Optimism and Cancer

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Psychological phenomenon and habits, such as optimism, can greatly impact one’s life and the way in which they view and react situations, life events, and changes. As such, they should be treated with proper weight, rather than ignored or discounted. How you feel and think, and what you choose to believe, impact your life view and the way in which you react to other people or circumstances. This includes your response to cancer itself, as well as the people around you during your cancer journey. Today’s topic discusses recent scientific research that discusses the correlations between optimism and cancer, as well as the impact of positivity on your healing. You make a choice every day when you choose your outlook and how you want to view the world; science shows that positivity and optimism have great effects that can boost the quality of your relationships, as well as your life itself.

The Scientific Correlations between Optimism and Cancer

To begin, we would like to address the term optimismand what it means. “As it is commonly understood, the term ‘optimism’ embraces two closely correlated concepts: the first is the inclination to hope, while the second more generally refers to the tendency to believe that we live in ‘the best of all possible worlds’, as coined by the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz,” meaning that we embrace what is best, or optimal,in the situations we are presented with rather than dwelling on the bad.[1] Although optimism is best described as a feeling or outlook, it is important to note that it isn’t always natural or effortless. Optimism requires mindfulness, and that you be in tune to how you are thinking, communicating and acting. Optimism is alluded to through how your phrase your words, both internally to yourself as well as how you talk to others, and also in your body language. You are in control of being and practicing optimism, but if you take the time to act optimistic, such as through a smile, or standing up straight (no crossed arms!), then you may pass that energy onto someone else – whether you know them or not. Optimism is similar to emotions in that the effects are more-wide spread than you may think; just as happiness is contagious with others, optimism is able to impact the status of your health as well as how you respond to it.

Optimism has been studied in relation to many physical ailments, including old age and heart disease, but the results have been most measurable in comparison to breast cancer. For example, “in a sample of women with breast cancer Schou et al. found that optimistic women presented coping strategies characterized by acceptance of the situation, emphasis of the positive aspects and attempts to alleviate their condition with a sense of humor, showing evident positive results on their quality of life. In contrast, the pessimistic women reacted with sentiments of impotence and loss of hope which significantly worsened their quality of life.”1This is significant because it serves as a reminder that you have control over your health; you may not have chosen to be diagnosed with cancer, but you are able to control your reactions to it. Being optimistic means that you make the most of the life situations you have been given, and choosing to engage in optimism during your treatments or while talking with your doctor can be significantly impactful. 

These results are further echoed a separate study which found that “in women with breast cancer, optimism was associated with better quality of life in terms of emotional, functional and socio-familial well-being.”1This may be attributed to the notion that, by being optimistic, these women were able to see the positivity in their circumstances. Their quality of life measured higher than those who were not optimistic because they had a healthier, warmer outlook on their life. Their relationships with others, including their cancer support community, were stronger and they felt more in control of their diagnosis and treatment plan because they were able to mentally make the most of it.

Apply It: 5 Ways to Increase the Optimism in Your Life

Now that we have discussed how integral optimism can be in fighting cancer, we want to recommend a few ways to integrate it into your life more. Becoming more optimistic is not a difficult task; it just requires that you stay mindful and thoughtful. It will require a little patience and extra effort at first, but will soon become a natural habit that will produce endless effects.

  • Start your day with purpose.

When you wake up in the morning, make it a habit of going over your goals and plans for the day. A sense of direction is transformative: it can give you a sense of purpose, and knowing your plan for the day can eliminate any anxiety or stress. Taking things step by step, crossing things off of your to do list, and staying on track helps you feel productive and impactful, feel-good emotions that instill you with a sense of optimism. 

  • For every negative, state two positives.

We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. You may catch yourself from time to time voicing complaints or communicating your concerns in a negative way. In order to make sure you stay on the path to optimism, ask yourself to say two positive things for every negative comment you make. For example, if you are worried that you are going to be late, make a point to acknowledge that you are still fulfilling your plans for the day and that it wasn’t intentional. Things may happen without us wanting them to, but we are still in control of our reactions. Focus on this, and recognize the power that that gives you.

  • Don’t force it: engagement over ‘happy.’

In one study, researchers asked a group of people to use a beautiful piece of classical music to raise their moods, while telling other volunteers simply to listen to the symphony. The result: The concert didn't help those who were focused on lifting their spirits—but the others wound up feeling much better.”[2]

What does this mean for becoming optimistic? "To truly be happy, you have to stop trying.” By this, focus more on improving your habits and your outlook rather than forcing yourself to feel happy. No one feels 100% happy all of the time, and that isn’t what optimism is. Optimism is making the best of your life circumstances, and they may not be the best time from time to time. What is important is that you try to see the good in it, especially because the situation will allow you to grow as a person. Happiness is sometimes fleeting; the ability to be optimistic throughout is permanent. 

  • End your day with gratitude.

We have already explored the power of gratitude, and the science behind how impactful it can be, in a previous blog; you can access it here. Practicing gratitude is a great way to increase the optimism in your life. At the end of your day, take a few moments to reflect on all that you are grateful for. You may want to keep a gratitude journal of your 5 top things, but you may also find that you want to include your family and all go around the room saying what you are most grateful for.  It’s entirely up to you! The significance is that you stay mindful and know that there is always something to be grateful for. For more ways to practice gratitude, visit our blog post here.

  • Think ahead with excitement. 

One of the best impacts that optimism has on our lives is that “being optimistic lets us believe that the future will be even better than the past. Optimists look forward to what’s to come with excitement and anticipation, not trepidation. Management guru Peter Drucker, who lived into his nineties, made it a goal to learn one new thing every year. One year he learned to speak Japanese. Not only does learning support us in our efforts to think more optimistically, it equips us with the actual skills we’ll need to achieve our goals and take advantage of opportunities when they do show up.”[i] Optimism is a great skill for affecting our perspective, but it is important to realize that it also opens us up to new opportunities. Your zest for life, and appreciation for what it brings, may attract a new friend; you may discover that you love to create art. You never know what could happen, but embrace it! Being optimistic a truly wonderful life skill. 

For More Information 

CMN Hospital provides alternative cancer treatment and is looking forward to helping you fight your cancer battle. We constantly strive to cultivate an environment centered around healing mentally, emotionally, and physically. Our entire staff – from our compassionate care specialists to our nurses and doctors – are instilled with values that include respect, compassion, care, and positivity. We want to lift you up as we heal the cancer in your body. To learn more about the alternative treatment program that we offer, please email us at info@cmnact.com or click here for other ways to contact us at your convenience. 

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[1]Conversano, Ciro et. al. “Optimism and Its Impact on Mental and Physical Well-Being.” NCBI.2010.

[2]Adams, Jane Meredith. “6 Ways To Be A Whole Lot More Optimistic About Anything.” Prevention.2016.

[i]Deutschendorf, Harvey. “7 Habits That Can Help You Become More Optimistic.” Fast Company.2016.

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