October 5, 2010

The Illusion of Control Can be Good for Your Health

What if you have a bad boss?
This morning was the start of another communications course - the first of four sessions. One of the big discussion points was how to manage stress in an environment you cannot control. What a great question. When you are unable to change your situation, how do you survive it without harm to yourself or others? The answer is simple; yet not so simple....it's all about perceived control. 

If a person is interested in exercising more (for example) and feels they can control the variables in their lives to accommodate for it, they will be more apt to succeed.  Conversely, if one feels their lives are out of control, they will not be too successful at adding exercise to their already busy day. Research suggests that those who feel in control of their lives, work, personal life, etc., report a higher quality of life. This may relate to less stress and stress-related illness. 

So what do you do when you cannot change your environment? If nothing outside yourself will change.....change within. Challenge your way of thinking of the particular situation. Challenge why you are reacting negatively to it. How can you change your perception to suit the situation? The alternative may be paying the hefty price through chronic physical and mental illness. In 1946, Viktor Frankl wrote the book "A Man' Search for Meaning" which detailed the story of his experiences as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. While he could not change his environment, he could change / control his thoughts, perceptions, and attitudes and find meaning in something completely horrific.

What meaning can you find in your situation? How can you learn from those that are a pain in the ass? Again, another great book is "Thank You For Being Such a Pain; Spiritual Guidance for Dealing with Difficult People". I highly recommend it if you are trying to make sense of your reality. For example, if you are working for a jerkstore, how can you learn from him/her? Perhaps you are learning what NOT to do when you are in a leadership role.

Remember, chronic stress is a sure way to get sick. Those who work or live in stressful environments, if left unchecked, will experience higher levels of illness than their counterparts. The best thing you can do for yourself is to create more awareness of the situation and it's health risks and make a list of what you can do about it (and what you can't). Doesn't the Serenity Prayer include..."....grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." Not only is it useful for programs such as AA, this would be a useful mantra for health promotion!

That's all I got for now...


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