Volunteering on GivingTuesday - A Great Way to Deal With Anxiety

July 16, 2019

Contribution by: Sally Writes

Did you know that over 2 million Canadians committed to volunteering their time for GivingTuesday in 2018? And that was in addition to all the other GOOD STUFF people did, like food and clothing drives, giving blood, advocating for favourite causes and of course donating much needed funds.

There are two main ways anxiety and volunteering can intersect. The first is the role of charities in helping people overcome anxiety by providing a means to help them process their anxiety and exorcise it. The second is helping people with anxiety who wish to volunteer their time and effort, but who struggle to make the first move due to this anxiety.

A quick background on anxiety

What is a normal level of anxiety? It is not an all or nothing scenario, but a matter of graduation combined with a highly personalized background level. Anxiety is dependent on our natural biology combined with our lifestyle, work, and other socio-economic factors.

Therefore a thousand people would have a thousand different ideas about what is normal. However, broadly speaking, experts say that 50 minutes of anxious thinking (around 5% of your day) would be considered an anxiety issue. Anxiety can present itself as obsessive thoughts, panic attacks, and PTSD. It also comes with many physical symptoms ranging from rapid heart beats and sweating to shortness of breath, nausea, and the feeling of going crazy.

How charities help people with anxiety

Anxiety struck me in my mid-20s. It came from a combination of work problems, health issues, and a disintegrating relationship. I became unable to work and things were difficult for a long time, but then a friend suggested I help out at the pet charity where she worked.

So I began walking dogs and looking after cats as a volunteer. It helped me build up new skills and confidence, and it allowed me to slowly soothe some of these anxieties. While I did not have a 101 Dalmations moment where I met the love of my life (that would come later), I was able to get a new job with a glowing reference from the charity’s manager.

There are of course specific mental health charities. They go out of their way to help people with mental health issues including anxiety. They provide counselling or group therapy or general support but also help get people back on their feet or connect them to the right health services. Many people who have been helped choose to give back to these charities in the form of their time and experience.

Overcoming anxiety to start volunteering

One problem of having anxiety is that it leads to anxiety about volunteering itself. This can be a major stumbling block which prevents people from taking the first step - even when volunteering at an animal shelter.

A University of Pennsylvania study revealed that anxious people including those who are introverted or just shy, plus those with complex anxieties are less likely to volunteer with charities. They believe this was an unrecognized element of charitable recruitment.

Indeed, they revealed that most anxious people preferred to give money rather than time. We can, however, try to look at this as a positive by using donations as a first step to helping anxious people volunteer. Giving money before becoming an active volunteer can be a great way to make contact and build a relationship with the charity. I felt comfortable to volunteer because I knew someone at the charity. If such a connection can be built for anxious people it might help coax them into volunteering their time.

GivingTuesday takes place again this year and it’s an ideal time to connect with and help charities. Donating money is vital to helping charities function, but giving time and effort are wonderful too, not just for charities, but also for yourself. It’s totally natural to feel anxious about volunteering for the first time, but charities are filled with people who understand and who have been there too. Together we can all help people and animals across Canada and abroad lead better lives!

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