Grandpa and Dad doing the workWhen people feel alienated and socially excluded, they are at risk for depression and anxiety. When they think that they aren’t part of their community, they may use unhealthy ways to connect or not feel the loneliness.

The more isolated they become the more difficult it is to be around people or reach out. Some may believe that they have nothing to offer. They avoid people despite their loneliness. The more isolated they are and the longer the isolation continues, the more negative their thinking and the more entrenched the avoidance behavior becomes.

What type of  healthy coping skill can help?  It’s not possible to suddenly feel like you have friends or to find a loving partner. You can’t suddenly create a close family. This is the situation that many emotionally sensitive people who suffer from depression may experience.

Volunteering seems to be one of the best activities to overcome isolation and alienation. Volunteering offers a way to feel like a valued member of a community and provides important connections with others. Through volunteering, individuals see that they can make a difference in the lives of others or animals and are needed.

They are connected with others, feel valued, and may develop a greater sense of autonomy. People who volunteer change their views of themselves to a more positive one.  They have an opportunity to learn new social skills and to practice those skills. There may even be positive results in the physical health of those who volunteer.

Depending on the type of volunteering you do, it may also offer a way of having fun. Maybe you could volunteer in an area that you are passionate about. When you are doing an activity that you find interesting, it can increase your energy and replenish your motivation. Some learn business skills that help them in their careers.

Volunteering can offer many benefits. What stops people from participating?

Sometimes there are too many choices. Too many choices can be overwhelming. Web pages listing local opportunities are sometimes very lengthy. Choosing one opportunity from many  can seem too difficult. It’s easier to just give up, especially when you’re having difficulty concentrating anyway.

Change is difficult. I don’t think I can overemphasize how difficult it is to change your behavior. That law in physics that says that an object at rest tends to stay at rest comes to mind. People who are isolated tend to stay in isolation. The energy it takes to do anything different is tremendous and sometimes feels like it’s just too much to attempt. Plus, even though the status quo may not be pleasant, at least you know what it’s like. It’s familiar.  The unknown may be worse. The unknown is frightening.

Fear can stop your best efforts. Fear of rejection, fear of not knowing what to do, fear that you won’t be able to do what is asked of you, fear of people–there are so many fears that can cripple your efforts to take part in an activity that will benefit you. Unfortunately, waiting for the fear to go away is unlikely to work. Overcoming fear of an activity usually means doing the action that scares you.

Fatigue keeps you trapped.  Depression and anxiety zap your energy. You may be feeling chronically tired so that it seems impossible to be active in volunteering. You can’t move off the couch, how could you help repair someone’s house? Becoming more active builds energy and helps you overcome lethargy. But that first step may seem impossible.

Lack of belief and hope.  If you don’t think volunteering will help, then it would be difficult to overcome the fear, lethargy or other concerns that keep you from trying it. Part of the viciousness of mood disorders is that lack of hope.

Perhaps you’ve hoped many times before and been disappointed. This is where making a commitment comes in. Making a commitment, a full-hearted commitment, helps you overcome the obstacles and is a critical part of any recovery.

Going through the motions will not work well, though if that’s all you can do, then that’s a start. If that’s where you are, remember to keep going to the point where you are actively involved in the activity you chose. Being fully committed is necessary to get the results you want.


Note to readers:  If you are emotionally sensitive (whether somewhat or a lot!) please consider taking a brief survey to help us learn more: . Thank you!

Creative Commons License photo credit: StartAgain


Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

10 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Hall, K. (2012). Volunteering. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 17, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Mar 2012
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.