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Positive Psychology and Its Effect on The Well Being Of Those Who Live With Chronic Illnesses
Positive psychology and its positive effect on those afflicted with illness is not a brand-new idea or notion. It is based on the beginning stages and works of psychologists who focused on what individuals can achieve and in recognizing the many conditions necessary for the psychological well-being and psychological evolution. The earliest inquiring minds on the subject focused more on the scientific application of their theories because observed support for these theories is relatively rare and unknown.
The primary objective of positive psychology is to promote general well-being and growth in the universal population. Most of this information has a primary emphasis on character strengths, and how they fit in with health in patients with a extensive number of conditions and illnesses; in both the physical and the mental sense. (Macaskill, 2016) There are several ways that we judge ourselves or others to be “ill” and sometimes they don’t fit exactly right with each other. The relationships between mental, physical and spiritual well-being will continue to be explored for years to come, but there is no denying the correlation between them.
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (Kühn & Rieger, n.d.) Positive psychology focuses on assessing well-being, not ill health, so it’s not entirely absurd or shocking that most research is focused mostly on non-clinical populations. However, there is a shift happening and positive psychology is being applied and recognized in the healthcare setting as well. There are many different types of ways we deal and look at health issues. Since the beginning of times, there have been a germ, illness, and diseases, and there has also been our fear of them. Our book talks about the three main eras of sickness and disease treatment. The first two eras deal mostly with the idea that if you do exactly what the Doctor tells you, then you will feel better. There weren’t many questions asked, and if you followed the doctor’s orders, you got better. We know that is not always the case, and that you must be accountable for the part your healing. We are currently in the 3rd era, and this era encourages us to behave in ways that promote positive health and healing. When we begin to see good health as something that can be intentionally and consciously nurtured and cultivated positively, our view of good health and what that means begins to change. The 3rd era’s focus is how health and illness are treated, and the amount of attention paid to the way we live. It is long believed that good health helps set a foundation for long life and resilience and that it begins within ourselves. Our behavior factors heavily into our health, and it is widely accepted that certain groups of people are likely to develop certain illnesses than others due to their lifestyle. For example, it is common knowledge that if you are sleeping at least 8 hours a night, exercising, not smoking or drinking, and eating the right meals you are more than likely going to have a longer life than those who acted against themselves in less healthy ways. The healthy activities help cut down on things like cardiovascular disease, depression, and certain types of cancers.
The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics defines chronic disease as one that lasts for at least three months. Chronic diseases are rarely prevented by vaccines and are not usually cured by medication, nor do they disappear. Eighty-eight percent of Americans over 65 years of age have at least one chronic health condition. (Bernell & Howard, “Use Your Words Carefully: What Is a Chronic Disease?,” n.d.) Health-damaging behaviors most prevalently tobacco use, lack of physical activity, and poor eating habits – are significant contributors to the leading chronic diseases. The leading chronic diseases in developed countries include arthritis, cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and stroke, cancer such as breast and colon cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and seizures, obesity, and oral health problems. One of the hardest things that patients with chronic illnesses, aside from the illness itself, must contend with is themselves. It is very easy for people to use their pain as a reason to be unwell both mentally and physically. The truth, as we have come to know and continue to attempt to understand, is that the body can heal itself in many ways. We expect physicians to be vigilant and use any intervention, whether it be extreme or not, to try to combat our diseases. It can be said that sometimes we take no accountability onto ourselves for our mindset towards our illnesses. Scientists and other medical professionals can often take note of a patient’s behavior and can almost tell who is willing to get better and who maybe isn’t strong enough mentally, physically and emotionally to help themselves. It is a common belief that one’s mind and body reflect one another. Early Grecian intellectuals firmly believed that to heal someone, you would need to attend to the mind, as well as the body. One cannot be well without the other, and ancient beauty standards were based on this belief as well. Inner beauty and outer beauty were in a defined and mutual relationship. In contrast, there is also the beliefs in mind-body dualism. This is the belief of perceiving one’s mind and body as two distinct entities (Forstman, Burgmer, & Mussweiler, 2012). This is found in several human and animal cultures. French Philosopher Rene Descartes held firm in his belief that there was a distinct and clear separation of mind and body. He was one of the first brilliant minds to attempt to understood and make a theory about the mechanics of the human body and how we move. Some of his opinions were correct, but he was wrong about how nerves work. However, his early hypothesis set the foundation for what we now know about how the mind and body work in conjunction with one another. It is hard to explain, and even harder to prove, but the correlations and interactions exist. Health psychology is what we use to apply psychological theories to research the subject of physical well-being. Behavioral medicine develops on old methods of medications and treatment and uses it to expand those ideas into the context of health and illness.
