Monday, January 3, 2011

Learned Optimism : Part 1 of 5

For the most part, I have come to accept the occasional heart palpitations. However, when I have a lot of stress, illness, or hormonal fluctuations and my heart goes into arrhythmia, I sometimes get very depressed. Usually, I get down because of the chronic nature of my condition. To think that there is no cure, and that I could suffer with them for the rest of my life, is uber depressing. To not always have the energy to do or accomplish things in my life for fear of stress and its effect is also depressing. I was feeling pretty low after the holidays when I told my mom how devastating it is when you feel like there's no real hope and you'll be living with misbeats forever. Her response is one I had heard her tell me before. "Ali," she says, "doctors are always coming up with new medicines, procedures, cures. I'm confident that you will find some sort of relief in your lifetime." "But mom," I protest, "if doctors are always saying that I'm fine, why would anyone be working on a cure for some benign pvcs?" And she replied, "They're bothersome to enough people. I'm sure they're working on something to alleviate them in the future."

Now I have no idea how sound her research hopes may be, but one thing is for sure. When it comes to my health, my mom is an optimist. And I'm the pessimist. I recently stumbled across the book "Learned Optimism" by Martin E. Seligman. His book is full of research on why individuals get depressed and how pessimists can in fact learn to be optimists. But not through mindless devices like whistling a happy tune or mouthing platitudes, but by learning a new set of cognitive skills. I will discuss the how to change part in the last of my series.

Whenever something good or bad happens to us, we react in our explanatory style. So whether we give up easily, believe we are deserving or become hopeless all have to do with our view of our place in the world. Seligman argues that there are 3 crucial dimensions to our explanatory style: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization. I will discuss each of these in detail because I believe they are key to wading through the waters of a chronic condition.