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Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Metacognition #6

9:09 AM Posted by Tiffany Taft ,
I'm taking a detour this week from the topic I was going to post about to share some interesting findings from Dennis Charney, MD who is a leading expert at Mount Sinai Medical Center on mood disorders and "resilience" - or our ability to overcome stress brought on by adversity.  Resilience is a bit of a buzz word in psychology these days, but there are some important topics that Dr. Charney covered in a recent interview on the Shrink Rap podcast on 10/19/2012.  You can hear the whole interview here.  Dr. Charney discussed 7 elements that are key to being a resilient person:

Realistic versus Blind or "Polly Anna" Optimism:
Realistic optimism is when we stop and realistically evaluate our situation, compare the resources we have on hand to face the adversity, and conclude that we can, in fact, prevail.  Blind optimism does not involve this assessment, and is what I like to call the "sunshine, puppies, and roses perspective."  Optimism is somewhat genetic, but the good news is everyone can learn how to be more optimistic by changing their thinking patterns.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help.

Embrace A Personal Moral Compass
This means having a set of core beliefs that very few things can change.  This could be spirituality, faith, doing good deeds for others without expecting things in return (altruism), or other things that bring meaning to your life.

Find A Resilient Role Model
Reach out and connect with others who have been where you are today and learn from them on how to move forward.  There are many patient advocacy groups run by incredible people who understand, who've "been there" and can teach you.  Ideally, find several role models so you can gain multiple perspectives and decide which strategies might work best for you.

Face Your Fears
"Fear is normal and can be used as a guide." The root of chronic anxiety is avoiding the things that we're afraid of.  The only way to break that cycle is to face the feared event and see if what we think might happen (remember catastrophizing?) actually does.  We also increase our self-esteem and self-confidence when we face our fears because we learn that we can, in fact, handle things better than we may believe when our thinking is clouded by fear and anxiety.

Keep a Social Safety Net
What is your social support network like?  The type of people that you're surrounded by in life play a key role in how resilient you are.  Even having 1 person who "gets it" improves your mental well-being, and having close relationships with others who have gone through similar challenges is important.

Physical exercise improves your mood, brain function, ability to learn and remember, and to regulate your emotions in a positive way.  All of these things are critical to resiliency.

Embrace Cognitive Flexibility
After you've been through a challenging or traumatizing event, try to work through the meaning of what happened to you.  In people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) the urge is to avoid thinking about the traumatic event at all costs because it is so upsetting.  Unfortunately this doesn't allow our brains to process the information in a meaningful way, and it ends up being stored differently than other memories.  You don't have to have PTSD to benefit from cognitive flexibility.  Thinking about your situation in more depth helps you accept what happened and move forward.

What do you think?  How have you embraced, or struggled with, resiliency in your life?