Optimism and Living with a Chronic Condition

I recently read interviews by Michael J. Fox as he was promoting his new book, No Time Like the Future. He talks often about optimism and living with a chronic condition. For example, one of my favorite quotes is the following:

“Optimism is really rooted in gratitude,” Fox says. “Optimism is sustainable when you keep coming back to gratitude, and what follows from that is acceptance. Accepting that this thing has happened, and you accept it for what it is. It doesn’t mean that you can’t endeavor to change. It doesn’t mean you have to accept it as a punishment or a penance, but just put it in its proper place. Then see how much the rest of your life you have to thrive in, and then you can move on.”

Michael J. Fox
wood scrabble pieces that spell live well; represents optimism with a chronic condition
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His words prompted me to ask:

  • What is the connection between optimism and living with a chronic condition?
  • Can optimism help you live as well as possible, even during difficult circumstances, like managing a health crisis or caring for a sick loved one?
  • Can you cultivate an optimistic mindset?

Living with a chronic condition or disability can be stressful. This is true for the person with the health condition and family caregivers. If you have been told to “look on the bright side,” or “think positively,” you may feel frustrated that others suggest you should be happy when living with difficult circumstances. In the same way, we often think about optimism as just “being happy.” Or denying negative thoughts and feelings. But in fact, optimism acknowledges that negative things happen. Then dives deeper.

As Dr. Elizabeth Hopper describes it: “Optimism doesn’t need to mean denying or avoiding negative events. Instead, optimism is a mindset that we can cultivate that empowers us to cope with life’s challenges.

Optimism can both acknowledge the difficulty of something and help us deal with it in a healthier way. So, optimism can be important when living with a chronic condition.

The Benefits of Optimism

Research indicates there are several benefits of optimism. At The Chronic Wellness Coach, I talk often about how health is not just physical. Total well-being is the interaction and balance of many areas of health. These include our physical, mental, social, spiritual, and financial health. And it turns out, an optimistic mindset can help improve your total well-being. This 2017 article explains the many benefits of optimism. For instance, optimism can:

  • improve mental health – Science shows that optimistic people have better coping strategies. Optimists tend to use a coping strategy called approach coping. This strategy addresses a challenge or problem head-on. A pessimist, on the other hand, tends to avoid or deny that a problem exists. This is called avoidance coping. Scientists consider avoiding coping less successful than approach coping. “…optimism may be beneficial for mental health because it allows us to cope adaptively with our problems, instead of disengaging from them.”
  • improve physical health – Studies have found that optimists are less likely to suffer from atherosclerosis or high blood pressure. Both are health conditions that lead to higher risk for stroke or heart disease.
  • improve sleep – Research also shows that an optimistic mind can help you get better sleep. If you have an adaptive coping strategy toward problems or challenges, these difficulties may be less likely to keep you up at night. So, better sleep can have positive benefits for both your physical and mental health.

For caregivers too, there appears to be a benefit to an optimistic mind. Caregivers who are optimistic tend to experience less depression. And this has a positive benefit on a caregiver’s mental health as well as social health.

Cultivating an Optimistic Mind

So, what if you consider yourself a natural pessimist? Can you change your mindset? Research says yes.

One way to build optimism with a chronic condition is to think of experiences in the past where you have been successful in the presence of adversity. What strengths got you through a difficult time in life before? Can you draw on those same strengths now?

Or, study how others have coped well in similar circumstances. Which brings me back to Michael J Fox. His honesty and openness of handling the adversity of Parkinson’s is an inspiration to others with PD. But those without Parkinson’s can benefit too. His is an example of how one person has grown in optimism and gratitude, even when living with difficult circumstances.

Struggling to see how you can cultivate an optimistic mind set? Contact me and let’s set up a time to talk.

Disclaimer: This blog is a resource through which you may obtain information regarding your health and wellness.  Information is intended for the general reader and is not a substitute for medical advice.  The content in this blog is intended to be informational only and not interpreted as specific advice for you.  There may be delays, omissions, or inaccuracies in information contained in this blog. You should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional who is familiar with your health and past medical history before making any changes you may read about in this blog.

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