My optimism is something that I cherish. When I hear naysayers, my heart hurts for them. While I see a value in assessing situations based in reality and looking at all real possible outcomes, fixating on the worst outcome is all-round bad for your life. Here is yet another factual reason to break out of the pessimism downward spiral : it is bad for your physical body!
“Joelle Jobin, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology who co-authored the study says “for some people, going to the grocery store on a Saturday morning can be very stressful, so that’s why we asked people how often they felt stressed or overwhelmed during the day and compared people to their own averages, then analyzed their responses by looking at the stress levels over many days.”
Jobin found that pessimists tend to have a higher stress baseline than optimists. Pessimists generally had trouble regulating their sympathetic nervous system when they go through stressful experiences. The inability to look on the bright side causes cortisol to stay constantly elevated. “On days where they experience higher than average stress, that’s when we see that the pessimists’ stress response is much elevated, and they have trouble bringing their cortisol levels back down. Optimists, by contrast, were protected in these circumstances,” says Jobin.
The vagus nerve and healthy vagal tone are directly linked to balancing the ‘fight or flight’ response of our sympathetic nervous system (which is linked to chronic high levels of cortisol) with the ‘rest and digest’ and ‘tend and befriend’ function of our parasympathetic nervous system. In addition to making a conscious effort to be more optimistic, you can also make lifestyle choices that will activate a parasympathetic response, slow your physiology down, and improve your stress response. “
So, optimism isn’t just a matter of your natural predisposition. Even if you have to decide to see the bright side and really do a bit of mindful work to be less of a cynic, the effect on your body will still be positive. You can actually slap on rose colored glasses of optimism by choice and change your biology.
High levels of cortisol have been linked to excess belly fat (the kind that’s bad for your heart), circulatory system damage and weak bones (!). Pessimists are actually 4 times more likely to get sick, too!
And, if you need a little pep talk, here you go!