Saturday, August 8, 2009

It pays to be Optimistic : Better Health Through Change

The human body seems to "prefer" optimism over pessimism.

Consider these recent findings. Among heart disease patients, pessimists tend to die before optimists do. Pessimists are more likely than optimists to develop cancer. The more optimistic someone is at age 20, the healthier he/she is likely to be at age 60. Optimism or pessimism can be traced to neural connections between the brain's emotion-generating limbic system and its thought-generating cerebral cortex. These connections form in the first years of life during interactions with people around you - especially parents or other caregivers.

Even if you didn't start out an optimist, you can master the skill of optimism. That's the sense that you control your life and can shape reality for the better.

Here's what to do. Practice "downward comparison." By seeing yourself as better off than someone else, you feel better. So whenever you feel sorry for yourself, imagine people who are worse off than you. For example,If you can't find a parking space, remind yourself, "At least I have a car." Do not feel guilty about downward comparison. People who use the technique are more likely to be volunteers and altruists, which creates additional optimistic feelings of self-esteem.

Change your "explanatory style." Pessimists assume that life won't work out and berate themselves for their failures. When something good happens, it's considered a fluke. To change the way you experience life, you must change what psychologists call "explanatory style" - the way you interpret life.

Helpful: Carry note cards with you. When you have a negative thought, write it down. Then write down an optimistic version of the same thought. Even when you experience severe problems, like the death of a loved one or a divorce, remember that how you talk to yourself about what happened plays an important part in how you feel. Thinking like an optimist buoys your mood and prevents your feeling demoralized and helpless. If you don't feel it, fake it. When your sad, your brain "instructs" your facial muscles to frown. But if u smile, your brain "assumes" you're feeling happy. Do this for a few minutes and you may start to feel happy.

Helpful: Change your posture from round-shouldered or slumped to upright. Walk with a bounce instead of a shuffle. Feel less anxious by sending a mental message to your muscles to relax. Give-to get positive feedback in return. Because emotions are molded by interaction with others, moods are sensitive to emotional signals from others. Smile at someone, and a returned smile reinforces your optimistic feelings. That's why it's worthwhile being upbeat with others and showing interest in them - even when you don't feel like it. The strongest optimism - producing sensation is touch. When you're down, cuddle with your partner or get a massage.

Also: Spend time in nature or buy a videotape that shows peaceful landscapes. Scent your environment with candles or aromatherapy oils.

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