How do you respond to calls of distress? Do you usually respond to them? Would you help someone despite of imminent danger? What was your most courageous experience?
A Story of Courage
Fourteen-year-old James Persyn III made it to the news when he helped a rape victim while looking after his two younger siblings amidst a house fire. That evening, James was left in charge of the house as his father had to pick up his fiancé from work. While watching TV, James suddenly heard a woman’s call for help. She had bruises and packing tape all over her. With quick thinking, James let the woman in, bolted the doors, and switched off the lights. He then took a knife to arm himself and led his sisters and the woman to hide in the bathroom. The woman’s attacker, Eric Ramsey, eventually came to the front door and threatened to kill them if they would not let him in. He then doused the house with gas and lit it on fire. Fortunately, James father was able to get back home in the nick of time. The police responded to the call and tracked down the rapist. Ramsey was then shot and killed.
Despite his age, James showed compassionate courage. He could have just thought of his own safety and ignored the cry for help. He could have just succumbed to fear and reasoned out that letting a stranger in would be too dangerous for him and his siblings. However, he felt for the woman’s plight and decided to do what he could to protect the people around him. Despite the risk, he did what was noble and stayed focused.
Training Our Brains To Be Courageous
What makes us act in bravery or cringe in fear? A study led by Dr. Yadin Dudai of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel looked into neural mechanisms in the event of courage. Through functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), scientists found out that the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex or “sgACC” was stimulated during courageous acts.
Interestingly, the brain region was also positively correlated with subjective fear levels while the snake-fearing-participants were bravely facing a live corn snake. Also, the temporal lobe which is the center for auditory, gustatory, and olfactory senses exhibited a decrease in activity when the participants’ levels of fear as well as courage increased.
The researchers furthered, “we propose a heuristic model wherein in the context of a fear-eliciting situation, goal-directed motivation to overcome fear leads to activation of the sgACC to reduce autonomic arousal and enable a display of courage” (Nili, Goldberg, Weizmann, & Dudai, 2010). In other words, it seems that this area of the brain is kicks in when a person is afraid and needs to do something important. When activated, this area reduces the fear response, allowing the person to act. This is basically what is required in order to display courage. The authors suggested that meditation would be a good way of training this area of the brain.
The world needs people like James. According to Tartandico’s article in Forbes, “courageous leaders are high in demand but short in supply these days” (2013). We need to cultivate precious habits such as leading change, being accountable, confronting reality head-on, taking action on performance issues, and communicating openly and frequently.
We have our own challenges to face, personal fears to vanquish, and loved ones to protect. Without courage, we may regret a number of failures and chances that simply pass by. In Maya Angelou’s words, “Courage is the most important of all virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently”.
Nili, U., Goldberg, H., Weizmann, A. & Dudai, Y. (2010). Fear thou not: Activity of frontal and temporal circuits in moments of real-life courage. Neuron, 66(6), 949-962.
Tartandico, S. (2013). 10 Traits of courageous leaders. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/susantardanico/2013/01/15/10-traits-of-courageous-leaders/
Are you capable of forgiving, even though you haven’t forgotten? Forgiveness helps you deal with all of the negative emotions that would otherwise remain bottled inside. It makes you feel better and research suggests that it may also have a vast range of health benefits.
Holding on stubbornly to a grudge could be worse for yourself than for the person that did you wrong. Start practicing forgiveness today and you’ll get to enjoy such a tremendous range of benefits. Here are some of the most important ones.
Why is Forgiveness Beneficial?
Understanding what forgiveness is can shed some light on why it happens to be so beneficial.
Each person has a specific definition of forgiveness that’s quite heavily dependent on context. One thing is certain, however – forgiveness is linked to positive emotions. People that forgive are moved by feelings of goodwill, regardless of the fact that somebody has wronged them.
The failure to forgive is characterized by a negative emotional state and holding on to the anger/hurt. Very often, people that can’t forgive experience resentment or even hatred towards the person that has hurt them. An interesting experiment shows that holding on to these negative emotions leads to physiological changes. When they were asked to think about someone that had done them wrong, people that were still hurt experienced an increase in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and profuse sweating. Their body immediately got in a state of emergency, hence stress. Needless to say, this stress can have negative health consequences in the long run.
The Health Benefits of Forgiveness
Why should you consider letting it go and dealing with the negative emotions? Apart from making you feel much better about yourself and your relationships with others, forgiveness can also impact your health:
A Vast Range of Additional Benefits
It makes you feel good and it improves your health – these are just two of the reasons why you should consider forgiving people and moving on with your life. Practicing mindful forgiveness can benefit your life in several additional ways, especially when it comes to your relationships with others.
