by Katie Arens, LCSW — Peer Support Coordinator at The Christi Center
When we find ourselves overcome with grief after losing a loved one, it can be a challenge to find the energy to care for our own day-to-day needs, much less provide care for those outside our nearest and dearest. Yet, there are proven benefits to reaching out of ourselves and finding a way to lessen the burdens of another person.
Volunteering, even in small ways, has been shown to not only meet community needs and provide a sense of satisfaction. It can also keep us healthy. In fact, 68% of those who volunteer report actually feeling healthier. In a study conducted by United Healthcare (http://www.dogoodlivewell.org/), researchers found that volunteering leads to decreased feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and insomnia. These benefits can be very helpful, especially since many of those feelings are commonly associated with grieving.
Yet it can also be challenging to find the right volunteer activity. One suggestion to narrow down the broad scope of opportunities is to identify skills you current possess or areas for potential growth. For example, someone interested in improving their cooking skills might choose to volunteer at a soup kitchen or food bank that would allow them hands-on experience preparing meals.
Another consideration is the time commitment you can make. Opportunities range from one-time brief encounters to ongoing, regular placements. In fact, there are many organizations that accept virtual volunteers so you can reap the rewards of volunteering without even leaving your home.
Even though there are many gifts you have to give the community, it is important to remember that you are still grieving. In order to experience the benefits of being of service, you must take care of yourself first and here are some considerations that can keep you safe throughout your volunteer experience. Remember, you can only take on so much while still caring for yourself.
Maintain healthy boundaries and recognize you cannot solve all of another’s problems. Monitor yourself and the time you dedicate to service to ensure it’s not distracting you from your grief experience. Finally, be aware of experiences that bring up feelings from your own grief. It’s important to seek counsel from a trusted friend, support group, or therapist if your volunteer participation triggers overwhelming feelings.
For more information about volunteer opportunities in the Austin area, check out the following sites:
Katie Arens joined The Christi Center in January 2014 in the newly created role of Peer Support Coordinator. She recently completed her Master of Science degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin where she held internships at Austin Lakes Hospital and The Christi Center. She was drawn to grief work after the loss of her own father, Bill, in 2010 and she discovered her passion for comforting others through similar losses. Katie also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Radio, Television, and Film and has received a Certificate in Volunteer Management.
In her free time, Katie enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, reading (or listening to audio books) and spending time outdoors with her fiancé, Greg, and pup, Molly.