Emotional literacy

You may have heard the addage “happiness is a choice” and if you’ve had a mood disorder or known someone in the grip of one, it becomes clear that in many situations choosing happiness is easier said than done.  In this situation, the failure to choose happiness can become a secondary source of frustration and depression.

In my own experience with mood disorders, I may not be able to choose directly what I feel, but I can make alterations in my situation or what I’m focusing on, or how I respond to particular feelings or memories I find troubling.  In Western society, we tend to think of our consciousness as our true self, but psychology (specifically the cognitive behavior field) is showing that our consciousness does not have to be taken at face value.  Our thoughts have patterns and habits which can be understood and if necessary changed (hence cognitive behavior).

An example would be if you have a job you dislike and you can’t stop thinking about how much you don’t like it, even when you’re not there.  One might think the only way out of this would be to change jobs.  But maybe you don’t have that option.  Another option would be to change the way you think about the job.  You can’t will yourself to like what you didn’t like, but you can focus on something besides the things that bother you the most.  You could focus on the less attractive alternatives of having no job.  If it’s not the worst job you’ve ever had, you could think of they ways other jobs were worse.  If possible, if there is anything about the job you do like, try to remember that when the waves of dissatisfaction hit.

It is common to mistake being critical for critical thinking.  But finding what is positive in a situation is no less true than seeing the negative and can require a lot of ingenuity.  It could be compared the the processing of a photograph, cropping out what is not needed and controlling the exposure or color.  Some call this kind of mental behavior “cognitive reframing”.  You don’t have to change the picture completely, just change what is being emphasized.

NWCR researchers summarized: “these findings suggest that negative affect [mood] and tendencies to uncontrolled eating may be associated with problems in the long term maintenance of weight loss. Behavioral weight control programs teach participants to identify and try to change negative thoughts and to plan ahead to prevent lapses from becoming relapses. Those individuals who practice these skills may be better able to deal effectively with periods of overeating or slips from the program” (Wing et al. 2008)

Rather than eating being the solution to mood problems, mood can become the solution to eating problems.

Wing et al. 2008 Maintaining large weight losses

McGuire et al. 1999  What predicts weight regain in a group of successful weight losers


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