Can maintaining an optimistic mindset improve your health?

Can maintaining an optimistic mindset improve your healthIt is a well-known fact that stress can damage the body. Here we have nice healthy tissue on our arm and if we pour a little acid on our arm, we will get some damage but the body can heal itself. If you keep pouring acid on the arm, the damage will be so great the body cannot keep up with it. You see, research has shown that stress contributes to 75%—maybe even 90%—of medical conditions, including the six leading causes of death. Now I am no mathematician, but WOW those numbers are huge enough to make me pay attention.

Equally important is when you are stressed, your brain is literally high-jacked and your performance suffers. And unfortunately, stress is not going away. The world is not going to slow down. The truth is, we need new and effective tools to navigate this world in order to have a balanced and successful life.

To help you understand this further, do me a favor. Just for a minute, close your eyes. Think of a time when you felt like you were on top of your game, completely in the flow. You were creative, solutions came easily, and life was fun. Do you have that? I like to call that the sweet spot. It is that place where you have mental clarity, you have optimal energy, and your body is being able to heal and rejuvenate on a regular basis. As a stress management and wellness expert, I routinely teach people to achieve this state. No one can stay there 100% of the time, but it can be mastered like any other skill with the correct tools and coaching. Just think, would your own life be different if you could be there in that sweet spot even 20% more of the time? 

You see, stress throws us right out of that state. It impairs our ability to be decisive and have mental clarity because the peripheral vision comes in to focus at task at hand—survival. OK for real emergencies. But continually feeling threatened with things such as worrying about deadlines, bills, meeting payroll, losing your job, relationship problems, and your children succeeding—this type of chronic stress is incompatible with the amount of creative thinking and innovation needed to face the challenges of daily life and get ahead in this complex world. We want to live in that sweet spot whether at work, with friends, on a date, at home with the spouse and kids, or in an emergency, so we can be more productive, successful, and have better quality relationships. This does not mean you have to be in a meditative state all the time. It means our nervous system is balanced and we have access to a part of the brain where you are creative, solutions come easily, and life is fun.

Even though you cannot make all the stress in life go away, I have good news. Research is showing positive emotions have healing effects on the body. Evidence shows that a person’s mindset can affect how fast a person heals from injuries and illness. In fact, Dr. Martin Seligman—one of the preeminent experts in the field of positive psychology—says that staying optimistic is as effective in keeping yourself healthy as making lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.

Some experts say there is good stress that stimulates us and has positive health benefits such as having a deadline in which you feel in control and have a sense of accomplishment. There is that positive emotion, positive benefits. Good stress. You can have the same deadline and feel anxious or worried—bad stress. 

This is the most important point of this entire conversation. Stress can be debilitating or it can be a motivating force. Nothing has any meaning other than the meaning you give it. If you experience stress, feel victimized by it, and create negative emotions (hopeless, helpless, anger, resentment, fear), you produce chemicals that are harmful to your health. To stay healthy longer, YOU MUST MASTER THE ABILITY to neutralize the stress in your body AND train your mind to remain optimistic and positive despite the stresses of life. 

For this reason, it is important to interpret anxiety such as pounding heart and rapid breathing as being energized and prepared to meet an upcoming challenge. One acting coach trains his students to rename their stage fright silly names such as Shazaam so they could start seeing it as something positive. 

To look at this simply, the closest pharmacy is the brain. Positive emotions produce chemicals that help our body heal and function optimally, while negative emotions produce chemicals that are damaging to our health. In fact, further research shows positive and negative emotions actually affect even our DNA. 


Author: Debra Kahnen, RN, ND, is the CEO of Life Mastery LLC. With over three decades of healthcare experience—as both a nursing leader in the largest not-for-profit health system in Texas and as a naturopath focusing on wellness—her view is radically different. Debra is a renowned expert in stress management and wellness. She helps people improve their health and emotional well-being to allow for more peace, joy, and personal satisfaction. Get a free special short video eCourse, "Take back control of your life NOW!, so you can experience more balance and ease in your life.

Article Photo: courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN / Free Digital Photos

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