WELCOME DR. NORMAN ROSENTHAL
DR. NORMAN ROSENTHAL
The New York Times-bestselling author of Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation, Winter Blues and How to Beat Jet Lag, Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., attended the University of the Witwatersrand in his native South Africa. He moved to the United States and was resident and chief resident at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and the New York Psychiatric Institute. He has conducted research at the National Institute of Mental Health for over twenty years. It was there that he first described and diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Dr. Rosenthal is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School and has maintained a private practice in the Washington, DC metropolitan area for the past thirty years. Rosenthal is the author or co-author of over 200 professional articles and several popular books, including Winter Blues, the classic work on SAD. He currently serves as medical director and CEO of Capital Clinical Research Associates in Rockville, Maryland, where he directs clinical trials in both pharmaceuticals and complementary and alternative medicine. Dr. Rosenthal and his work have been widely covered in the popular media and he has appeared on Today, Good Morning America, National Public Radio and many other forums.
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Q&A with Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal
As a world-class psychiatrist, what have you found to be the most important tool your patients can armor themselves with when confronting adversity?
The most important tool is a clear head. Don’t panic. In most situations there is time to think; thinking is your friend, and impulsive action is your enemy. Analyze the situation, understanding what you’re up against and what resources you have at your disposal. Of course, in emergencies you will need to act quickly, but that’s when your primitive fight-or-flight responses will click into gear and – with a bit of luck and quick thinking – will save the day.
Our society seems paralyzed by fear of imperfection and adversity, yet you make the case that adversity can be a boon. How so?
Many of us hold up perfection as an ideal – and the media feeds this. We are told how to get the perfect marriage, the perfect child, the perfect Christmas, the perfect vacation, the perfect job. In reality, however, perfectionism can set you up for repeated disappointment and can sometimes be crippling. I learned this in a grade school art class where I produced a cardboard clown with no thumbs, but it worked out fine. The huge lesson to me then was that things don’t have to be perfect. That lesson has stood me in good stead throughout my life. So, from my years as a psychiatrist, I can tell you: imperfect marriages can be wonderful; imperfect children can bring boundless joy; an imperfect Christmas can be a time of giving and spiritual growth; that lousy vacation! You will laugh and tell stories about that awful vacation for years to come; and finally, realizing that your boss and job are imperfect will make you less grumpy every working day.
Your previous New York Times bestseller, Transcendence, explored the benefits of Transcendental Meditation, and in The Gift of Adversity you also touch upon meditation. Is there research that shows how helpful meditation can be in overcoming adversity – and is this something you have experienced yourself?
In The Gift of Adversity I describe three individuals who overcame enormous hardship — homelessness, drug addiction, and imprisonment – and emerged successfully, drug free, employed, and happy. Although this transformation involved many elements, Transcendental Meditation (TM), was crucial to their success. Fortunately, I have not experienced adversity at this terrible level, but TM has helped me deal with lesser adversityies that was nonetheless important to me. For example, it helped me write again, and produce three books in three years – something I would never have been able to do before TM gave me the capacity to be alone with my thoughts and access deeper parts of consciousness then were formally available to me.
TM’s potential effectiveness in helping people deal with adversity is supported by research. Veterans with combat-related post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) and Ugandan refugees who had suffered devastating trauma sustained in their native lands responded very well to TM in controlled studies. Middle school children in violent inner-city environments have shown improved attendance, morale, and better academic performance following the introduction of TM programs. Physical adversities – most notably that silent killer, hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes – all decrease in frequency after people start practicing TM. As I write this, I realize that these claims are hard to believe, but they are supported by dozens of peer-reviewed articles, which I summarized in Transcendence and revisit in The Gift of Adversity.
You’re well known for being the first to diagnose and develop a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Can SAD amplify the effects of adversity – i.e., make an average challenge seem like a huge mountain to climb?
Whatever adversity you have, SAD will make it worse. The symptoms of SAD are low energy, low mood, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, overeating, oversleeping, and weight gain. These are the last things you need when you are trying to deal with adversity. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to overcome SAD, which I describe in my book, Winter Blues.
Reversing symptoms of SAD is just one example of attending to your physical and emotional needs as part of equipping yourself to handle adversity. In The Gift of Adversity I discuss many of the good habits that promote physical and psychological stability, which can put you in the best possible position for dealing effectively with adversity.
Your book draws on many experiences from your own life. How has adversity shaped you for the better?
I have often realized that, as a psychiatrist, I am most sensitive and in touch with my patients’ problems when I myself am undergoing my own difficulties. The reason for this is that adversity can sensitize people and help them tune in to the suffering of others. It can also harden people and make them mean. So we have a choice as to how adversity is going to shape us as human beings. As I looked through the lessons I have learned along life’s journey, I realized that the most valuable lessons came from difficult times – whether these were the result of bad luck, errors of judgment on my part, or self-imposed challenges. Adversity has made me more resilient and has helped me become a kinder, wiser, and better person.
You share a number of anecdotes in The Gift of Adversity – your own and those of others. Is there one anecdote or story that has been particularly inspiring to you?
There are so many inspiring stories in The Gift of Adversity, but one that stands out as unforgettable to me is a personal visit I paid to the great Viktor Frankl. For those who don’t know the name, Frankl is best known for his masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning. His book draws on his experiences during the Holocaust when he was imprisoned in concentration camps and narrowly escaped being murdered. He lost his wife and parents to the Nazis and emerged emaciated and in poor health. But he never lost his spirit of optimism. From this dreadful series of adversities Frankl developed key insights that he would turn into books that have helped tens of millions of people. One such insight is that when you are in a situation in which you have no control over the terrible things are happening around you, the one thing you can control is how you choose to view your circumstances. In The Gift of Adversity I describe the fascinating and terrifying years in Europe during World War II as related to me by a great eye witness and one of my all-time heroes – Viktor Frankl.
When life is hard, it can be challenging to see meaning or gifts in a given situation. What advice would you give to those who are experiencing hard times – are there specific things they should do or keep in mind?
I would say remember, other people have been this way before and have succeeded in overcoming these very same obstacles and, in many instances, have become stronger as a consequence. If they could do it, so you can you. Now you simply need to figure out what they did that worked and how you can implement a strategy that will work for you.
What is the most important lesson about coping with hardship that people should take away from reading The Gift of Adversity?
There is an old Eastern proverb: The fox has many tricks, but the porcupine has one big trick. When it comes to dealing with adversity you are better off being a fox than a porcupine. Here are some of the many tricks in dealing successfully with adversity
- Accept that the adversity has occurred
- Proportion your response according to the nature of the adversity
- Analyze the situation
- Regulate your physical and emotional state – for example, by keeping regular hours of sleeping and waking, eating regular meals, exercising and meditating
- Reach out for help – to family, friends or even kindly strangers
- Turn your predicament into a story – to help you process it
- Reframe the adversity – think about it in a different way
ABOUT THE BOOK
Genre: Stress Management, Personal Growth – General
Publication Date: August 29, 2013
Number of Pages: 352
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