College induces a lot of stress in students and everyone finds a way to deal with it. As the beginning of the semester approaches I would suggest volunteering as a great stress reliever. The best part is that volunteering does more than just reduce stress. There are two main benefits for students who volunteer. First, studies have shown that it can help reduce stress. Second, if students continue to volunteer, it can become a part of their self-concept and continuously provide benefits.
Dr. Franzoi, in his Introduction to Social Psychology, dedicates an entire chapter to prosocial behavior; voluntary behavior that is carried out to benefit another person. Dr. Franzoi cites research showing the benefits of prosocial behavior in general, which is the same for volunteering. Volunteering helps increase feelings of social worth and a sense of well-being, which is an indication of the benefits it provides for health.
Let’s focus on well-being. when college gets really stressful it decreases well-being and students start to question if they can even make it through the rest of the semester. If these are the students’ thoughts, this only causes more stress, worry, and anxiety. How can students properly study when all of this is weighing them down? Let me tell you, they can’t. Studies have shown that too much stress hinders learning. With so much happening with classes and other activities, how can they become stress-free? Well, the goal isn’t to become stress-free (there is an optimal level of stress. If you cross it your memory gets worse; it’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law), but to lower it to a beneficial level. This can be accomplished by volunteering.
According to Clary and Snyder, in their article The Motivations to Volunteer: Theoretical and Practical Considerations, one of the motivations of volunteering is protective. This protective motivation is to reduce negative feelings, which can include stress. Therefore, students can manage their stress by volunteering.
The second benefit is a longer lasting one. If students commit to volunteering, it will become part of their self-concept; defined by Franzoi as the “story” that a person constructs about herself or himself through social interaction. Making it part of their self-concept, they will continue to benefit society by helping others and their motivation will change. Clary’s and Snyder’s volunteer functions inventory has five motivations in addition to the protective motive.
The one that will become their driving motivation is values. The values motive means that that person thinks helping people is important. This change in motive will help students to continue to ingrain helping others into their self-concept.
When these students get married and have children, their self-concept and actions will have a large impact on their children’s self-concept, and through that, their behavior. Social learning theory states that people learn social behavior mainly through observation and cognitive processing of information. Children observe their parents often, therefore if the parents are showing that their behavior and actions should be helpful to others, the children will also learn that.
The benefits that students’ will receive from volunteering are numerous. There are many more that I didn’t discuss in this article, but the reason for volunteering right now is the stress relief that will help students during the semester. If students then adopt helping others into their self-concept by continuing to volunteer, they will shape their children into people who help others and, if the self-concept is strong, they will continue the circle.