Post-Traumatic Growth: how a crisis makes life better – or NOT

Full disclosure: I’ve always felt a bit squirmy when patients facing a life-altering medical crisis cheerfully declare that this diagnosis isn’t only NOT dreadful, but it’s actually quite fabulous! But before I dig into that theory, let’s look at this positivity phenomenon.
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Psychologists sometimes refer to it as “Post-Traumatic Growth”.
Continue reading “Post-Traumatic Growth: how a crisis makes life better – or NOT”

Feisty advice to patients: “Get down off your cross!”

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

I’ve never met Debra Jarvis, but we’re practically neighbours, separated only by a few measly miles of Pacific Ocean coastline and an international border. She’s a writer, breast cancer survivor, hospital chaplain, and ordained United Church minister from Seattle – a city I can see from the shore here in Victoria. Oh, wait. That’s the city of Port Angeles, Washington. Still, I can see Seattle in the Sarah Palin sense of the word “see” . . .

I first encountered the “Irreverent Reverend” Jarvis watching her poignantly funny presentation at TEDMED 2014.  And like so much in life, when smart people tell good stories, their messages can be meaningful no matter what they’re talking about.     Continue reading “Feisty advice to patients: “Get down off your cross!””

Design a beautiful day today

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Martin SeligmanRegular readers will already know that I’m a fan of Dr. Martin Seligman’s work. He’s the author of Learned Optimism and a number of other books I’ve found useful, especially for those of us who have been body-slammed by a life-altering medical diagnosis and are trying to somehow salvage some shred of sense-making out of the whole mess. 

Oh, sure. You may already be thinking: it’s so easy for healthy people to feel positive. But what about when you’re a patient living with debilitating symptoms, hospital admissions, fistfuls of meds, scary side effects, diagnostic tests, medical appointments, hospital re-admissions, and distressing procedures? Don’t you need to be healthy to be truly happy? Continue reading “Design a beautiful day today”

Three types of heart happiness defined

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Dr. Martin Seligman is considered the father of what’s known as the positive psychology movement. He was once elected president of the American Psychological Association by the largest vote in that organization’s history, which must have made this self-described “natural born pessimist” feel almost happy. He’s also the author of a book that I often recommend to heart patients called Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This gem, originally published 20 years ago, is still a valuable tool for learning skills that decades of research have shown may actually enhance our sense of wellbeing – a commodity that’s in short supply for the freshly-diagnosed heart patient. Dr. Seligman lists some basic identifiable types of the elusive state we call happiness:

‘Happiness’ is a scientifically unwieldy notion, but there are three different forms of it you can pursue:   Continue reading “Three types of heart happiness defined”

“Smile, Though Your Heart is Aching”: is fake smiling unhealthy?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

The classic song called Smile was originally written as an instrumental by the legendary Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 movie Modern Times; lyrics were later added, and the song was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1954. Sing along with me now, my heart sisters, as we revisit these famous lines:

“Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and there’ll be tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
If you’ll just . . . smile.”

It turns out that Nat’s advice about faking smiles, however, may be exactly the wrong thing to do for your own mental health.

This warning is particularly important for those living with a chronic diagnosis like heart disease, who often report feeling obliged to paste on a happy face around other people – even when feeling worried or alarmed about their symptoms.  Continue reading ““Smile, Though Your Heart is Aching”: is fake smiling unhealthy?”

Three things that make you happy – and three things that won’t

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

It turns out that feeling happy can actually improve our overall physical health – but there’s a catch.  According to an article in Harvard Medical School’s HealthBeat last month, positive emotions may need to be longterm in order to produce good health. In other words:

“Thinking positive thoughts for a month when you already have heart disease won’t cure the disease. But lowering your stress levels over a period of years with a positive outlook and relaxation techniques could reduce your risk of heart problems.”  

Continue reading “Three things that make you happy – and three things that won’t”