A part improving the relationship between the person that needs to forgive and the one that’s asking for forgiveness, the act can “spill over” to other relationships, as well. A study presented in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that people who forgive are more likely to get involved with volunteer activities, social causes and altruistic behaviors towards friends and relatives. As a result, these people tend to enjoy a satisfactory social life and a feeling of being a valuable member of community.
What’s even more interesting, forgiveness seems to affect our perception of reality and our performance. Researchers worked with volunteers and they presented the interesting results of their experiment in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science. The volunteers were divided in two groups – members of the first group were asked to write about someone that they’ve forgiven and members of the second group – about someone that they simply couldn’t forgive.
Once the letters were written, the members of the two group were taken to the foot of a hill. The people that hadn’t forgiven saw the hill as steeper. The volunteers were also asked to jump up and down. People that belonged to the forgiving group jumped seven centimeters higher on average!
Learning how to forgive can be difficult, especially if you’ve been wronged seriously in the past. Still, holding on to the negative emotions seems to be doing you more harm than affecting the guilty party. Once you let go, deal with the anger and move on with your life, you’ll find out just how personally fulfilling forgiveness can be.
Anyone that’s ever tried volunteering knows how gratifying it could be. Still, should you consider such activities? Try to answer these questions – do you feel like something is missing? Maybe you’re not satisfied with the things you’re doing in life? If so, volunteering could be the answer. Dedicating just a medium bit of time on a weekly basis can help you feel much more fulfilled… not to mention the fact that volunteering is going to improve your mental health by helping you cope with negative emotions, inadequacy and anxiety.
Numerous studies have already been carried out and they all prove the amazing emotional benefits of volunteering. Would you like to learn why giving it a try is such a good idea? Sit down, relax and go through this article (before doing research about your favorite organizations that are currently looking for volunteers).
Volunteering and Mental Health: an Overview
By going through multiple studies, researchers have found out that volunteers tend to experience lower levels of depression and enhanced wellbeing than people that don’t get involved in such activities.
Most volunteers say that they do it because of the need to give something back. They experience a number of added benefits like getting to meet new people or acquiring practical skills. Researchers, however, are convinced that the benefits of volunteering and community work go much deeper.
Though researchers still can’t identify the exact mechanism in which volunteering delivers mental health improvements, they’re confident in the benefits that most volunteers experience.
Volunteering improves self-esteem and gives individuals a sense of purpose. It enables similar-minded individuals to get together and do something beneficial. As a result, many people have expanded their social circles and even formed a support system. There are no ulterior motives in volunteering, which contributes to a sense of purpose and fulfillment of the purest kind.
The Mental and Physiological Health Benefits of Volunteering
It’s still difficult to pinpoint the exact way in which volunteering improves health but one thing is certain – it’s as beneficial for the recipient as it is for the volunteer. People that are regularly involved in social causes and volunteering activities tend to enjoy all of the following:
Tips of Getting Started with Volunteering - Even a Medium Amount
Getting started with volunteering is far from challenging, even if you’ve never done it before. So many websites and social media feature groups and information about causes and organizations in need of support – all that you have to do is pick the one that you identify with.
To make the most of volunteering, think about your goals and the causes that you feel most passionate about. Believing in the work you’re doing and its ability to lead to actual improvements happen to be incredibly important for getting the sense of complete satisfaction out of volunteering.
Would you like to work with children? Seniors? People that have certain disabilities? Representatives of minority groups? Or maybe you care about nature and animals? Dedicate some time to doing research and acquainting yourself with the possibilities. Volunteering opportunities aren’t all the same. You’ll be donating some time to a cause, which is why you have to make it count.
Finally, remember to enjoy yourself during the process. The best volunteering experience are exciting and fun. They benefit the recipients and the volunteers. Make sure that you’re working with similar-minded individuals and that you’re experiencing the sense of fulfillment that should be stemming from the best volunteering opportunities.
What’s the meaning of life, why are we here? Chances are that you’ve asked yourself these questions at least several times. We’re wired to look for a deeper meaning and a purpose that goes beyond our mere existence.
Asking these questions and working consciously on finding the answer could have a profound impact on your life, regardless of the result. It’s incredibly important to seek the higher purpose instead of just wondering aimlessly through life and here’s why.
The Benefits of Finding the Meaning of Life: What Science has to Say
One of the most prominent studies in the field was presented in the Psychological Science journal. Carleton University’s Patrick Hill found out that people who sought a greater sense of purpose had a lower mortality risk across their lifespan than people who simply lived day for day.
Purpose has proven to have a profound impact on both emotional and physical health. Various studies suggest that it could have a surprising effect on a range of processes – from the speed at which people recover from surgeries to even reducing the risk of experiencing Alzheimer’s disease.
