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How volunteering and donating your skills improves your physical and mental health

Multiple studies show that volunteering your time, donating your skills or some cash can boost both your physical and mental health.

Volunteering takes many forms, whether it’s donating your time by helping out in a communitythe kitchen at christmas (as pictured above) , donating money or a tangible product like a quilt. When we donate a quilt, we hit the donation trifecta. It takes hours to make a quilt from start to finish and even if you are pulling from your stash or all of the fabric, batting and thread were donated, they did not grow on trees. The best part is in the end you are able to present a group, institution or individual with a quilt to surround them with love! Knitters and crocheters have the added ability to add prayer shawls, warm hats, and mittens, in addition to the cozy blankets they provide.

Woman with dark hair sewiing face masks, while cat looks on.
Making masks is always more fun with a friend!

Here are 6 things you’ll get back when you give that quilt, walk the neighbour's dog or just share a cup of tea with someone:

1. A “Warm Glow” - The “helper’s high” also known as the ‘warm glow” effect, like a runner’s high can be addictive. Analysis of functional MRIs of people who regularly volunteer with or donate to charities, reveal that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, creating the “helper’s high.” Scientists at the National Institutes of Health found that giving to charities activates the regions of the brain associated with social connection, trust, and pleasure, known as the “warm glow effect.”

2. Group Therapy – That “warm glow” is why you’re so happy when you’re about to hand over that log cabin beauty to the folks in charge of your guild’s charity quilts, and maybe why the people looking after the collecting them are always so darn happy. How do you feel when you gather with your quilty friends old and new to make charity quilts at a bee, or to relax and learn and laugh at a retreat? Your brain is pumping out “feel good” chemicals, like dopamine, the feel-good chemical, oxytocin for compassion and bonding, and serotonin that helps to balance our mood. These “symptoms” can linger for up to two hours, which explains why even the car ride home is a blast. more

3. A longer life – Various studies have found that volunteers over seventy years of age, and couples over the age of fifty-five, who helped their neighbours, volunteered in their community, or provided social support were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than their non-volunteering peers. On average they had lower blood pressure, and reported having less stress, which is known to be associated with a multitude of health problems. more

4. A chain reaction – Researchers at the University of California discovered that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to do so as well, at a later date toward different people, who in turn motivate new people to behave generously as well. The result is a chain reaction where each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, many of whom they will never meet. Giving is contagious, so we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our donation but can trigger a ripple effect of generosity through our community.

5. A sense of gratitude – When you shovel your neighbour’s driveway because they aren’t able to do so, you can’t help but feel grateful that you can. Likewise, when you donate a quilt to someone that truly needs to be wrapped in a blanketed hug, you are grateful for those that showed you kindness and support when you needed it. By expressing this gratitude with a quilt or hand knitted pair of mittens, you not only boost your own positivity but that of the recipients as well, which they can then spread. As an added bonus researchers found that having subjects “count their blessings” resulted in them being more optimistic, exercising more and were happier with their lives overall.

6. A dose of good Karma - Volunteering and giving promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our social connections. I genuinely believe that “the more you give, the more you get.” It’s really all about karma, what goes around comes around! Every time you give something away, you create a vacuum that is waiting to be filled. Studies have backed this up, suggesting when you give of yourself to others, your actions are likely to be reciprocated in some way by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else. It’s perfectly okay to graciously accept thanks, and even find the opportunity to use it as a seed for something else. True volunteering is not about being praised or compensated, in fact there is evidence that public recognition can actually decrease the likelihood of more donations, due to a self-signaling mechanism: Public recognition creates ambiguity about whether the choice to donate was motivated by genuine altruism or the desire for recognition. So, hold off on the Charity Quilt Maker of the year award, as public recognition can undermine the self-signalling of altruism, which in turn decreases donation rates.

Eileen Cole with her Nova Scotia Strong Quilt, pattern by Jackie Chandlerrn from
These are just 6 of the ways that volunteering and donating are amazing for your physical, spiritual and mental health!

I talk about these benefits and more in “Quilting is my Therapy” , an intimate chat between me and the members of your guild, virtually anywhere in the world! 100% of the proceeds from this lecture will be donated to The Grove Hubs and other organizations that provide a safe place and support mental health. You can find a list of organizations that would love one of your quilts here. Please email me if you have a group that you would like me to add to the list. So remeber, whether you are serving meals to people whose names you’ll never know , or sewing placemats for meals on wheels, you are “self- medicating”, but in a good way.


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