For many years, research has shown that a positive outlook directly benefits one’s health. Researchers have found that people who view things in a positive manner are able to better handle day-to-day stress. This sounds insignificant, but stress leads to ailments such as headaches, inflammation, obesity, and insomnia just to name a few. Research has found that positive thinkers handle stress so effectively that there are no lasting side effects after the occurrence of a stressful event. Regardless of whether or not a positive mental attitude is your natural state, working on keeping a positive outlook is important because if you are a caregiver, I can guarantee that you have stress in one way or another and can benefit greatly.
A Positive Focus
If you are an informal caregiver for a loved one, a critical life change most likely precipitated your role change. This type of drastic life change causes high amounts of stress. Often times, it is hard and nearly impossible to view these events in anything other than a negative light. The difference between someone who is positive vs. someone who is negative is that the positive person focuses on what they can change and the negative individual will often focus on what they can’t. The key to coming out of a stressful situation is believing you can make a change and then working in small steps to implement that change. Set caregiving goals because thinking you cannot accomplish something will often result in that thing becoming impossible to do. While some things can’t be changed, don’t ignore the small victories that occur each day.
Why Does Pessimism Lead to Harmful Health Consequences?
Not only does pessimism rupture your relationship with the person you are caring for, but as mentioned in the beginning, long-term stress can lead to personal health issues in the future. These issues stem from a hormone our body produces called cortisol. Cortisol was meant to protect us from predators in ancient times, sometimes called the flight or fight hormone. It is what heightens our awareness during periods of imminent danger. It’s great if you find yourself in a life or death situation, but unfortunately, it has little place in the world we live in today. Many less dire events can trigger an increase in cortisol and according to the Mayo Clinic; an increased level of cortisol in the body over an extended period of time is dangerous. Cortisol can lead to issues such as diabetes, obesity, lowered immune function, heart disease, depression, and lower bone density.
A Study on Thinking Positively
Dr. Dennis Charney, dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, conducted a study where he had 750 Vietnam War veterans list a pre-designated grouping of qualities about themselves from most relevant to least. He was attempting to figure out some of the reasons why the veterans developed post-traumatic stress disorder. He had a hypothesis that those who were optimistic would have the lowest cases of PTSD. After conducting the survey he found that those veterans who didn’t develop PTSD all listed optimism at the top of their list as a defining quality. Optimism was followed by selflessness, humor, and a belief in a higher power. All of the people who didn’t develop PTSD noted that they believed their lives and actions had meaning behind them – all part of a positive outlook on life.
This study may seem irrelevant for caregivers, but the New York Times found that the stress many caregivers suffer from has PTSD-like symptoms. Even in the most trying times, try to remember that the reason you are caring for someone is because you love them, and this physical demonstration of love gives meaning to your actions.
Although many people feel it is their duty to take care of their spouse or aging parents, sometimes it becomes physically impossible. Seeking professional help does not mean you are giving up on the person you love. Caregivers must ask themselves whether or not their charge is affecting their own stability and health. If your loved one begins to affect your sleeping and eating schedule or you are simply stressed out all the time, it may be time to consider a professional assisted living environment. When things feel overwhelming remember there are support groups and healthcare professionals who can assist you. Also, if you feel you can no longer care for your loved one, but cannot afford professional care, don’t get too discouraged because there are financial aid programs offered by federal and state government.
Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning provides free assistance to seniors or the disabled and specializes in long term care—mainly finding and arranging care services, transitioning people into senior living, and applying for state and federal benefits.