Some researchers believe that by seeking for a higher purpose, people are capable of ignoring everyday stressors and reducing the impact these have on health. The focus on the future keeps individuals from getting overly-involved with negative influences that don’t really matter in the long run (but that could be harmful).
Five Reasons Why having a Purpose in Life Makes Sense
Searching for the meaning of life is one of the instances in which the quest happens to be much more important than the outcome. Consciously seeking the answer and looking forward to the future results in several interesting health benefits that others don’t experience:
Looking for Meaning
Society is becoming more and more nihilistic, regardless of the fact that spirituality and soul searching seem to have an impact that goes well-beyond the divine realm. US studies suggest that nearly 40 percent of Americans have no clear sense of life purpose or desire to discover a deeper meaning.
Developing a sense of spirituality can be much bigger than just visiting a psychic or medium. It is important to search authentically in your mind, body and spirit.
Cultivating purpose does require conscious effort for the vast majority of individuals. This conscious effort has to extend beyond everyday existence, professional tasks and cheap entertainment. Avoiding the questions and the uncertainty that stems from the lack of answers happens to be the easiest road for the vast majority of people.
Leading a more meaningful life and trying to get answers may seem scary and challenging but getting started will require just a couple of small steps.
Ask yourself a few basic questions every single day. Do my activities matter? Am I contributing to the larger good? Am I moving forward? How are my activities affecting my own self? Looking for such answers is probably one of the biggest essentials for cultivating a purpose.
The purpose of life isn’t universal – focus on what you’re passionate about and what matters. It could be much smaller than the altruistic contributions of others but as long as it’s giving you a sense of purpose, chances are that it’s the right thing for you.
Stand for something. Develop your principles. Be aware of yourself, your actions, your mistakes and the way in which these affect others. Once you realize that everything we do has consequences and our activities matter, chances are that you’ll start leading a much more mindful and purposeful existence.
Whether you’re religious or not, chances are that you feel the need to pray in tough situations. There’s a simple explanation for the phenomenon – prayer has the power to soothe you and give you the tools to deal with stress.
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re praying for yourself or for somebody else. This method of spiritual “communication” will give you an opportunity to experience a vast range of benefits that go well beyond your religious convictions.
The Effects of Prayer on Mental Health
A new and intriguing study examines the link between prayer and improved mental health. According to the researchers, the attributes that praying individuals give to God (loving and forgiving or harsh and punishing) affect the manner in which prayer is going to affect their mental health.
The researchers examined the data of 1,714 volunteers. Surprisingly, people that prayed to a loving and forgiving God were the ones less likely to experience any anxiety-related disorder. Through prayer, these people formed a “relationship” with God, which gave them a sense of security and peacefulness.
Other individuals, however, believe that God is distant and harsh. Thus, they have a relationship that’s based on fear and insecurities. These individuals don’t enjoy any of the positive mental health effects that people praying to a loving God get to experience.
Prayer and Physical Health
The positive impact of prayer goes beyond emotional health. Faster healing and enhanced recovery from medical conditions have both been linked to strong faith and its verbalization through prayer.
More than 1,200 studies have been carried out to assess the impact of prayer on health.
Researchers have found out that hospitalized individuals that don’t pray or go to church tend to have a stay that’s three times longer than the one of individuals that pray regularly. What’s even more interesting – elderly individuals that don’t go to church are 14 times more likely to die of a stroke than churchgoers.
An Israeli study has also established that religious individuals are nearly 40 percent less likely to die of a cardiovascular problem or cancer.
The positive emotional impact of prayer could be one of the reasons for improved health and enhanced recovery from medical conditions. Studies suggest that people who pray often are less likely to experience depression than the ones that don’t. Depression is a major factor that stands in the way of physical recovery and that could aggravate a vast range of medical problems.
Other Scientifically Proven Benefits of Prayer
The benefits of prayer happen to be quite diversified. Apart from enjoying better mental health and enhanced physical recovery from illness, individuals that pray frequently and believe in God also tend to also experience:
How Does it Work?
The question has already been answered partially but how does prayer work and why does it deliver such a vast range of benefits?
One study suggests that our cognitive resources are limited, which is why we’re capable of handling so much before getting down. Prayer is one of the tools that can be used to replenish those cognitive resources.
Thomas Jefferson Hospital physician Andrew Newberg has found out that people experience brain changes as a result of prayer. Prayer has the power to change four of the important brain regions. These affect a range of physiological functions like blood pressure, heart rate and immune response, among many others. The brain changes experienced during prayer could be the ones responsible for the positive health effects that individuals experience.
Regardless of your beliefs, prayer could help both in your daily life and in periods of hardships. Even researchers have agreed that it’s beneficial so why not give it a try?