Optimism Literally Improves Your Body’s Health, 10 Ways To Boost Your Outlook Today

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I really enjoy providing content that is uplifting and encouraging, and that is because I know that feeling encouraged literally boosts your physical health.

Here are a few healing articles you could start with that I’ve written in the past to uplift you, if you need a little boost today:

 

Outlook has a larger impact on your health than you probably know.

There have been several major medical studies that show the major, physical, measurable impact that a negative outlook has on our brain and body.

  • Like this one, published in Neurology on May 28, 2014, that found that a high level of cynical distrust — for example, believing that no one cares about you or that it’s not safe to trust others — is associated with a three times higher risk for dementia and a 40% increased risk of death over those with the lowest levels of cynical distrust.
  • Or this one, published in Neurology on Oct 1, 2014 which found that being easily worried, anxious and stressed in midlife was found to double the incidence of late-life Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Or this one, that suggests much of the poor health outcomes of obesity is actually due to shame from being overweight, as opposed to from the actual weight itself.  This is totally unnecessary, there is an incredible wealth of medical research showing that having a higher BMI is actually advantageous to longevity, as I go into detail here.

And the opposite is true too.  Not just that negative outlook harms the health of our brain and body, but that positive outlook actually protects it.

  • This medical study, published more recently in 2020, found that optimism literally reduces stroke severity and is associated with improved clinical outcomes.
  • And this one, from 2017, found that optimism reduces mortality in all causes, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, infection and more.
  • And this one, from 2019, found that elderly folks who were optimistic improved their rate of remaining free of major chronic diseases as well as maintaining good physical functioning and having no cognitive decline by 24%.
  • And this study, from 2015, found that elderly folks 85 years or older actually increased their lifespan, living on average 5 years longer, if they had a higher morale.

 

 

Hope, it turns out, is actually health protective.  

The problem is, it’s much easier to remain positive and have positive expectations during times of relative peace and happiness in life… but it’s damn hard to have a consistent basis of hope when an unexpected life change, diagnosis, world event or traumatic incident shakes your very foundation.

But you can do it.  Here are 10 ways to restore your sense of hope:

 

10 Ways To Help Restore Hope:

 


 

 

1. Reconnect with nature:

 

If you are feeling utterly overwhelmed, all you have to do is walk out your front door, step out of your office, or stop driving and step out of your car.  To reconnect with nature is to reconnect with the bigger picture and instantly release pent up frustration, tension, anger, anxiety and fear, restoring hope.

Whether it’s just a few deep breaths as you sit on a patch of grass, taking a walk through a local park, or standing outside at night looking up at the stars… reconnecting with the wonder of being a human being standing on a rock that spirals through space and seeing the earth for the vast support network it is can’t help but lift your spirits for the better.

Taking even one minute to surround yourself with the power of nature has a way of creating a perspective in life that is real, is powerful, is strong.

The power of nature can hold even your worst of days and remain an immovable source of strength.

Don’t believe me?

The next time you are having a panic attack, or a pounding headache, or a knot of worry grow in your stomach, just go outside.  Get out there.  Don’t force anything, just start walking and let nature work its magic.

If you need more than just your own personal experience to truly believe that touching the natural world outside helps boost your health, hop over here to read over the past 25 years of medical literature on the science of grounding:

 

 

Prefer a book?

I wrote an uplifting, inspiring guide detailing for you exactly how grounding supports your inner resiliency, strengthens your physical health, and even boosts positive mindframe and spiritual wellness.  Then I filled it with thousands of ways to get that support from nature, no matter where you live (even in a city it’s super easy to get grounded outside!) and no matter what the weather is like.

It’s available as an audio book, a physical paperback, and a kindle version as well. 

I’m so heart warmed, as I take my after dinner stroll through my neighborhood, to see so many folks going on after dinner walks too, or riding their bikes, jogging, shooting basketballs in driveway hoops, gardening, washing their cars, etc…

Outdoor activities are great, but go outside even if you don’t want to be active.  If you have limited mobility due to medical conditions, or just want to relax when you are outside, still get outside daily.

It can be as simple as a few deep breaths taken outside every morning.  Or at night, taking a hot cup of tea outside and looking up at the stars and moon, when the rest of the world is shut up tight at bedtime, is wonderful for clearing the mind and grabbing a few minutes of beautiful fresh air.

 


 

 

 

 

2.  Focus on feelings instead of thoughts

 

I was told recently that life was *easy* for me because I was a positive thinker.  I almost fainted, because I am so far from a natural positive thinker it’s not even funny.

As an anxious person my entire life, I was extremely pessimistic and worried as a child.  I’m still anxious, but no longer as pessimistic.  I didn’t change this by “positive thinking” — that’s for sure!

