May 2, 2020
One of my earliest memories involves prayer. When I was four, my grandmother woke me late one night and took me to our porch. We saw the stars sparkle in the sky. She asked to me kneel and look up into the sky. Then, she talked to me about God and Jesus. She taught me how to pray. She told me to pray when I felt sad or happy or wished to help other people.
I was an anxious child, having been hospitalized many times before the age of eight for a chronic illness. This moment on the porch with my grandmother changed my life. It is when I started my prayer journey to improve my life and the lives of others.
My belief in the power of prayer grew even stronger thanks to my formal training as a physician. One day during supervision with my late mentor Dr Carl C Bell, I had an aha moment. A study scientifically proved that African American women who prayed developed increased resilience than those who did not. Prayer enabled them to better face their personal challenges.
Many studies that followed indicate that prayer, meditation, mindfulness, yoga and Tai Chi can improve psychological functioning. These practices can lower stress, lower blood pressure and improve the immune system. They also increase dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with states of well-being and joy.
Prayer may even reshape the brain. People who pray or meditate essentially see a calming of activity in their parietal lobes, the area of the brain area that creates a sense of self. Some researchers believe this change in brain activity allows rewriting the neural connections in the brain and alters how people see the world. The effects appear to be more than just achieving enhanced focus and concentration. They can promote a more positive outlook and strengthen the will to live. Praying for oneself and for others benefits spiritual health, relationships, self-esteem and overall mental health.
I have been reflecting on this while sheltering at home from COVID-19. During this difficult time, prayer has been more essential than ever.
The lack of human touch or connections make many of us feel emotional deprivation, fear and uncertainty. Too many of us will experience the sudden loss of loved ones or financial stress. Prayer is more important now than ever. Prayer can improve feelings of isolation, loneliness, lack of control, social deprivation, anticipatory stress, depression and anxiety. As we continue to shelter at home, remember the power of prayer and stay strong!
Understanding culture is vital for healthcare professionals and their patients. In her book, Are You Culturally Competent? Elisa P. Bell, M.D. bridges cultural gaps to improve healthcare outcomes.
By Elisa P. Bell, M.D., Board certified physician in both adult and child/adolescent psychiatry