Is your glass half full? Do the clouds that fly above your world all have silver linings? Can you manage to find positive twists among life’s messiest entanglements?
Then congratulations. According to health care experts throughout the world – from cardiologists, oncologists and gerontologists to physical therapists – your relentlessly positive attitude has you on a path toward a healthier life.
But let’s be honest: the stress of everyday life – raising a family, career advancement, and working to maintain a healthful lifestyle – causes the best of us to occasionally bask in the darkness of negativity.
It’s part of being human, after all. Just keep that wallowing to a minimum because … science.
“There is a science that is emerging that says a positive attitude isn’t just a state of mind,” said Carol Ryff, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It also has linkages to what’s going on in the mind and in the body.”
Among them, according to the Mayo Clinic, are an increasing life span; lower levels of depression and distress; a stronger immune system; better psychological and physical well-being; reduced risk of cardiovascular disease; and better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.
“Indeed, some studies show that personality traits like optimism and pessimism can affect many areas of your health and well-being,” states an article credited to the Mayo Clinic staff. “The positive thinking that typically comes from optimism is a key part of effective stress management. And effective stress management is associated with many health benefits.”
For example, a 2012 study by the Duke University Medical Center linked positive emotions with better heart health. Another from the same year, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, suggests that a positive attitude can reverse health risks in seniors. It concluded that “… lonely, older adults who adapt and think of negatively health circumstances positively, and do not blame themselves for their health issues, can lower health risks linked with stress inflammation.”
The benefits of positivity can even start at a young age, according to a 2011 research at the Duke University Medical Center. The study showed that youths who remain happy and optimistic during their teenage years report better general health as adults.
Needless to say, positivity makes for one powerful potion. But if (or when) you find yourself contemplating the emptiness of the glass in front of you or the silver linings dissipate from the clouds above, here are a few ways to get back your optimistic luster:
Break the Cycle. Identify areas of your life that cause you to think negatively, then make some changes around these areas. Start small by focusing on one area of your life (e.g., a personal relationship, your daily commute) to approach in a more positive way.
Laugh. A good laugh doesn’t just feel good. Studies show that in the short term, laughter stimulates your organs, activates and relieves your stress response, and soothes tension. In the long term? Laughter can improve your immune system, relieve pain, and increase personal satisfaction.
Be Social. A strong social network gives you a sense of belonging, an increased sense of self-worth, and a feeling of security. Surround yourself with positive, supportive and honest people.
Just Say No. Overcommitting yourself for the acceptance of others can create huge amounts of stress. So learn to say no more often. Saying no doesn’t make you selfish; it can free up more time for you to try new things and spend time where it matters most (e.g., with family).
Exercise. Get a workout in at least three times a week to improve your mood and reduce the effects of stress on your body. And while we’re on the subject of health, maintain a healthful diet, too.
If you’re having trouble starting or maintaining a regular exercise regimen, contact your physical therapist. He or she can help you get started and identify a regular routine that you like and can commit to.