I typically can not find a positive thought when I’m worrying about something, so I consciously switch over to reaching for a more positive feeling.  Sometimes all I can find is a way to make me feel just a little less angry. Sometimes it’s all I can do to find a way to feel just a little less impatient.

What I am reaching for, every time though, is a slightly improved feeling.  That’s it.  I don’t even like the idea of *positive thinking* anyway, because positive thinking is usually fake… something you try to convince yourself of when what you are really feeling is crappy.

Authentic feelings… authentic crappy feelings, are infinitely more powerful to me than fake happy ones.  I don’t mind mucking around in a dismal funk for long stretches of time.  I don’t mind letting it show.  I don’t feel the need to apologize for being human and even being snippy or impatient or rude at times.  If I’m feeling it, I’m going to show it.

No… what I have learned and taught myself to reach for isn’t positive thoughts… it’s positive feelings. There will always be a thought that knocks you down… we can’t control those, they come, that’s life… but we can stop believing in them all the time and instead of focusing on our thoughts, focus on our feelings.  I don’t try to put fake happy chipper thoughts into my head and try to cheer myself up — that is instant disaster. Positive thinking just makes me feel like one more thing I’m not doing right, when I’m not feeling well and I try to cover it up with positive thoughts.

Instead, I try and come up with a million different alternative thoughts or actions I can genuinely believe in, and then I feel around for which one makes me feel better.  Usually, I try to move towards  sense of relief.  Examples of thoughts that move me towards a better feeling, a feeling of relief, might be “I feel like a hot fudge sundae and I’m going to get one after work.” Or maybe “I am going to choose to be pissed off right now because it *feels* better then trying to cheer myself up, and that’s ok for the next 15 minutes!” Or, “I am taking myself way too seriously here… I need to crank up some music and just dance.”

Often, I can’t find a thought that helps me feel better, so I reach for a better feeling through action — taking a bath… laying on the earth… painting a picture… making a cup of coffee… texting a friend to vent… going on a brisk walk… drinking a big glass of water… crying for 15 minutes on the floor of the shower… all of these actions, at one point or another, have helped me choose a better *feeling*.

Eventually, selecting your next step based on how you FEEL will be so easy it will be second nature.  Even though I don’t always choose a positive thought… I do usually do the work of reaching for a more positive feeling.  I’m no longer okay with letting my thoughts run away with me and me doing nothing to clean up my act.

And what I have found is that it has gotten easier and easier.

  • What used to take me an entire day to turn around, now takes an hour.
  • What used to really push my buttons before, doesn’t even have the power to push them any more.
  • What used to bring me down into the doldrums for a week might give me an hour or two of wanting space instead.

Very rarely do I ever reach the depths of the darkness I used to be taken by over and over in the past.  Even in those darkest moments, I  now know that a negative thought or feeling is just that — a temporary experience.

And I can reach for a slightly improved feeling even when I can’t find a slightly improved thought.  Focusing on feelings instead of thoughts helps.  Any little bit helps.

 


 

 

3. Focus on Spirit:

 

This is something shown over and over again in the medical literature — the power of prayer to  improve clinical outcome (like reducing pain, enhancing recovery after cardiac surgery, even helping substance abuse recovery) and the power of spirituality to support general wellness (like boosting physical well being, increasing functional well being, and decreasing physical symptoms in cancer patients) is well documented.

The surest way I know to alleviate stress and suffering is to find a deeper spiritual meaning in it.

Whether it’s through mediation or mantra (read my blog post here on how to do this — it’s so easy!) personal prayer, asking friends and family to pray for you, joining online or in person spiritual groups, downloading spirituality apps that will send reminders to your phone, or reading books that align with and strengthen your sense of spiritual presence… cultivating a deeper sense of spirit surrounding and supporting you is such an important way to alleviate stress.

The divine support system is around you, whether you are able to feel it or not.  I’ve painted many paintings over the years to help reminds us:

 

Calling on the power of prayer and connecting with a universal reservoir of love is an instant boost that strengthens your resiliency and changes outcome, no doubt about it.

Need some more inspiration?  I really loved the book:

Man's Search For MeaningMan’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl.

He is a concentration camp survivor who writes beautifully about how the people who survived these horrific conditions were not the strongest, or youngest, or even the healthiest… they were the ones who found meaning in what they were going through, even in the pain itself.

Finding a deeper, spiritual meaning in what you are going through is — in and of itself — enough to sustain you.

 


 

 

4. Leverage the power of music throughout the day:

 

My kids will tell you that if I am really grumpy, all we have to do is hop in the car and turn on the radio and within a few songs, all of a sudden I don’t feel so hopeless.  In fact, I feel optimistic and grateful and filled with a similar sense of wonder and possibility that I feel when I spend time in nature.

The power of music to wash through you and lift you is amazing.

This is how powerful music is: if you play music that holds special meaning to a patient experiencing memory loss, they can recover context and depth and recognition in the form of long term memory recall while the music is being played. (watch this fascinating trailer for Alive Inside to see this happen!)

