Do you want to avoid getting sick this winter? Try changing your attitude. A new study shows that a 'Positive Emotional Style' can protect you against the flu and common cold. The study, reported this week in Psychosomatic Medicine, looked at how emotional style altered the susceptibility of a couple hundred healthy volunteers to two different viruses.
The researchers spent a couple of weeks conducting multiple phone interviews with the volunteers to rate them on positive attitudes (vigor, well-being and calmness) and negative attitudes (depression, anxiety and anger). Then they infected the crazy volunteers with either a common cold virus or a flu virus and quarantined them for six days.
Positive Attitude Protects you from Illness.
During the quarantine period, the researchers looked at objective measures of illness (blood tests for the virus, mucus production, etc.) and subjective measures from self-reported symptoms. The investigators found that a positive attitude protected people from showing symptoms of the illness - even though it didn't protect them from infection!
The percentage of folks that were successfully infected (shown by blood tests) was not different between positive and negative people - but the ability of the virus to make them sick was different. This suggests that people with a positive outlook actually stave off infectious illnesses.
Another part of the study showed that the positive people also under-described their symptoms while the negative people exaggerated theirs. The researchers looked at the medical measures of the symptoms vs. what the volunteers were telling them about how they felt. The positive folks described their symptoms as not as bad as what the medical measure predicted and the negative folks did the opposite. This is not surprising but an interesting point anyway.
Perceived Lack of Control Increases Stress Hormones
In a couple of related articles from the same journal issue, studies showed that the inability to feel in control leads to potentially damaging physiological processes. One of the studies showed that people who felt higher degrees of stress in anticipation of an event had higher levels of blood-clotting hormones during the stress. This means that anticipating less control of an upcoming event may cause your body to react in ways that can lead to cardiovascular problems.
Another study showed that people who spend more time in their day doing things related to their goals have lower levels of stress hormones in their blood. Researchers looked at married couples with preschool age kids. They monitored the daily activities of both parents and whether or not those activities related to stated goals. Time spent working on goals was associated with increased mood and lower stress hormones.
The studies all speak to the perception of having control over your life - the more you feel in control or that you are working toward more control, the better off you are from a physiological perspective. All three of these studies underline the power that your attitude has over your biology. The more time you spend with a positive outlook and feelings of empowerment the healthier you will be. There are many prior studies supporting pieces of this argument. We are not simply biological products of our experiences but have a lot of control based on the way we filter those experiences. The whole concept of having a positive mental attitude is not just psychobabble mumbo jumbo. There is emerging biological evidence that it makes a real difference.
See the Glass as Half Full
We all have problems. Life without problems may seem very attractive but it would get boring very quickly. Jim Rohn, a well-known business philosopher says this, "Don't wish for less problems, wish for more skills". In other words, see challenges in life as a way to improve your ability to handle them. Getting more skills will give you more control over future events and, based on the above studies, lead to a healthier life.
Copyright (c) 2006 The Brain Code LLC
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