By Dr Javed Latoo, a Psychiatrist
One thing I particularly admire about my psychology colleagues is that they evolve, innovate, adapt and change, unlike my psychiatry colleagues. Once they realise their treatments like CBT or Mindfulness can be given even by those who are not psychologists, they innovate something new like Mindfulness based CBT called MCBT. Once they realise someone else can do MCBT as well, they will innovate something new. Fifteen years ago many psychologists would frown on the diagnosis of personality disorders made by psychiatrists. They would not even believe in the diagnosis of personality disorders. Today most of personality disorders services are run and led by psychologists.
Psychology until recent times mainly focussed on the treatment of mental illness like depression and anxiety and combating negative thinking. It was not until early 1980's that a new branch of psychology popularly known as Positive Psychology developed under the guidance of its founder Martin Seligman. Positive emotions like Happiness, Gratitude, Kindness and Compassion became a focus of research to understand ways to improve well-being, contentment, and happiness.
Positive Psychology or pursuit of happiness has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Happiness gurus, pundits, self-help books, DVDs, talks, and mindfulness are all part of this movement. All are trying to help people to achieve happiness by the development of positive emotions. This industry has become particularly popular in the West. Most of the information contained in these resources is centuries old and is part of traditional eastern wisdom, philosophy, and major religions. We have now realised that our economic prosperity in last few decades has not necessarily increased general happiness or contentment of people or nations.
Function of negative and positive emotions
As humans, we experience both positive and negative emotions. Both play a significant role in our being. Research has shown that negative emotions play a vital role in our lives. For example, an emotion of anger helps us to correct injustice. As far as anxiety is concerned, it can warn us about impending dangers. Do positive emotions have any survival role?
While studying positive emotions, Barbara Fredrickson developed her Broaden-and-Build model. She proposes that when we are in the negative emotional state, we develop cognitive tunnel vision that can narrow our cognitive range. But if we are in the positive mental state, we have broad cognitive range and tend to think more broadly. We already know from our experience that we tend to be more social and interactive when in the positive mental state as compared to when we are in the negative mental state.
A recent survey by Columbia University and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) reported that Norway, Denmark and Iceland are three happiest countries in the world. Even though Qatar is the richest country in the world, it did not even rank in the list of top 20 happiest countries. The USA ranked 14 on happiness index despite being a country with the largest economy. Again Japan is at 51st place even though it has the longest life expectancy. This survey highlights that money, or high life expectancy does not necessarily make people happy.
As we all have probably heard about there being two ways to look at life " glass half full or glass half empty." People who look at life as "glass half full" are more optimistic, less stressed, and have increased contentment with their lives. Studies have shown people who maintain a regular gratitude journal can be more positive, less stressed, less anxious and more satisfied with their lives as compared to those who don't write a gratitude journal. Amy Morin summarises benefits of Gratitude including better sleep, mental health, physical health, relationships and self-esteem. These reports are not surprising as this research again confirms ancient wisdom on gratitude contained in most major religions and eastern traditions.
We all know that emotions like compassion and kindness can have a positive impact on our lives. Loving-kindness meditation is an exercise to develop compassion and kindness. Though it is part of all the main religions. Meditation guru Sharon Salzberg popularised it in the West. A study by Helen Weng has reported that daily practice of loving-kindness meditation can not only increase empathy, but it can also make one more altruistic. Thus compassion, kindness, and altruism can be learned through an exercise called loving-kindness meditation. In another Barbara Fredrickson reported that loving-kindness meditation could increase the daily experience of positive emotions as well as an increase in personal resources including purpose in life.
Benefits of positive emotions
Studies have highlighted following advantages of various positive emotions
Strategies to promote positive emotions
Researchers like Judith Moskowitz have studied various strategies that can us help with developing positive emotions. Research now supports some of following strategies to develop positive emotions
Reference and further reading
Jason M Satterfield ( 2015) Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain. The Great Courses
Cite this article as:
Javed Latoo (2017). Developing Positive Emotions: The Beautiful Space-A journal of Mind, Art and Poetry. April 2017: TBSB117
By Dr. Minal Mistry, Psychiatrist
In my professional practice, I diagnose and treat people with “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder”, or PTSD. I work in a specialized clinic for veterans and a general mental health clinic, and have noticed how common PTSD is becoming. PTSD has a lifetime prevalence of 7.8% in adult Americans, with women twice as likely as men to develop the disorder. PTSD is a widely recognized mental disorder that is potentially very disabling and impacts on the sufferer and their loved ones.
What is PTSD?
You may have heard of PTSD from the media as a condition that can affect ex-military and first responders who have been exposed to life threatening traumatic incidents in the course of their work e.g. war combat. You may have also come across people in the general population who suffered PTSD as a result of being involved in severe events - natural disasters such as earthquakes.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fifth edition (DSM–5), symptoms to watch out for include:
Cancer and PTSD associations
A qualitative review, published in The Lancet this year, confirmed the connection between PTSD and cancer based on the trauma of dealing with a life-threatening medical diagnosis such as cancer. This strikes a chord with me as a close family member of mine received a diagnosis of cancer recently. The latest research suggests links between cancer and PTSD.
The researchers, Cordova and colleagues, showed that 37-60% of cancer survivors had PTSD symptoms. Specific aspects of phases of cancer diagnosis acting as a trauma include: events prior to an official diagnosis being made (“cancer-scare”), receiving the diagnosis, undergoing investigations with associated uncertainty, and worry about the cancer returning. They also state that, amongst other risk factors, having a prior history of trauma correlates with cancer-related PTSD.
The authors have stated that are warning signs that may predict who are more likely to get PTSD:
Cardiovascular disease is a consequence of, and a risk factor for, PTSD
We already know that cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart disease) and depression are closely linked because depression is a risk factor for heart disease, and having heart disease can increase the risk of depression. However, another 2017 The Lancet paper, a large systematic review and meta-analysis by Donald Edmondson and Roland von Känel, adds to this knowledge with respect to cardiovascular illness and PTSD.
Similar to the cancer and PTSD research, the authors stated that the environmental factors involved in receiving diagnosis and care for cardiovascular disease (e.g. being in an overcrowded emergency room, perceived poor communication with the clinician, exposure to other people who are close to death, and intensive care unit stay) may increase the likelihood of subsequent PTSD. They also revealed that the reverse is true: PTSD increases the risk of cardiovascular events by 53% (or 27% when the results were adjusted to take into account depression).
The researchers also raised our attention to warning signs to help predict who is more likely to experience PTSD-induced cardiac problems:
What does all this mean?
The significance of the findings from these Lancet research papers is two-fold:
The importance of understanding how our mental health interacts with our physical health (mind-body connection) should not be underestimated. We must look after our health so that our physical and mental health is being addressed simultaneously since they are intricately linked. Regardless of whether we are going through mental or physical illness, non-medication strategies (e.g. yoga, meditation, exercise, keeping active, healthy eating and lifestyle changes) can create harmony between the physical and mental – hopefully leading to a happier and healthier path in life.
Cite this article as: Minal Mistry (2017). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Physical Illness: The Beautiful Space-A journal of Mind, Art and Poetry. April 2017: TBSB116
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