Does Optimism and Pessimism Affect Our Health?

The impact of our mental state on our physical health has been becoming better understood in recent years. Many have always held that our attitude about how successful treatments or procedures will go makes a difference. Today there are numerous studies and countless anecdotal points of evidence from medical practitioners supporting the importance of a positive attitude in health care. The question stands, however. Does being an optimist, or a pessimist, really affect our healthcare outcomes?

How Pessimism May Be A Deadly Point Of View

An article was written by Dr. Pauline Chen covering an incident where a diabetic patient’s infection failed to respond to IV antibiotics. This failure to respond contradicted all signs related to the infection. The patient experienced a series of amputations in an attempt to stop the advancing infection. Each amputation took a little more of the foot, trying to stop the advance of the infection. Instead, he eventually began to lose weight and had to receive nutritional support. Ultimately, he passed.

During his treatment, something had become apparent to Dr. Chen that led her to contact his psychiatrist. The patient maintained a dour and cynical attitude about their treatment and life in general. This led Dr. Chen to ask the psychiatrist if the patient was depressed. The psychiatrist responded that they were not and were merely a pessimist by nature. While these stories are interesting, they only represent points of correlation, not causation. So is there actually a connection?

Studies over the previous two and a half decades reveal that there is a real connection. These studies reveal that:

  • Good cardiovascular health is found twice as often in optimists (Rosalba Hernandez, University of Illinois)
  • Recovery from bypass surgery and myocardial infarction is faster in optimistic patients.
  • After recovery, these patients also report superior quality of life.
  • Boosted stress hormones, lower immune response, and high levels of cancer appear in pessimists. (Edna Maria Vissoci Reichi & Co.)
  • Reduced levels of distress, the slower advance of the disease, and superior survival rates in optimistic HIV patients have been observed. (The Unfortunate Consequences of Disbelieving in Free Will)

In light of points like these, it isn’t surprising to discover that optimists also have a tendency to live longer. A nine-year study performed by Dr. Erisk Giltay revealed that optimistic patients had a 55% lower likelihood of dying from general causes and were 23% less prone to death from heart-related disease.

There is one critical point about the studies that have been performed to date. They were all designed to find if there was a correlation between optimism and these results. This doesn’t reveal the reason this correlation exists. It could be that optimists tend to have better diets, avoid alcohol and drug use, exercise more, or just have an overall healthier lifestyle. They do, however, set the framework for more controlled, randomized studies.

Mental Health Care Can Help You Become Optimistic

Want to experience the benefits of being optimistic? Research has shown that it’s possible to learn how to be more optimistic about life. Mental health practitioners can teach you the practices and ways of approaching the world that can help. Call for a consultation and assessment today!

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.