As we head into the holiday season, it’s natural to feel stressed and overwhelmed on occasion. While we often have little to no control over stressful life events, like finals, meals with relatives we may not get along with, and bills that keep piling up, we can control how we react to those situations that stress us out.
One way we can control our reactions to stressful life events is to cultivate an optimistic attitude. Research has proven the benefits of optimism.
- live longer
- have stronger immune systems
- suffer less stress and pain
- enjoy better cardiovascular health
- achieve a better quality of life
- have better survival rates after diagnoses of cancer, diabetes, and HIV
- get more and better sleep
- exercise more
- have more friends and stronger social support networks
But the question is, do optimists enjoy all those benefits because of their rosy, outlook on life or do healthier people have more optimism because of the benefits they enjoy?
Experts tend to believe the former is true. Optimistic people see the glass half-full regardless of their life circumstances.
Optimists are not born that way. Optimism is a skill you can develop over the course of your lifetime.
Optimists don’t see only the bright side all the time. They are realistic and honest. When something negative happens in their lives, they don’t just ignore the negative feelings or deny them; they allow themselves to fully experience the sadness or anger of those negative emotions and then think of a plan to change their circumstances. In other words, they are resilient.
How do you cultivate optimism?
Here are 7 things you can do:
1. Focus more on the problem itself rather than on reducing or managing emotions associated with the problem.
If an exam does not go well, analyze your approach to studying the material and make changes in your study habits.
2. Change your expectations.
If you know a certain aunt will loudly ask you why you don’t have a boyfriend in front of everyone at every holiday gathering, lose the burden of expecting her to be different. Anticipate instead how you will be different by not reacting to her insensitive comment.
3. Develop a worry-later list.
If a worry disrupts your day, jot it down and allot 15 minutes at the end of your day to ponder your list of worries.
Just making that to-do list takes it off your radar for the time being and allows you to focus on the more important task at hand. At the end of your day, you may find those worries are not as big as you thought.
4. Keep things in perspective.
Instead of generalizing that all is lost, step back and look at the big picture. You may have bombed the presentation but that doesn’t mean you have failed the class. You will have another chance to improve your performance.
Keep in mind there’s a big difference between thinking I feel unhappy versus I am unhappy.
5. Look at history, not headlines.
Bad news comes to us instantly through our phones and social media but checking history takes effort.
“According to just about every indicator of human well-being, we’re better off than any other time in history,” says Marian Tupy, editor of humanprogress.org.
In fact, if you want to see just how much the world has changed for the better since you were born, go to www.yourlifeinnumbers.org and plug in the year of your birth.
6. Think of things you are looking forward to.
Reminisce. Just thinking good thoughts whether they be from past memories or future expectations creates positive feelings, and boosts confidence which in turns leads to optimism.
7. Get enough sleep.
Getting enough sleep alone will help you feel more optimistic about life and improve the quality of your life.
Finally, practice makes perfect. Optimism is a skill you can learn and develop. It’s like a muscle. The more you practice optimism, the stronger it becomes in your life.
Keep in mind that the Family Health Clinic is here to help with health and mental health issues.
Please call us at 468-6800 or come by Fobes 1525 to find out more about ways we can help you. We are open for students, faculty, staff and the general public Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.