New Zealand flags at half mast on Auckland Harbour Bridge Dec 2019.

While escaping another frigid Minnesota winter down here in New Zealand, one of their volcanic islands, Whakaari/White Island erupted about 150 miles away from Auckland where we were staying. As Mr. Rogers always said, “Look for the helpers.” And wow, have there been helpers. Some taking daring, heroic and altruistic actions to help save lives. You can see one of the many news reports on these heroic actions here. 

Altruism is one of the keys to growing hope and happiness as I learned from our sponsor, ERC at their presentation on happiness on September: EDCI (Eating Disorders Coalition of Iowa) & NEDN – (Nebraska ED Network) Omaha, NE – “Psychology of Happiness, a Provider and Patient Perspective” –Dr. Ralph Carson, RD, LD, PhD and ERC National Recovery Advocate Shannon Kopp.

Whether it is giving up your seat on the bus to someone who needs to sit more than you do, helping rescue dogs like Shannon does or going back to a volcanic island to save survivors, these acts people do without concern for themselves creates new cells in the left pre-frontal cortex region of the brain. 

In their presentation we learned about the brain and neuroscience from Dr. Carson and how Shannon was able to change her brain while working with dogs. Together they showed us how a person can grow the number of cells in the Left Prefrontal Cortex region of the brain. And why that makes people happier and able to function without their eating disorders behaviors. 

When we understand what is happening in the brain and how people with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other brain illnesses don’t have enough cells in the part of the brain (Left Pre-frontal Cortex) that defines happiness it can increase our compassion. 

When we increase our compassion, it reduces our frustration so we can utilize new tools and skills. 

There are many ways to increase the number of cells in the Left Pre-frontal Cortex (PFC) of the brain! You can see the webinars Shannon Kopp and Eating Recovery Center do here at Say It Brave.

You can see the rest of this blog post article here to find out the other keys to growing hope and happiness from these two experts. 

When you’re a family caregiver of someone with an eating disorder, fear can engage the right side of the pre-frontal cortex which helps keep us safe, it also can give us chemistry that keeps us miserable. Dr. Carson shared that to grow our hope and happiness we need to engage the left pre-frontal cortex to balance out the cells between the two sides. We can actually create new cells through neurogenesis or (neuro-regeneration) in the left PFC by using the different key tools. 

This key tool of “altruism” helps grow those new cells on the left PFC. Doing something for others with no concern for ourselves can actually help our brain help us be happier. 

So how do we balance this with the message I’m constantly sharing of putting our oxygen mask on first you ask? 

Great question! One of my favorites. 

When we put ourselves at the top of our list, give to ourselves, it plugs the holes in our cups and fills them up by helping our brains create the balanced chemistry. THEN we have something to give to others. THEN we are able to do these altruistic actions to help others.  

For now, how about this oxygen giving experience I gave myself

We need to have those cups filled, not drained. Getting to this place of balance takes time and tweaking to find the balance that works for us. I don’t like knitting, that would not fill me up. Others don’t like hiking, that would not fill them up. Caregivers need help to believe this is not selfish. 

It helps to get clarity on our values. To learn to let go of unhelpful messages or beliefs we’ve picked up along the way.

We cannot help others until we’ve taken care of ourselves. 

One of these days I’ll get a photo of me with an airline oxygen mask to share with you. Until then…I’ll be hiking mountains to keep my oxygen mask in place and filling up my cup.