Can optimism make you live longer?

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Health Assured team

07 March 2017

Not only is positive thinking linked to a host of health benefits, it can also make you more resilient   In his recent address to Congress, Donald Trump promised that “a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp”. These American dreams include shiny new roads and an end to illegal drugs. But optimism brings its own rewards – it is linked to a host of health benefits. A recent paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology of more than 70,000 women found that optimists were less likely than pessimists to die from cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung conditions or infections during the eight-year study period. The women were aged between 58 and 83, and the researchers took into account other factors such as economic status, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression.   The solution Levels were measured by asking the women how optimistic they felt on a scale of zero to 24. Optimism is considered a personality trait – a belief that life is likely to turn out well as opposed to badly and optimists will expect good outcomes even when life is tough. This study joins a host of others including a meta analysis of more than 80 studies that associate optimism with better health. A study from the University of Illinois of more than 5,100 people found that those who were most optimistic were twice as likely to have a good “cardiovascular score” based on criteria such as cholesterol and glucose levels, physical activity, blood pressure and weight.   And it seems optimism doesn’t set people up for disappointment – studies show it provides resilience against distress. In people with head and neck cancer, the more optimistic reported a better quality of life regardless of the stage of the condition. Women who were optimists beforehand also coped better with the disappointment of failed IVF.   Excerpt from The Guardian Online, read the full article here.   Mental health – coping techniques More resilient people recognise the warning signs of too much pressure and are able to effectively employ mental coping strategies to deal with the circumstances when the pressure gets too high. They can do this because they are able to recognise the signals their bodies give them that they’re under stress and not reacting well:  
  • Their feelings and emotions
  • Changes in their behaviour and attitude
  • Changes in their appearance
  And they are then very good at responding appropriately. This is because they have already developed the ability to:  
  • Live a more balanced life
  • Talk and seek help from others when it’s needed
  • Employ positive and proactive coping strategies
  Living a more balanced life You may be experiencing stress because your life has become out of balance. You may be spending too much time and energy on work or on caring for others, at the expense of your own health and well-being. The following strategies can help you to live a more balanced and stress-free life:
  • Delegate or share your responsibilities at work and at home
  • Avoid difficult colleagues, family members, and acquaintances
  • Learn to be more assertive – SAY NO
  • Participate in regular exercise
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Never take on more than you know you can cope with
  • Organise your time better to get as much done as possible
  • Listen to music or relaxation tapes
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Schedule time for YOU
  Accepting support from others One of the most effective things we can do when we are stressed is to talk to a friendly listener who remains calm and listens in a way that makes us feel understood. Studies show that people who are active socially are most capable of dealing with stressful situations and major illnesses. To help reduce stress, develop a network of friends and family members to turn to when stress threatens to overwhelm you. If you are a naturally private or independent person, it might seem challenging to build a support system, but in order to cultivate a circle of friends, you need to take the first step. Your efforts to create a strong social network will serve you well when you are confronted with serious issues and pressures. So:  
  • Think of individuals who care about you and with whom you can share your most personal thoughts
  • Reach out to the people you feel close to
  • Call them; make dates to see them; be open and available to them.
  Developing proactive & positive coping skills Your attitude has a lot to do with whether events and occurrences produce a feeling of stress. Once you admit that you are not able to control everything, you will be better equipped to handle unexpected situations. Stress management comes down to finding ways to change your thinking and manage your expectations. Other important ways to adjust your attitude include:  
  • Being realistic – shed the Superman/ Superwoman image.
  • Don’t expect too much of yourself or of others.
  • Being flexible. Give in sometimes.
  • Rehearsing/preparing for work and life situations
  • Thinking positively – look at each stressful situation as an opportunity to improve your life
  • Don’t take work problems home or home problems to work
  • Laugh each day – rely on humour to relieve tension

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