Saturday, January 10, 2015

Cognitive Shift: An Expert's Take

Dr. Sherry Hamby is a Research Professor of Psychology at Sewanee, and is the founding editor of the APA journal, Psychology of Violence. I was fortunate enough to take some classes with her while I was at Sewanee, and absolutely loved them. I reached out to her to ask her to write guest blog from her angle about an article I posted a while ago:

Cognitive Shift

Here's what Dr. Hamby has to say:

Roshni's blog has many good insights about the challenges of emotional regulation and learning to focus on the positive.  These are challenges that all of face.  There are three main areas that help us deal with adversity and achieve the sort of well-being and happiness that everyone wants:  self-regulation, interpersonal relationships, and meaning making, which can be spiritual or religious but does not have to be. 

We've identified some key skills in each of these areas.  Some of them are the same ones that Roshni has identified too—emotional awareness and emotional regulation are two of the most important strengths for mental health and well-being.  It is ok to feel upset and angry—we all do sometimes—but it is also important to recognize those feelings and make conscious choices about when and how to act on them.  Endurance is another important regulatory skill—the ability to keep going even when things are tough.  In the interpersonal domain it is important to develop compassion and empathy, to figure out ways to give back to others, and to find a supportive community. In the meaning making domain, the optimism that Roshni describes is important.  So is finding a purpose in life and getting involved in something bigger than yourself, whether through church or elsewhere. 

How do you get better at these strengths?  We recommend expressive writing—even a few sessions writing about your experiences can help you better understand them.  This helps with purpose and emotional regulation.  Learning a few skills in meditation and mindfulness can also help with emotional awareness and compassion.  Volunteering helps the volunteers probably as much as it helps the recipients of volunteer efforts.  Even basic things like regular exercise can help strengthen many of these characteristics.  Recent data suggests exercise is about as effective as many other treatments for depression.

So, take Roshni's advice to heart.  We all have difficult experiences but we can still work toward greater well-being and happiness. 

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