Positive Thinking and its Role in Overall Health

Current research has proven there is a correlation between staying positive and the overall health of a person. Analysts have determined the relationship between health and positivity from the fact that positive thinking helps alleviate and even eliminate the effects of stress. Stress, as we know, leads to a variety of maladies such as inflammation, increased weight, sleeplessness, headaches, and overall weariness. When tested, positive thinkers are more able to cope with stress and stressful situations. Additionally, the effects of the stress aren’t as long lasting on positive individuals.

A Correlation between Attitude and Health

Harvard researchers conducted a famous multi-year study, which included 99 members of the 1942-1944 graduating class. Social scientists created a survey, which separated the questions into positive and negative categories as part of a rating scale. They found a very strong correlation between the responses of the classmen and their overall health. Those who had always been positive and those who changed from negative to positive in their early adulthood faired the best. Likewise, those who changed from a positive outlook to a negative one in their early adulthood, and those who remained negative throughout the study, faired the worst in regards to overall wellbeing.

Positive vs. Negative Attitudes

During the many changes we encounter throughout life, especially those that affect us unfavorably, stress is the obvious result. These events include losing a job, missing payments, divorce, or being diagnosed with a chronic illness, etc. (I’m sure you can think of many more). The main difference between an inherently positive vs. a negative thinker, is that the positive thinker, rather than focusing on how they are ‘stuck,’ focuses on what they can change. Positive thinkers, while still experiencing stress, believe they can make whatever change is needed and work little by little until they are out of the stressful environment.

Why Does Pessimism Lead to Harmful Health Consequences?

As you may or may not know, the body secretes a steroid hormone called cortisol when it is stressed. Cortisol is one of the hormones that kept our prehistoric ancestors alive. We’ve all heard of ‘fight or flight,’ and cortisol does have advantages when we are in highly dangerous situations, but the problem is that cortisol can also be released when we are not in dire peril. For example, something as unexceptional as a confrontation with your boss can result in the creation of cortisol. According to the Mayo Clinic, when cortisol is elevated in the body for long periods of time, immune function is lowered, bone density is negatively affected, heart disease is more prevalent, and illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease can result.

Positive Thinking Case Study

Here’s one last study worth mentioning: a test performed by Dr. Dennis Charney, a dean at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. In his study, Charney had 750 Vietnam War veterans take a survey and list personal qualities they believed best described them. Charney’s goal was to determine if veterans who did not develop post-traumatic stress disorder had anything in common with those who developed PTSD. All of the veterans who did not develop PTSD had one thing in common. They put optimism at the top of their lists of character attributes. They also ranked humor, selflessness, a belief in a higher power, and a general meaningfulness very high. These are all part of an optimistic outlook.

While we can’t stay positive all the time, it is worth it to at least try to change our outlooks. Beyond the physical unhealthiness of stress, staying stressed is no way to live our lives; we owe it to ourselves to put forth an effort towards general positivity.

About the Author

Jacob Edward is the manager of Prime Medical Alert and Senior Planning  in Phoenix, Arizona. Jacob founded both companies in 2007 and has helped many Arizona seniors navigate the process of long-term care planning. Senior Planning provides services to seniors and the disabled— finding and arranging long-term care as well as applying for state and federal benefits.

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