Playing music that is personally relevant to a patient has been shown to:

  • increase communication skills
  • increase long term recall
  • increase activity level and energy level
  • increase social function and engagement
  • decrease high blood pressure
  • improve mood
  • reduce pain levels
  • enhance sleep

So if you are feeling stressed or depressed, especially if you can not leave your current surroundings to a new change of scenery,  slip on some music and allow it to sweep through your soul and lift you higher.

Music is an invaluable tool for self-soothing and decreasing anxiety and depression rates.  So play music out loud and use it to connect with everyone in your family — seniors through the youngest children — everyone can benefit!  Take turns playing your favorite music, having a family dance battle, or creating playlists for different times of the day.

Music is universal and can meet you wherever you are.

 


 

 

5. Ask for help:

 

I know, I know, nobody wants to do this and especially at a time when everyone is facing huge challenges, it can be tough to ask someone to help you out.  But bonding together, even — and perhaps especially — during the bad times is a game changer.

Of course the typical advice to ask family and friends for simple, actionable things that will help you stands (for example, ask your neighbor to pick up some cereal for you at the store, ask your sister to meet up with you to have a coffee and talk, asking your old friend to text you every morning when you wake up so you don’t feel so alone, etc…) but people are also willing to help you out even if they don’t know you yet.

Do a search to find contact information and call your local support groups, local food banks, local ministries, local disaster relief and emergency financial assistance (to help pay bills,) join online support groups or enroll in private online counseling, all from the comfort of your own home.

I know I didn’t fully realize how many people I had, providing back up support in my life, until I went through a personal crisis. Some of my most meaningful sources of support during a very overwhelming time in my life were from people I had never ever met before, like the manager at my local bank and the complete stranger who came to pick up the furniture I got rid of as I let go of everything.

If you are having a stressful crisis, ask for help.  Ask your neighbor, ask your family, ask your friends.  And even if you have none of the above, go out into the world asking for help to show up — find online support, go to your bank and ask to speak to the manager, go to the grocery store and ask to speak to the manager, contact your local utility companies and ask for help, go to the thrift shop or the park and simply make friends with the person standing next to you.

Angels are out there waiting to embrace and help you every single day.

 

 


 

 

6. Create a symbolic fresh start:

 

A symbolic fresh start during times of stress can help you move on towards healing and help usher in new, positive and hopeful energy instead of feeling stuck.  For me, this meant that I literally moved and relocated my life.

But even if it is impossible to literally move, you can go through your entire home with the idea of bringing in fresh energy:

  • freshen up the plants in each room, repot and water them, add new plants if you don’t have any
  • rearranging whatever furniture you can
  • clean your living space, room by room, and declutter along the way
  • adding a mirror or two to help reflect light around the space
  • burning candles of light in the evenings to help create a new warm glow in old, dark and depressing spaces
  • go outside to take a deep breath of air
  • lighting a smudge stick or burn incense or run a aromatherapy diffuser in your home
  • ring a bell or strike a chime while setting a new intention for the space you are in
  • move your body to increase circulation and flexibility — find a yoga or stretch video (countless free ones are waiting for you on YouTube right now) to get your body unstuck.

No matter what you do, do something to break the illusion that you are stuck.  You are not stuck.  You are a new person every single day and every moment within that day.

When our physical surroundings don’t change, especially in the midst of great turmoil, you can get caught up in the illusion that your situation is permanent and hopeless. This is not so… there is always an ebb and a flow of energy through every situation no matter how unchanging it appears on the surface.

The illusion that things never change can mentally hold you in a place of worry.  Release this by making small changes to your living space, changing the energy of the room you are in, physically leaving the space you are in for a breath or two, or using candles/incense/smudging/bells/chimes/lighting/a new plant… or simply move your own body in a new way, through new yoga sequences or stretches… whatever it takes to feel the energy shift in your space and remind you that nothing… NOTHING… stays the same forever.

 


 

7.  Get sunlight daily:

 

Medical studies back me up on this one… it’s important to get sunlight every single day.

If you are going outside grounding daily (see tip #1, above) this will be a win-win situation!  But for those that are not drawn to grounding for their health, at least be sure to get some form of sunlight.

Sunlight actually prolongs life span, in a dose dependent way (meaning more time in the sun = longer life span.)  I blog about this extensively in this article I wrote for you on getting safe sun exposure — it’s a must read.

To more safely get that sun exposure daily, aim for at least 10 minutes during non-peak hours — that’s before 10 AM or after 4 PM.  Wearing a hat to protect your face and sunglasses to protect your eyes is also a good idea.

