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psychological health

Most people have the opportunity to function at an enhanced level of Psychological well-being.  This state is often achieved by improving certain skills and abilities, including improving verbal and Nonverbal Communication, learning to use humor effectively, developing better conflict resolution skills, and taking an optimistic approach to life.

Improving Verbal Communication

Communication can be viewed in terms of your role as sender or receiver.  In sending message, you can enhance the effectiveness of your verbal communication in several ways.  First, take time before speaking to understand what to be said.  For example, does the audience/listener need information, encouragement, humor, or something else?
  Focus on the most important thoughts and ideas.  Talk with, rather at, listeners to encourage productive exchanges.  Begin verbal exchanges on a positive note, and maintain a positive environment.  Use “minimal encouragers,” such as short questions, to gain feedback.  Avoid using sarcasm, which can be destructive to communication.  Recognize when other forms of communication, such as email messages or handwritten notes, would be better for transmitting information or ideas.
You also need to be a skilled listener.  First, listen attentively in order to hear everything that is being said.  In a polite way, stop the speaker at certain points and ask him or her to repeat or rephrase the information.  This technique helps you to understand what the speaker really means rather than focusing on your own responses.  Ask for clarification and summarize what you think you heard the speaker saying to ensure you have received the message accurately.  Also try to focus on one main topic and don’t go off on tangents.

Nonverbal Communication

Strengthening your nonverbal communication skills may also enhance your Psychological Health.  Nonverbal communication is what is communicated by your facial expressions, body posture, tone of voice, movements, and even the way you breathe – such as when you sigh or yawn.  Nonverbal communication is a very powerful and sometimes more important aspect of the message than what is verbally communicated.  In fact, people use information from facial cues, particularly from the eyes, are attended to more than any type of nonverbal communication, even when information from other sources – such as from hand and body movements – may provide a more accurate picture of what the  
·         Facial expression.  Facial expressions have been cited as one of the most important sources of nonverbal communication in terms of a person’s emotional state.  When people speak with their eyebrows raised, they tend to be seen as more animated, excited and happier.  Flushing of one’s face can indicate embarrassment, and crinkling one’s nose can mean that you don’t like something.  Every part of your face can communicate some type of emotional reaction.
·         Eye contact.  Maintaining eye contact is important component of positive nonverbal communication, while looking away or shifting your eyes can be read as seeming dishonest.  But don’t stare 5 to 7 seconds seems  to be the maximum amount of time to look at someone’s eyes before they begin to feel scrutinized.
·         Personal space.  There are cultural differences in how much personal space or distance is comfortable and acceptable when sitting or standing next to another person.  For example, Americans’ personal space about 3 to 4 feet for a casual conversation tends to be much greater than that of Arabs or Italians but less than Japanese or Britons.  Gender and age and degree of familiarity are other factors that can determine the amount of personal space you are comfortable having between you and another person.
·         Body posture.  Assertiveness is equated with people who carry themselves with their heads up, shoulders back, and maintaining eye contact.  Folded arms, crossed legs, and turning your body away from the speaker can indicate defensiveness and rejection.

Enhancing Conflict Management Skills

Communication can be especially challenging when there is a conflict or disagreement.  Emotions such as anger, hurt, and fear might alter your ability to communicate as effectively as you would like.  Some techniques for managing angry or upset people or conflictual situation are:
·         Listen and acknowledge the other person’s point of view, even if it differs from your own.  Sometimes people are so busy thinking of the next thing they want to say that they don’t pay attention to what the other person is saying.  To ensure that you have heard the person accurately and to let that person know you are listening to them, repeat back or summarize what you heard and ask if you misunderstood something that was said.
·         Use assertive communicationUsing “I” statements rather than “You” help to avoid putting people on the defensive and is especially helpful when negotiating conflict or disagreements.  Rather than saying, “You are inconsiderate,” you can say, “I feel upset when you’re late and haven’t called to let me know.”
·         Focus not just on what you say but how you say it.  Pay attention to your tone of voice and speak in a conversational tone.  People tend to talk louder because they erroneously think they will be heard if they speak louder.  This can result in a shouting match in which neither person hears the other.
·         Acknowledge the other person’s feelings.  Use statements like “I can understand why this is so frustrating for you.”
·         Watch your body posture.  Don’t fold your arms in a closed, defensive posture, maintain eye contact, be aware of your facial expression so that you not conveying hostility nonverbally.  Make sure your nonverbal communication matches your verbal communication.
·         Accept valid criticism.  If you make a mistake, admit to it and apologize for whatever you think you did to contribute to the misunderstanding or conflict.  This will open the door for the other person to take responsibility for their part in the conflict as well.
·         Focus on the problem at hand.  Don’t bring up past hurts and problems.  If you try to resolve every disagreement you have ever had with this person, you’ll just wind up feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, and won’t accomplish much.  Stay on track by talking about the present situation.
·         Take a team approach.  Engage in mutual problem solving.  This alleviates the winner-versus-loser paradigm.  Look for areas of compromise and find a middle ground you can both agree to and live with.
·         Agree to disagree.  There is probably more than one right answer and you can agree that you will not persuade the other to change his or her point of view.
·         Agree to discuss this at a later time.  Sometimes the conversation becomes too volatile and heated.  Some time and distance from the problem can be beneficial.

