Being an Optimist Can Improve Your Health

Being an Optimist Can Improve Your Health

An optimistic outlook can improve physical and mental well-being and even help you stay younger for longer, research shows. Looking at life from a ‘brighter’ point of view is a science-backed tool that can improve your mood, help you achieve goals and improve your health.

And you don’t have to think about your personality to benefit: even small differences in your attitude can pay off big, says Hilary Tindle, author of “Up: How a Positive Outlook Can Transform Our Health and Aging.” Positive Can Transform Our Health and Aging shape.

What makes optimism so powerful is that it’s based on realism — a positive mindset isn’t just about thinking things are going to be okay. “True optimists are pragmatic, perhaps because they scan the horizon to see what could go wrong, then work and plan around those potential pitfalls so things can go right,” says Hilary. In other words, optimists work proactively to make the positive happen. In return, they get some important health benefits.

The following are the health benefits of a positive mindset

a longer life

Positive-minded people are more likely than pessimists to have a lower risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. That’s because, in part, optimists tend to live a healthy lifestyle. The reason: if you expect good things for yourself, then you’re more apt to do things to move in that direction, experts say.

less stress

Optimists are better at dealing with stress, which also means they can short-circuit rising levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Everyone experiences cortisol spikes, but people with a positive mindset tend to tackle a problem head-on, which increases their chances of solving it.

Lower risk of depression

Positive mindsets can serve as a kind of “psychological immunization” to fight depression in the same way that vaccines inoculate us against viruses. This may be because optimists tend to have larger social networks and more supportive relationships, which serve as a safety net in difficult times, says Carsten Wrosch, a professor of psychology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

An advantage against aging

Pessimists tend to have shorter telomeres — repeated sequences of DNA that form protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes — than non-pessimists, according to research at the University of California, San Francisco. That means telomeres are aging faster. “Cells with shorter telomeres circulate and release large amounts of inflammatory proteins that contribute to inflammation, which is a mechanism of aging,” says Aoife O’Donovan, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco and a research psychologist.

How to have a positive mindset

The good news: even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, there are proven ways to build a positive mindset, says Hilary, who calls herself “an optimist… trying hard.” About 25% to 30% of optimism is genetic, but much of the rest has to do with thought patterns that you can control. Use any or all of these strategies to start an upward spiral of good thoughts and learn to have a positive mindset:

-Write: research shows that when people write their vision of their best self in as much sensory detail as possible and then visualize that self for five minutes daily for a week or two, they become more optimistic, says Wrosch.

-Stop twisting things: Often, a pessimistic viewpoint forms when you engage in all-or-nothing thinking or believe that your momentary feelings — despair, anger, hurt — are permanent, says Hilary. In these cases, take a step back and think of yourself as someone else, then reevaluate. This will help you see the situation more accurately.

-Spend time with positive people: good relationships are the most correlated factor to health and happiness, according to the Harvard University Study of Adult Development. Socializing lowers cortisol and activates dopamine, the happiness hormone. When you surround yourself with people who have a positive mindset, you increase your chances of developing one too, as behaviors and outlook are contagious.

-Check the reality: Humans are programmed to imagine things going wrong “so we can respond to what’s happening in real time and prepare for what might happen in the future,” says Aoife. But some of us worry a lot about things that will never happen. To stop “doomsday” thinking, she suggests writing down what you’re worried about and then coming back a week or a month later to see what negative things happened. “It’s a reality check for your expectations of the future,” she says. This can help you lessen worry over time and slowly build a more positive mindset.

-Don’t repress negative emotions: It’s important not to confuse optimism or a positive mindset with hiding anger, sadness, or fear, as this can easily backfire. “Suppression of emotions is associated with disease-causing inflammation,” says Aoife. Instead, accept the feelings without judgment, identify the reason for them, and work through them.

-Prioritize sleep and exercise: when you’re sleep deprived, you don’t regulate your emotions either, and negative thinking can take over, says Hilary. Exercise releases feel-good chemicals, which may help explain how it can brighten your point of view. In addition, “research shows that it can clear the ‘cobwebs’ of stress and sadness and mitigate the effects of clinical depression and anxiety,” she says. This is linked to longer telomeres, so it can also help protect you from aging.

Source: Shape

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