Taking care of your health can include nutrition, exercise and getting enough sleep. However, a growing number of studies are finding that psychosocial risk factors, like optimism, also play an important role in how healthy you are and how long you may live.
A review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that while pessimism is associated with a higher risk for a cardiac event, stroke or death by any cause, optimism creates a protective barrier and lowers the risk of these events. A separate review published in JAMA Network Open concluded that promoting optimism was important for preventive health.
Part of this is behavioral; an optimist might make different choices than a pessimist. How we evaluate situations affects our perception. Our brain gives us an expectation based on what we experience and if we are able to take things in a more positive manner, it can color our experience.
This is particularly important with issues like depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. There is also evidence that show benefits with other illness such as heart disease, as well as effects on immune function and recovery from illness.
Are you optimistic?
You are likely optimistic if you usually look on the bright side of things and expect that good things will happen in the future. Disappointments will come but you tend to adapt fairly quickly.
Realistically, good things aren’t always going to happen, but a mindset of optimism is the most important factor.
No matter where you fall on the optimism scale, there’s a good reason to grow yours a little more. Researchers found that the highest levels of optimism were associated with living the longest in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Fortunately, optimism is a skill you can learn.
Steps to take
1. Find purpose. Work, family, friends, volunteering and more can all help give your days meaning and help you feel more positive about what tomorrow holds.
2. Feel gratitude. Spend a few minutes each day writing down the things you are grateful for.
3. Look for the silver lining. When bad things happen, think about one small good thing that came about as a result.
4. Practice self-care. Do the things that make you feel good. Not just for the moment but long term. Exercise, get enough sleep, eat well and see friends.
5. Focus on what you can change. In difficult situations, write down what you can and can’t control. Focus on the things you can control to improve the outcome.
Optimism is a good habit to start. It’s sometimes not easy to be optimistic, and it would be unrealistic to be this way all the time, but pushing for a tendency toward optimism is a good exercise that can help on multiple levels.
Raymond Simon is a doctor at the Samaritan Family Medicine facility on Geary Street in Albany.