Today, the way we understand and interpret ourselves as humans have changed dramatically. We now define health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Unfortunately, some patients and physicians still subscribe to the mind-body dualism because it is what is familiar to them or because they are skeptics because of the lack of “proof” or dislike the unscientific viewpoint. In 2018, we have seen a massive surge in holistic medicines, essential oils and other less invasive of medicinal ways of dealing with illness and diseases. Many of us no longer subscribe to the idea that being free of disease and illness means being healthy. We realize more and more than to be healthy we must take care of our bodies and our psyche. Chronic or long-term illness means having to adjust to the difficulties of the illness, and the therapies used to treat them. More than likely, some additional stresses and worries come with chronic illness. It changes the way you live, see yourself and see others; but there are ways to cope with your illness. We have all made mistakes, dealt with failures and experienced losses on all levels. As with anything else, the way we learn to deal with issues and overcome obstacles all starts with how to choose to respond. It is an entirely “normal” response to shut down and shut out during the most difficult situations. Positive psychologists have found that some people actually flourish under pressure, stress and traumatic situations. For example, a child who has
experienced negative situations and adversity may grow up to overcome and thrive in adulthood. Many people regard children as sensitive, fragile and vulnerable; which many of them can be, but not every child fits that profile. There is a word that psychologists use to explain or describe the quality that allows people to thrive and succeed in the face of adversity and hardship, and that world is Resilient. Many psychologists agree that there is potential for anyone, to develop resiliency. The main ideas and strengths behind resiliency are persistence, strong motivation towards success and high, but reasonable goals and an overall sense of purpose, and hope for the future. Resilience is a quality among the mentally healthy and well. Going along with resilience is hardiness. People who experience high degrees of stress without falling ill have a personality structure different from persons who become ill under stress. This personality characteristic is called hardiness. “Hardy persons are considered to possess three general characteristics: the belief that they can control or influence the events of their experience (control), an ability to feel deeply involved in or committed to the activities of their lives (commitment), and the anticipation of change as an exciting challenge to further development (challenge).” (Brooks, “Health-Related Hardiness in Individuals With Chronic Illnesses,” n.d.) Hardiness is described as a personality trait that buffers and acts as a shield against the effect of stress. Hardy people
use the darkness of their lives and illness not as a crutch but as a point of strength, control, and courage. Health-related hardiness and resiliency are what makes individuals adapt to their health problems and choosing to fight and cope, both mentally, physically and spiritually.
Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% of how we react to it. We must choose, actively to participate and take responsibility for our actions, so why wouldn’t it be the same for the way we think? The relationship between mind and body has been disputed for years and will continue to be debated for many more, but the one thing that stands firm is that illness and diseases happen. Some are curable, some are manageable and treatable, but all are looked at with such negativity that it leads to an overwhelming feeling of defeat. There are several self-intervention and self-management options for those who deal with long-term and often debilitating chronic illness. Self-management education helps balance traditional patient education in supporting patients to live the best possible quality of life with their chronic condition (Bodenheimer, Lorig, Holman, & Grumbach, 2012). A central concept of self-management is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the confidence to carry out a behavior necessary to reach the desired goal. (Grant, et al.) Self-efficacy is heightened and has a greater chance of success when patients excel at solving patient-identified problems. The whole idea of a patient, not wallowing but; instead, accepting, adapting and learning to see the bumps in the road as a challenge to be overcome and conquered feels empowering, and no doubt can help the patient be healthy mentally so that they may work on being adept in taking care of themselves and so that they can be goal oriented for their bright and hopeful future.
- Bernell, S., & Howard, S. W. (2016). Use Your Words Carefully: What Is a Chronic Disease? Frontiers in Public Health.
- Bodenheimer, T., Lorig, K., Holman, H., & Grumbach, K. (2012, November 20). Retrieved October 28, 2018, from https://pbrn.ahrq.gov/tools-and-resources/pbrn-literature/patient-self-management-chronic-disease-primary-care
- Brooks, M. V. (2008). Health-Related Hardiness in Individuals With Chronic Illnesses. Clinical Nursing Research, (2).
- Elsie, H., Ls, C. W., & K, W. S. (2012). Chronic Disease Self-Management: Do Patient Demographics and Leader Characteristics Affect Outcomes? Primary Health Care: Open Access, (02).
- Forstman, M., Burgmer, P., & Mussweiler, T. (2012, September 12). Retrieved October 28, 2018, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797612442392
- Grant, M. (2014, March 1). Retrieved from https://pbrn.ahrq.gov/tools-and-resources/pbrn-literature/patient-self-management-chronic-disease-primary-care
- Kühn, S., & Rieger, U. M. (2017). Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely absence of disease or infirmity. Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, (5).
- Mehta, N. (2011). Mind-body dualism: A critique from a health perspective. Mens Sana Monographs, (1).
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