Have you ever met someone who you would describe as always seeing the glass as half-full? You might have thought that this type of positive attitude was just inherent in some people’s personality, but did you know that having a positive attitude can actually improve your health? People who are optimists tend to have better physical and mental health. If you’ve ever wished you could be more positive, here is some more fuel to add to your fire. In addition, you’ll find some tips on cultivating a more positive attitude in your own life.
A Positive Attitude Improves Your Mental Health
Approximately one in five Americans suffers from a mental health issue like anxiety or depression at any given time. While a positive outlook can’t prevent all mental health conditions, it can reduce your risk of developing depression and anxiety. One reason for this is that by focusing on the good things that happen, you naturally spend less time dwelling on the bad things and ruminating about the less pleasant part of life. Everyone goes through hard times; those who tend to be optimistic often get through them more easily.
If you do develop depression or anxiety and you have cognitive behavioral therapy, your therapist will likely walk you through ways that you can focus on some of the positives of whatever situations you are dealing with. If you do this as a matter of habit, it can make overcoming these mental health issues easier and allow you to recover more quickly. People with a more positive mindset are also likely to use healthy coping mechanisms rather than rely on substance use/abuse or overeating to deal with setbacks.
In addition to making you less prone to anxiety and depression, a positive attitude can help you cope better with whatever difficulties come along. Those who are optimists tend to look for ways they can make their situation better: If they dislike their job, for example, they might be less likely to feel overwhelming stress at work and, instead, look for ways that they can improve their environment or get a new job.
A Positive Attitude Improves Your Physical Health
One way to improve your mental health is to improve your physical health. You might not realize this, but the way you think actually impacts your physical health. People who tend to have a positive attitude reap the benefits of better physical health. Here are some of the ways being an optimist can make you healthier:
- People who focus on the positive tend to live longer than those who would describe their glass as half-empty. They get through health challenges like cancer, heart attacks, and diabetes with fewer complications and are more likely to survive.
- Optimists have less overall inflammation than pessimists. This means that the aging process goes more smoothly and they are less likely to develop heart disease and other illnesses.
- People who have a positive attitude get better sleep, eat better, and exercise more than those who have a negative attitude. All of these self-care activities lend to better physical and mental health. For example, sleep deficiency can be linked to anxiety, and getting enough exercise has been proven to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- One study showed that people with HIV who were taught positive coping skills had lower virus loads, tended to take their medication more reliably, and felt more in control of their illnesses than those who were simply given supportive counseling.
A Positive Attitude Improves Your Relationships
Having a positive frame of mind can also help you cultivate relationships. Some of this is intuitive: Would you rather hang around with someone who had a sunny disposition or someone who always saw the clouds but never the silver linings? You probably already know that smiling is contagious; those who look happier and focus on the positive tend to have more friends. A positive attitude can also help you get through difficulties with your spouse or partner. All of this can equal more supportive and intimate relationships, which, in turn, can improve your mental health.
A Positive Attitude Can Be Cultivated (Even If You’re Not Naturally Optimistic)
If you are feeling a bit of despair because you feel that you’re not naturally optimistic, have no worries: You can cultivate a positive attitude by integrating some of these tips into your life:
- Keep optimistic company. You might have heard the common wisdom that you are the sum of the five people closest to you. What this means is that you’re likely to pick up on the quirks and habits of the people you spend the most time with. If you are surrounding yourself with optimists, it’s nearly certain that you will begin to have a rosier outlook on life. On the other hand, if your closest friends are pessimistic, you might have a harder time being optimistic.
- Follow the rule that if you can’t say anything nice to yourself, don’t say anything at all. You might already follow this guideline when dealing with other people, particularly strangers and acquaintances, but many of us tend to be harder on ourselves than on anyone else. Instead of berating yourself when things go wrong, think about your positive attributes and how you could apply them to your current situation.
- Look for ways that you can think of challenges as opportunities. For example, instead of being afraid of change because you’ve never experienced a certain situation before, consider it an opportunity to learn something new. Being open to new experiences can help you see things in a different, more positive light.
- Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Each day, look for something to be thankful for. Write it down in a gratitude journal. In several weeks, you’ll be able to look back at dozens of silver linings that you have found in everyday events.
You can improve your physical and mental health by looking for ways to be more positive. You could make this your new year’s resolution for 2018 and get your year off to a more positive, healthier start.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.