When I last contributed to this blog, I wrote about the field of positive psychology and how different therapies can help some people alleviate symptoms of depression. This week, I'd like to share some advice about how people can integrate some of these techniques into their daily lives Â— with or without the help of a therapist.
The advice is based on a program developed by my colleague, psychologist Carol Kauffman, at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. Carol directs the Coaching and Positive Psychology Initiative at McLean. At a conference in Boston several months ago, she discussed four techniques for integrating the principles of positive psychology into your sessions with a therapist, or into everyday life.
Reverse the focus from negative to positive. Most people tend to dwell on negative events or emotions and ignore the positive ones Â— and therapy can foster this tendency. One way to reverse the focus is to use techniques aimed at shifting attention to more positive aspects of life. For example, scan the events of the day, and focus your attention on what went right. Another tip is to compile "I did it" lists instead of only writing down what needs to be done (or what you wish you did!).
Develop a language of strength. Therapists and patients often talk about pain, conflict, and anger. Although these are all aspects of life, there is value in talking about or at least identifying more positive qualities and personal strengths.
Kauffman and other positive psychology practitioners often use strength coaching while advising patients. Just as an athlete exercises certain muscles to become stronger, the theory is that people who use their strengths regularly will function better in life. To boost mental facility, Kauffman recommends that people identify one top strength and then use it at least once a day.
Balance the positive and negative. It's also important for people to identify and foster the positive for themselves and others in order to provide a balance to the negative. For example, managers and supervisors may mix praise with criticism when evaluating employees to nurture their growth. It's harder to do this for yourself, but it's worth trying.
Build strategies that foster hope. Finding ways to foster hope may increase your ability to deal with adversity and overcome a challenge. One way to cultivate hope is to reduce the scope of a problem Â— perhaps by breaking it down into small manageable components that can be tackled one at a time. Another way is to get help to identify specific skills and coping mechanisms you can use to overcome a particular challenge.
Have you tried any of these techniques? Did they help improve your mood or your ability to cope with a challenge?
Dr. Michael Miller has been on staff of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a large teaching hospital in Boston, for more than 25 years. He is also an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Nearly 1 in 10 adults will suffer from some form of depression in a given year, affecting not only them, but also their friends and family. Thankfully, years of research and recent breakthroughs have made this serious illness easier to treat. With Understanding Depression, a special health report from Harvard Medical School, you can stay up-to-date on the latest information on depression symptoms and treatments to improve your lifeÂ—or the life of someone close to you.
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