October 8, 2004 (STAR) By Minotte Rodrigo-Cuenca - Do you feel tired, listless, burned-out? Do you feel like life has no meaning under all this stress, pressure and endless expectations?

Scientists have long known that social contact improves health and promotes longer life. But itís always been assumed that the benefit comes from the support people get. "But it has been realized that the act of giving itself can protect the helperís health," says UCLA psychologist Shelley Taylor, an expert on stress and health.

"Helperís high" is the term coined by Arizona State University psychologist Robert Cialdini to describe the endorphin reported by frequent givers in his research. These good feelings may lower the output of stress hormones, which improves cardiovascular health and strengthens the immune system and, by the way, combats obesity, too.

Existing research reviewed by the Ontario Ministry of Health indicates that volunteering can improve self-esteem, reduce heart rates and blood pressure, increase endorphin production, buffer the impact of stress, and combat social isolation. It can also help curb alcohol intake and smoking, and improve your sex life.

People with a strong sense of their own effectiveness, coping abilities, and social usefulness, and who are socially active, tend to have better health, lower mortality, and healthier lifestyles. Self-esteem and confidence are related to reduced blood pressure and improved immune function.

Three-quarters of volunteers surveyed in the National Canadian Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP) reported gaining interpersonal skills. Volunteers also developed better communication, organizational and managerial skills.

Youth most often volunteer to improve job opportunities (54 percent) and explore their own abilities (68 percent). Benefits for youth in terms of enhanced confidence and self-esteem through skill development are particularly important. Many studies show that giving back to the community also boosts self-confidence and better health and longevity for senior citizens.

My regular volunteer friend has said many times, "Itís an empty-nest, mid-life crisis syndrome for me. Everything you have worked for can be gone in a flash. So I had to find new meaning and new perspectives. I am a regular volunteer in Unang Hakbang Center for street children. To tutor the children with their homework and read them stories is an exhilarating experience, I forget my own problems and loneliness. Itís true, I feel stronger simply because of my outlook. There is no money involved, but I am empowered by giving back to the community. I am able to become positive about life again."

My other friend with mild depression declares, "I visit the sick kids in PGH regularly. Itís difficult to see their plight at first, but I try to help as many as I can. I talk to my friends and pool in some funds for medicines. Sometimes, I join medical missions with my doctor-friends. These are precious experiences for me. Though I donít do it to feel better, miraculously, I do! The smiles of the kids and their parents just stir something in me that keeps me on a high. Seeing a sick child get well was such a triumph, I felt like I was walking on a cloud. Even my chronic shoulder pain disappeared. Talk about endorphins! Itís better than a day in the spa!"

My own grandmother is 90 years old. Everyone marvels at her because she is strong, sharp, with 20/20 vision (after a cataract laser surgery). She knows all her grandchildrenís birthdays and knows their spousesí names, too. She walks (and travels) unattended and hears Mass daily. But I think her secret lies in the fact that she is truly involved in her civic activities. My lola is happy to be around to continue making this world a better place to live in. Her favorite (and mine) is the Mother Teresaís Missionaries of Charity Home for the Dying Destitute, where the old, sick and abandoned are housed. And her daily acts of kindness to her family and friends cannot be denied.

I am also going to check out Hands-On Manila Ė a volunteer clearing house tied up with over 30 organizations to give volunteers a wide variety. You can read stories to kids at Museo Pambata, serve hot meals at a Rotary soup kitchen, or join the regular Manila Zoo cleanup. They even arrange birthday parties in the spirit of volunteerism.

Why not try giving or volunteering to climb out of your dump? Feel those endorphins make you feel happy and build your resistance to sickness. Careful, though, feeling good can get addictive.

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Unang Hakbang Foundation accepts food donations, milk, sugar, toiletries, and tutorials for the street children. Call 637-4901 (look for Delia). PGH always needs medicine for its Pediatric ICU. Call 521-8450. Missionaries of Charity welcomes food, clothing, and company for the dying destitute. Call 242-8496 (look for Sister Caritas). Hands-On Manila may be reached at 843-7044.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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