half built crumbly building between being in the back of the van dispensing medication to hundreds of clambering hands, to being inside a small room taking and recording vital observations of wave after wave of desperate but appreciative elderly people of Indian origin. We had a very energetic old man on site who spoke a few words of English, directing us which medications were for diabetes, which were for blood pressure, which were for blood cholesterol, and so forth. I nicknamed him ‘Tigger’, after the energetic bouncing tiger character from Winnie the Pooh.

People waiting to be seen in a clinic
Doing vital observations in India town in 2015
Ambulance used to supply medication and supplies to the village
Looking in on a day of treatment
View inside an old ambulance India 2015

After such a day you would think that I would be exhausted. Sure I felt a bit hot and sweaty and needed a shower, but I felt exhilarated afterward, seeing I had made an active difference to improving the lives and circumstances of others.

Riding in a tuk tuk also changed my perspective. For those who are unfamiliar with a tuk tuk, it is a three wheel transport, with a singular front wheel. It is an open vehicle, where the driver sits on the engine and behind him is a covered seating area. As we travelled in a group, the girls went in the back and I positioned myself at the front with the animated driver who must have seen ‘The Fast and the Furious’ and decided to give it a go on the actual roads. If you can imagine everyone watching ‘The Fast and the Furious’ and then all driving like that…that’s the driving we experienced. Not to assume that you all know what ‘The Fast and the Furious’ is, its a 2001 car racing movie which spawned a lucrative franchise.

It’s a fun action film. Not to be taken seriously. Pure escapist fair.

But back to the tale.

So imagine lots of people thinking they are racing drivers on the hot and dusty roads of India. It was like something out of a movie. But when you survive a ride in a tuk tuk, you learn to appreciate things a whole lot more.

Being driven around in a tuk tuk or being driven around in a comparatively safer but still precarious old Isuzu van from site to site in India and helping people who needed physical health care and support gave me a greater appreciation for what I have, and the sense of gratitude that comes from being thankful for what we have and for doing things for others rather than things for ourselves.

If you ever get the chance to work with MSF, or IVHQ, or even if you want to do something a little more low key such as to volunteer in a soup kitchen, helping others is incredibly rewarding and gives a greater sense of appreciation and connection to our fellow man and woman.

Helping others, being altruistic, approaching life with a selfless and allocentric approach, has many benefits.

According to Mental Health Foundation (2019), helping others has a few health benefits.

These include helping others to feel good. By helping others to feel good we in turn help ourselves to feel better. Helping others also brings a sense of belonging, reduces isolation and helps to bring things into perspective. I can agree wholeheartedly on this. We can sometimes be so preoccupied with what is going on in our little world that we sometimes forget about the world outside of that, and we sometimes also make that world bigger than it is. When we realise what we have, a roof over our head, healthy running water, food on the table, and when we see others may not have these things, it does make us appreciate what we have and it certainly puts things into perspective. Helping others gives us a sense of belonging, as we feel we are doing something meaningful and that our efforts are having actual and tangible positive effects on supporting others.

Helping others also makes the world a happier place. I wholeheartedly believe that when you help others, you will inspire them to help others as well. And a world in which one is helping the other is a good world to be in.

According to the Mental Health Foundation (2019), helping others also has physical health benefits. When we help others we are physically doing things and that means we are moving about and making our heart beat, our blood pump, and our muscles work. The joy experienced from seeing the sense of gratitude in others can also help to reduce one’s own stress and manage their own negative feelings and emotions.

In times when we are so busy running around trying to make ourselves happy, it stands to reason that helping others can actually help us in many ways.

How can I make a difference?

Find something you enjoy. Do you like to volunteer? Do you like to support a charity? Do you like to work in a homeless shelter? Talking and listening is also a fantastic way to help others, as sometimes all we need is someone to listen to us. Being there and listening can make a huge difference for someone who is having a difficult time in their life.

But remember: look after yourself too.

Don’t give too much of yourself. Find time to look after yourself too. It is fantastic that you may wish to help others, but if you are not looking after yourself, you will not be able to help others.

In summary, being allocentric and having a selfless approach where you look to help others can actually help you in many ways, both in terms of health and physical benefits. You can help others in many ways, be in flying to other side of the world to help in health camps, or to do something a little more low key, such as meeting a friend for a cup of tea and having a chat.

I hope you have found the blog of some help. Remember: it’s a journey. It will take time. Have patience in the process. You will get there. Until then, stay happy, stay healthy, and have a lovely weekend wherever you are on the planet.

(PS. In June I wrote about training for a half marathon, and was meant to do the Great Northern Run this past weekend on 13/10/19. Unfortunately for various reasons I was not able to train to the level which I wanted to, and therefore did not have the opportunity to compete. I hope to compete next year, and I congratulate all who ran this year. I have had a lot on the go and have found myself juggling many roles and responsibilities, and I feel I may have overwhelmed myself with putting too much on my plate. Hopefully 2020 will be more focussed and more streamlined. Sending all good vibes)

And remember: love yourself. 

References:

Clark, J. (2019). What It Means to Be Egocentric. Available: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-egocentric-4164279. Last accessed 12th October 2019.

Mental Health Foundation. (2019). Doing good does you good. Available: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-does-you-good. Last accessed 12th October 2019.

Merriam-Webster. (2019). Allocentric. Available: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/allocentric. Last accessed 12th October 2019.

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A bit about the author:

I am a guy who is (nearly) 40, who is sharing a journey of weight management and wellbeing.I am also a mental health professional with a wealth of years of experience in supporting individuals who have challenging mental illnesses and personality disorders.

Prior to my current professional role, I spent several years supporting members of the community as a fitness professional, assisting individuals with weight loss and health improvement programmes.

I completed a PGDip in Mental Health Nursing in 2013, and an MSc in Advanced Practice in 2016 in which I looked at improving nurses’ level of engagement with patients with challenging personality disorders.

In 2018 I successfully undertook a Clinical reasoning in Physical Assessments course with the view to start studying toward becoming an Advanced Nurse Practitioner in late 2019.

In 2015 I also undertook a Mentorship for practice (BSc Hons) course and have been supporting future nurses with their training and development. I have also recently supported a Healthcare Assistant Staff toward training in and successfully passing and achieving a Foundation Degree in Mental Health Nursing.

In my current role I am a person looking to support the physical and mental health and wellbeing of the individual. As part of my role within the health services in supporting individuals with mental health care needs, I am also currently looking to develop myself as a Wellness Coach, to support the individual with weekly wellness blogs, with the view to support individuals on a 1:1 basis as well as holding motivational lectures and seminars.

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