January 5, 2010 in Features

Push back against life’s negatives by trying to apply a positive spin

Dr. Alisa Hideg

Everyone has events or circumstances in their lives that make them frustrated, irritable or depressed. When I was younger and I would talk about something bothering me, a relative of mine would tell me: “Just don’t let it get to you.”

It is not always easy to have a positive attitude or a good outlook in the face of difficulties or bad news, but sometimes how you approach a situation can tip the balance in your favor, allowing you to achieve your goal, smoothly handle stress or cope with grief.

I thought that anyone who did not react to problems (like my relative) just did not understand the seriousness of what was happening, until I had a day when I realized my relative might be right.

I was in my car on my way home from work, creeping along in terrible traffic. I had moved six months before and made the commute five days a week. As usual, I was becoming frustrated with traffic.

That day I realized that the traffic was never going to improve (in fact it was only going to get worse) and if I continued to let it bother me every day, I was only going to arrive home angry and upset.

So I decided to try to take traffic as an opportunity to enjoy my favorite radio station uninterrupted and to not spend my time fuming at the cars in front of me. It sounds simple enough, but I really had to focus on making the change. After some practice, I began to arrive home in a better mood.

A positive outlook has been linked to a reduced risk of heart attack, better cancer outcomes, easier post-surgical recovery, greater ability to cope with pain and a stronger immune system.

More research needs to be done about the correlation between our attitude and diseases, but it has already been shown that people who respond to stressful events with a positive attitude are about 20 percent less likely to have a heart attack when compared with people who respond with negative emotions.

Some evidence suggests that this is because our bodies experience more inflammation when we react negatively to stress, but it may also be because of higher levels of certain hormones or a combination of both.

In addition to impacting your health, a positive attitude could help you stick to your New Year’s resolution, improve your golf game or give you the energy for one more toboggan ride down the hill with your kids.

How do you develop a more positive attitude toward the challenges that life throws at you? Some areas are easier than others.

Start with the simple problems and work your way into the bigger issues that come your way. If your luggage does not make it home until the day after you get back from vacation, then at least you did not have to carry it home from the airport.

If your team is playing another team that is undefeated this season, focus on what an upset it will be rather than how difficult it might seem to win.

As you make a conscious effort to have a positive attitude when the little hitches in life happen, you may find your overall outlook improving and it may become easier to cope when life puts a bigger stumbling block in your path.

It also helps to have some time every day when you do not think about your worries. Try to focus your mind on what you are doing when you exercise (your breathing, your stride, your stroke, your form) so that it can be a time to clear you head, get the most out of your workout and concentrate on the fact that you are doing something good for yourself.

When you do this, it can be easier to be calmer later in the day.

Like anything, developing a positive attitude can require practice. Much of it is determined by whether we see any hope for our future and whether we have support from those around us. Nurturing relationships, developing a sense of humor and taking time out to exercise are all ways of improving your outlook on life.

Attitude is not necessarily everything, but it does make a big difference.

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