Enhancing Psychological Health through Humor

Having a sense of humor is another important component of psychological health.  Humor helps to put things in their proper perspective, alleviating tension and pain by releasing more endorphins in our bodies.  In addition, laughter reduces stress, boosts the immune system, alleviates pain, stabilize mood, decreases anxiety, enhances communication, and inspires creativity.  The research suggest that we need to laugh 30 minutes total per 24-hour period to attain these benefits.  This is an easy task for children who on average laugh 250 times a day but more challenging for adults who tend to only laugh 15 times a day.  Employers have been putting the benefits of laughter to good use to increase productivity in factories.  Factories in India have created “laughing clubs” in which workers laugh together for 20 minutes a day, resulting in less absenteeism and better performance.

Recognizing a humor in everyday situations and being able to laugh at yourself will make you feel better about yourself.  People who build humor in their daily lives generally feel more positive, and others enjoy being around them.  Some people will say that if they don’t laugh about a particular situation, they will cry, and laughing seems the better choice.  In fact, humor is viewed as one of the higher-level defense mechanisms, compared to denying the problem, rationalizing or minimizing the problem, or blaming others.  Some researchers have suggested that recovery from an injury or illness is enhanced when patients maintain a sense of humor.

Taking an Optimistic Approach to Life

Another key to psychological health is your ability to manage and express your thoughts, feelings, and behavior in a positive manner.  Do you believe that your happiness is within your control?  Are people born naturally happy or sad?  One important key to psychological health is the way that you think about and interpret events in your life.  For example, if you say “hello” to someone and you don’t get a response, do you begin to wonder if that person is angry with you?  Or do you surmise that he or she didn’t hear you or perhaps was distracted?  Research shows that having a positive interpretation of life’s events, particularly how you cope with adversity, can make a significant difference in terms of your health and academic and work performance as well as how long you will live.  Do you see the glass half empty, as pessimists do, or half full, like optimists?  Does it matter?  Again studies overwhelmingly contend that your perspective makes a tremendous difference in your psychological health.  Compared to pessimists, optimists tend to:
·         Contract fewer infectious diseases
·         Have better health habits
·         Possess stronger immune systems
·         Be more successful in their careers
·         Perform better in sports, music, and academics

We do know that people can learn to be helpless and ultimately become depressed and even suicidal.  Pavlov demonstrated the concept of “learned helplessness” in his classic study in which he administered an electric shock to dogs that were harnessed and couldn’t escape the shocks.  When he moved the dogs to another room, the dogs lay down and whimpered and didn’t try to avoid the shocks.  This time the dogs were not harnessed and could have easily escaped the shocks by moving to another side of the room.  This reaction has been referred to as learned helplessness, as the dogs learned that there was nothing they could do to affect their lives and they lost hope and felt trapped and powerless.  We have seen this same phenomenon with humans.  College students volunteered for an experiment in which they were subjected to an ear-splitting noise and their efforts to stop the noise were unsuccessful.  Later, when they were placed in another situation where they could have easily pulled a control lever to turn off the noise, they made no effort to do so and just suffered with the noise until the experimenter stopped it.  Battered women have demonstrated this same sense of powerlessness and helplessness in their ability to escape the abuse they are subjected to by their partners.

If people can learn to be helpless and pessimistic, can they also learn to feel more optimistic, powerful, and in control?  Martin Seligman conducted studies to prove that this is possible and called this concept learned optimism.  He identified three key factors that contribute to having an optimistic or pessimistic perspective.  Learned optimism refers to your explanatory style, in other words, if you describe the glass as being half full or half empty.

