Coping, Society, Treatment

Optimism’s Health Benefits

Well-intentioned yet completely misguided friends, family members, and even strangers often say that all it takes to get rid of your headaches is to “think positive.” You won’t be surprised to learn that this infuriates me. Headaches are a physiological illness that can’t be whisked away with happy thoughts.

Yet there’s evidence that the outcome of being optimistic about your diagnosis and treatment is better than if you are pessimistic. Optimism isn’t about thinking positive or pretending the illness doesn’t exist. Instead, it’s someone who “takes action through health-enhancing behaviors, even under very stressful circumstances. . . . Pessimists may create more distress for themselves by distorting, denying and avoiding the situation.”

This information is from Accentuate the Positive: How Optimism Can Boost Your Health, an article in the the National Women’s Health Resource Center‘s October newsletter. The article goes beyond telling you to be an optimistic to recommendations for making changes in your own life. Mainly it’s a matter of changing the way you cope so that you problem-solve instead of shutting down in the face of illness.

2 thoughts on “Optimism’s Health Benefits”

  1. I, too, have found such suggestions infuriating at times. I’ve had many a fantasy of wacking someone with a book as Deborah suggests. I have, however, recently found that a change in attitude has helped me to MANAGE the pain. Antidepressants certainly helped me to stay in the game, but they didn’t quite get me to “optimism”. It had to happen it its own time – through a long process of working through anger and grief over the immense change and loss caused by daily migraine. My very identity, sense of self, and trust in the world had to be rebuilt almost from scratch. At some point I began to feel some degree of acceptance, not just intellectually but in my heart, of the fact that I have a chronic illness and I have to start from there. Of course it still sucks. It took a LONG time for optimism to be a part of my life again. I couldn’t have willed it to happen sooner, but I am grateful to finally see it again.

  2. well said. If we could just, say, HIT them with the book, IN their head, then give them their own advice, “Hey, think positive, you’ll feel much better in a few minutes!” if only in our imaginations, right.

    I have to say that being optimistic — or maybe just realistic — about having chronic pain for the rest of my life has helped me a ton. (Optimism made possible by antidepressants.)


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