Optimism is a good skill to cultivate, especially if you're interested in doing what you can to improve your health in a number of areas.
Blood pressure, cardiac health and immunity improve with regular spoonfuls of
A study at the University of Illinois has found that more optimistic people experience less anxiety. It turns out bigger is better, when it comes to your OFC (orbitofrontal cortex). After analysis by both MRI and surveys, it was suggested that a thicker OFC enabled participants to better modulate anxiety.
Pessimism is a downer. Not only for you, but also for the people around you. Let's face it, there are only so many down-and-out country songs you can listen to where the truck broke down, the the grass won't grow, you ain't got no beer and your partner left you for someone taller, richer and thinner.
Optimism increases resilience
Dennis Charney, MD, Dean of Research and the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Biological Chemistry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, studied 750 Vietnam War Vets who did not develop PTSD or depression, despite having been held captive, while enduring beatings for a period of 6 to 8 years.
Dr. Charney identified 10 characteristics that gave these men "bouncebackability". Number 1 was optimism. I know you're wondering, so here are the others: altruism, having a moral compass, faith and spirituality, humour, having a role model, social supports, facing fear, having a mission and training.
You train to become a licensed driver. You train for your career. You train at the gym. How much time do you spend on training yourself to become more optimistic? Oh, you didn't realize that you could do that. Yes, even a former pessimist like me, can become more optimistic. You can read about it on my latest slideshow on HealthCentral.com: Optimism is Good for You and Your RA.
While you may never be held in captivity (I hope), your thoughts and emotions may hold you hostage and create stress. You don't have to suffer emotionally, mentally, physically and/or spiritually.
Stress dampens your ability to be optimistic. When you transform stress, you find that a fresh stream of optimism bubbles up to quench your parched world.
"When your mind starts soaring, you notice more and more positive things. This unleashes an upward spiral of positive emotions that opens people up to new ways of thinking and seeing the world - to new ways forward. This is yet another reason why positive people are resilient. They see opportunities that negative people don't. Negativity, for adaptive reasons, puts you in defense mode, narrows your field of vision and shuts you off to new possibilities since they're seen as risks.
While pessimism appears to bandage your hurts (see Slide 8 - From Pessimist to Optimist), it tends to breed faster than a plague of rats. The more pessimistic you are, the more stressed you feel. The more stressed you are, the more pessimistic you feel.
When does it stop? How about right now?
Here's what to do to get started:
- Notice how often you are pessimistic. If you don't know you're doing something, you can't make changes.
- Catch yourself uttering words like "never" and "always". Those absolutes can keep you stuck.
- When you start bashing about those words or find yourself feeling like "nothing ever works out", stop and take a few deep, gentle breaths. Notice how you feel.
- Pat yourself on the back. Rinse. Repeat. This is only the beginning, but it's enough to get started. It's a process, so give yourself the gift of perseverance - for the health of it!