Monday, March 03, 2008

The Whole-Person Integrated-Care (WPIC) Wellness Solution: Part 3

In my last post, I explained why "Activists"--the first of four types of people whose health is affected by key psychological characteristics-- tend to be healthiest, and why they are the ones most likely to take advantage of wellness programs. I discussed how they have the kind of personality traits that enable them to cope with health-related issues through positive action and rational acceptance. In this post, I discuss a second group of individuals with different personality and coping strategies: the "Wannabes."

Wannabes talk about improving their health & wellbeing, and are willing to learn about healthy living, but they never seem to act on it, or do so half-heartedly. This is because they tend to have thoughts such as:
  • "I may be able to do what's required to improve my health, but I'd rather not deal with it right now."
  • "I'm not sure what to do."
  • "I'm just not ready."
As a result, Wannabes tend to be aware--or are willing to be aware--of their physical and mental health problems & risks, but they lack the self-confidence and motivation they need when it comes to doing something about it. Their self-doubt and lack of drive may come from the belief that they may not make correct decisions about preventing or treating their problems. This uncertainty, in turn, may cause them to avoid making decisions and changing their attitudes & behaviors for fear of failure; i.e., they don't want to be ashamed or embarrassed if they try, but fail. Or if they believe there's no acceptable way to solve their health problems or prevent their health risks from becoming problems, they will likely take no action.

Wannabes, in other words, tend to cope with their doubts and fears through avoidance. What they do, for example, is:
  • Try to feel better by doing enjoyable or interesting things, rather than focus on the problem
  • Act as if nothing has happened or try not to think about their problems
  • Express negative emotions by yelling or crying, taking it out on others, or avoiding certain people, rather than doing something constructive
  • Hope a miracle will somehow make things better or that one's wishes or prayers would be answered, rather than gaining knowledge and developing a plan of action
  • Resign themselves that nothing can be done to improve the situation, even though they lack adequate understanding and fail to exert adequate effort.
While some of these coping strategies may alleviate their emotional distress temporarily, they are maladaptive in the long-term since they foster procrastination, which allows their health risks to become serious problems, and allows their existing health problems to worsen. Nevertheless, there are several positive and negative aspects of the Wannabe personality.

On the positive side, since Wannabes think and talk about improving their health & wellbeing, they will likely want to participate (to some degree) in health promotion programs that:
  • Evaluate their health status, especially if they have concerns about their physical health and/or emotional state.
  • Help them gain knowledge about their problems or risk factors, including understanding the pros & cons of different treatment and prevention options.
On the negative side, Wannabes are likely to procrastinate when it comes to:
  • Using their knowledge to make decisions about dealing with (treating) acute physical or mental health problems
  • Acting on wellness plans designed to self-manage chronic conditions and avoid complications
  • Making positive lifestyle changes to avoid risk factors from becoming health problems.
If they have money problems—which prevent them from carrying out their wellness plan of care (e.g., buying more healthy foods, a gym membership, prescribed medications, diagnostic tests, etc.)—they may use it as an excuse for not making a firm decision or adhering to the wellness care plan.

If they have family and other demands that consume their time and thus make lifestyle change difficult, they will likely use it as an excuse for non-action, as well. And if they have physical handicaps or cognitive impairments, they will likely use these limitations as excuses for inaction.

All this means they will need wellness counseling focused on modifying their self-defeating cognitive and emotional blocks (including self-doubt, fear and shame), as well as changing their avoidance-based coping strategies. The goal is to help them become more like the Activists. Only then will they be willing to take responsible action that improves their health and wellbeing.
In my next post, I'll examine the third personality type: the "Inactives."

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