A crucial aspect of helping patients make health behavior change is often addressing their emotional well-being. I don’t just mean screening for and treating mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Of course such conditions are common co-morbidities with diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases and need to be addressed. I am not referring to stress management which is a helpful component of lifestyle modification programs; I am referring to promoting positive feelings in all of our patients so that they have the emotional energy to change risk factors and health habits.
Patients who require lifestyle modification are often presented with feelings of mild sadness or a sense of life imbalance. They can benefit from applying positive psychology in their lives. As health providers, we need to inquire about, encourage and model principles of positive psychology during our clinical encounters and beyond.
We need to help patients look at what is going right for them, including their personal strengths. Being aware of and utilizing one’s positive attributes enhances general well-being and boosts the emotional energy required to tackle health habit changes. For example, a person who is not satisfied with her life may turn to unhealthy comfort food if they are not able to first promote their emotional well-being.
Many of you may be familiar with the work of Martin Seligman, who pioneered the field of positive psychology. His website, authentichappiness.org, offers questionnaires that individuals can take at no-cost to identify their strengths. I recommend Lifestyle Medicine practitioners refer their patients to this site so they can explore resources for well-being.
In Dr. Seligman’s latest book Flourish, he defines PERMA as the basic elements of well-being: Positive emotion (including happiness and life satisfaction), Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. Sonya Lyubomirsky also identifies in her book, The How of Happiness, several activities that promote happiness, such as expressing gratitude, practicing forgiveness and mindfulness, savoring life’s joys, and maintaining social connections.
Barbara Fredrickson, another well renowned researcher in the field, has a site where people can determine the amount of positivity in their lives (positivityratio.com). She also recently released her newest publication, Love 2.0 which summarizes her latest research. This study looks at the health benefits of micro-moments of positive connection with others, even strangers. Based on her webinar presentation a few weeks ago, there is distinct promise for these new lessons to be endlessly exhilarating.
Encouraging patients to discover ways of achieving emotional well-being may be to the most important step in paving the way for sustainable lifestyle modification. Applying these principles in our own lives will make us more savvy and effective practitioners of lifestyle medicine. Positive psychology techniques will also boost the energy needed to successfully manage a busy practice. After all, pursuing personal health practices is one of the lifestyle medicine competencies. There is a good reason why flight attendants instruct us to put on our oxygen masks first before attempting to assist others.
I have been reflecting on this topic of positive psychology, as I prepare to conduct a discussion on the link between lifestyle medicine and positive psychology at the International Positive Psychology Association conference in Los Angeles in late June. The conference will be another opportunity to raise awareness about lifestyle medicine.
Allow me to use this as a segway to another important topic: the necessity of heightened awareness by professionals and public groups in order to reach the goals set out by lifestyle medicine. The last day of the ACLM conference this fall in Crystal City is a day to do just that- promote the lifestyle medicine movement. So join us in creating buzz regarding our field of work by attending Lifestyle Medicine 2013.
Please register if you have not already done so. Also, encourage not only clinician colleagues to attend, but also invite patients and individuals from community based organizations, hospitals, academic institutions, and other relevant groups to join us and become advocates. As the weather heats up, consider how you can heat up our movement!