Refill Your Prescription for Volunteerism

Watching my local news one evening, I came across a volunteer story featuring a high school student named Mary. I can’t remember the details of her story, but I remember her saying she was inspired by the words of poet Emily Dickinson, “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.”

Some of the “healthiest” patients, even those with serious conditions, were those who replaced preoccupations with health with charitable acts toward others.

Those words went straight to my heart. The high school student understood what some people never learn: the therapeutic effects of giving back to others. Studies show that volunteers live longer, have higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Those of us living with a chronic illness or condition can benefit the most from giving back in some capacity. Sometimes if we become preoccupied with our condition, we feel every ache, pain and side effect. As I like to say, “Don’t read the possible side effect warnings on a medication label because you’ll get them!”

Instead, we should try to transfer that focus to other causes or other people. Beth Longeway who works in occupational therapy stated, “It gives people who are ill a reason to look outward and take their minds off their condition.” She added that some of the “healthiest” patients, even those with serious conditions, were those who replaced preoccupations with health with charitable acts toward others.

Many of us our vigilant about keeping up with doctor’s appointments, prescriptions and making every effort to better our health – but sometimes forgetting about our challenges for a while can make us even healthier. Personally, I’m very grateful to have a Braun Entervan that allows me to volunteer in my community. Whether it’s participating in an MS walk or organizing a community service event with my Franciscan sisters, getting out in my handicap accessible van keeps me involved and fulfilled. If accessibility or health prevents you from getting out in the community, you can always try making phone calls on behalf of non-profits or stuffing envelopes. It’s important to give back – however you are able.

So, remember Emily Dickinson’s words. Who knew that the poet’s words were just as much sound medical advice as they were compassion toward humanity.