The first dimension of learn optimism is permanence.  Pessimists tend to give up easily because they believe the causes of bad events are permanent.  They say things like “Things never work out for me,” “that won’t ever work,” or “He’s always in a bad mood.”  Such permanent language-words like never, always, forever-imply that these negative situations are not temporary but will continue on indefinitely.  Optimists tend to use temporary language-words like sometimes, frequently, and often-and they blame bad events on transient conditions.  Examples of optimistic language are “It didn’t work out this time,” “Doing it that way didn’t work,” or “He’s in a bad mood today,” Optimists see failure as a small, transitory setback and are able to peak themselves up, brush themselves off, and persevere towards their goals.

The second aspect of learned optimism is pervasiveness.  This refers to you perceive negative events as universal and generalize them to everything in your life, or if you can compartmentalize and keep them defined to the specific situation. Pessimists tend to make universal explanations for their problems, and, when something goes wrong in one part of their lives, they give up on everything.  While a pessimist would say that they are not good at math, an optimist would say that they didn’t perform well in that particular class with that type of math.  “I’m good at algebra but not as good with geometry.”

The last aspect of learned optimism is determined by whether you blame bad things on yourself or on other people or circumstances.  Pessimism and low self-esteem tend to come from personalization – blaming oneself and having an internal explanatory style for negative events.  An optimist might say, “The professor wrote a very poor exam and that is the reason I receive a lower score,” while the pessimist would say, “I am stupid” or “I didn’t study enough.”  This is different from not taking responsibility for one’s actions and blaming other people for your problems or mistakes.  The idea is to have a balanced perspective and outlook on life.  Pessimists tend to give credit to other people or circumstances when good things happen and blame themselves when bad events occur.  For example, a pessimist would say, “That was just dumb luck,” rather than credit for a success.  However, if pessimists fail, readily blame themselves, saying, “I messed up.” On the other hand, optimists tend to give themselves credit for their accomplishments, saying, “I worked hard and did a good job,” and don’t belittle themselves when things go wrong.

Seligman conducted many studies to test how optimistic explanatory style might be useful in daily living.  For example, he worked with a swimming team from the University of California, Berkeley, to see how optimism or pessimism might affect their performance.  He had their coaches tell the athletes that their times were then asked to swim the event again as fast as they could.  The performance of the pessimists deteriorated in their hundred-yard event by two seconds, the difference between winning the event and finishing dead last.  The optimists got faster by two to five seconds, again enough to be the difference between losing and winning the race.  So how you interpret the events, your attribution style, can make a tremendous difference in the eventual success or failure in your endeavors.

So how can you learn to be more optimistic?  Albert Ellis developed a cognitive framework to become more positive in how you think and feel about things that happen in your life called the ABC method.  When you encounter adversity, the “A” part of the formula, you try to make sense out of it and explain what has happened.  For example, if you receive a notice from the bank that you have over-drawn your checking account, you start to think, “How did this happen?”  These thoughts are associated with our beliefs, the “B” in ABC.  You might think, “I’m irresponsible for letting this happen.  I can’t manage my money.”  Then you begin to feel badly about yourself, worthless and upset.  Your beliefs affect your feelings, and so you can control your emotions by changing your beliefs and thoughts.  If you said, “the bank probably made a mistake” or “I might have added something incorrectly,” you will most likely feel much better about yourself and the situation.  The “C” aspect is the consequence of the event, how you end up feeling about the situation.  When someone feels depressed, he pr she feels hopeless, trapped, and powerless.  By adopting a more positive way of reframing or thinking about events, you create options, hope, and a strategy for solving problems rather than staying stuck, like the whimpering dogs laying down and putting up with being shocked.  In the previously described scenario with the overdraft, you can generate ideas such as “I need to check with the bank, go over my bank statement, be more careful in recording and calculating my balances, and request overdraft protection to prevent this from becoming a problem again.”

Everyone encounters adversity sometime in his her life.  You become discouraged by these events, blame yourself, and feel hopeless, worthless, and cynical about the world.  Or you can be persistent and become stronger by overcoming these obstacles by having positive beliefs, and seeing these problems as short-lived, specific, and not as flaw in your character.  When you embrace an optimistic perspective, you will feel more hopeful, stronger, and confident.  You will be able to accept new challenges and take more risks in your life.

This post first appeared on Health And Rates, please read the originial post: here

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