Some routines you might consider, to get those ten minutes in at the start or end of your day, is: sitting on a porch, balcony or front door stoop every morning and every evening, eating picnic lunches outside mid-day, observing which of the windows in your home are sunny and at what time of the day there is a sunbeam and sitting in those precious light rays while drinking your morning coffee, your evening tea, while working on your computer like I am doing right now, or while reading a good book, etc…  even going for a drive counts — be sure to roll the windows down and enjoy!

 


 

 

8. Increase Gratitude & Compassion:

 

This is a no-brainer — one of the gifts of going through suffering is that you can witness and hold other people’s suffering so much more fully.  Compassion and gratitude for the journey and knowing that others have made it through similar, and even worse, ordeals can really help instill hope to your own journey.

As contrary as it sounds, topics that would have felt dark or depressing during easier times can somehow feel powerful and empowering now. For example, during our own harsh life changes, the kids and I dove deeply into WWI and WWII studies, reading Anne Frank’s diary and having long, meaningful discussions about suffering and triumph… those felt incredibly moving and fortifying to us.

Knowing the darker side, leaning into it, persevering through it, witnessing with compassion what others have gone through… all of these things make traveling your own dark night feel less lonely.

If you feel inspired to reach out and help others you witness going through a hard time, you are actually boosting your own health, regardless of if you are getting any support in return.  It turns out that it is the giving of social support, not the receiving of social support, that really benefits your health, at least as far as your brain is concerned, according to this medical study, published in 2019.

And compassion for yourself is just as important as compassion for others.  One recent medical study, published in 2021, found that greater self compassion is actually heart healthy, with folk who have higher self compassion having significantly lower rates of subclinical heart disease.

One of the simplest ways to increase compassion for yourself and gratitude for your journey is also one of my favorites, and as a bonus it helps me fall asleep (the topic that’s coming up next!)  All you do is, as you close your eyes to fall asleep for the night, run through the day in your mind’s eye.  Specifically look for moments you had — even if it’s just one — that you were glad happened.  And when you find that moment in the day, pause mentally and just say to yourself  “I’m grateful for that.”

That’s it.  Even on a really horrible, tough, gut wrenching, miserable day, there are singular moments that happened in your favor or helped strengthen you to get you through.  Something as simple as eye contact with someone who smiled at you.  Or chancing into a food that was previously out of stock in the store.  Or hearing a bird outside your window singing to remind you that all is well in the world.  Or finally carving out time to take a warm bath.  I go chronologically through my day and pause here and there to say “I am grateful for that.”

I generally find I have fallen asleep before I’ve gotten to the end of my day and caught up with my own self, laying in bed that night in my “daily rewind.”  Try it and see if you enjoy this nightly practice too.

 


 

 

9. Deepen Sleep:

 

If you find your hope is gone and you are have difficulty figuring out your next step, sleep on it.  Sleep actually can improve outcome by getting negative thinking out of the way.  There are several medical studies that confirm this — this one suggests that you continue to problem solve even while you are unconscious, and this one suggests that you actually improve outcomes when you make big decisions using the unconscious mind, instead of consciously thinking about it.  Making that list of pros and cons to make a big decision?  It doesn’t help.  If you don’t have an immediate positive feeling about one of your choices, try sleeping on it instead.

Here are some general guidelines to help deepen your sleep, helping you to wake up with a brighter outlook the very next day:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
  • Have daily exposure to natural light first thing in the morning, or use a light box,
  • Get regular exercise each day, preferably in the morning — a daily walk is perfect
  • Take probiotics every morning
  • Ground your body to the earth outside for at least 15 minutes during daylight hours
  • No caffeine or other stimulants after 3 pm
  • Take melatonin at dusk, even if dusk is several hours before you will head to bed — melatonin needs to be taken as the sun sets, not right before bed
  • Wear blue light blocking glasses after dinner
  • Stop screens (phones, laptops, television) for 1-2 hours before bed
  • Soak in a nightly bath with Magnesium Flakes in it
  • Drink a cup of magnesium drink mix, or take magnesium gummies
  • Keep bedroom temperature at 70 degrees or cooler (68 degrees is ideal)
  • If you wake in the night, take 1-2 chewable L-theanine supplements

For instant access to the probiotics, melatonin, magnesium and L-theanine supplements I trust, that I personally use, and that I recommend most to patients, click right here to see my Sleep Repair Protocol:

 

 


 

 

10.  Add body work.

 

The feeling of worry and stress and anxiety is often the stress of energy that is accumulating in the body without release.  I know I personally feel this as a ball of pressure right in my solar plexus, but it’s different for everyone.

Irritability, crying, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, tension, muscle stiffness, decreased or increased appetite, weight loss or gain, insomnia… often these all represent energy that just needs to be released to make room for the natural healing process and health/hope to return.

If you are feeling stuck and in need of physical release, do any or all of the following to help assist your body in letting go of the internal tension that is keeping you from feeling positive:

  • deep stretches
  • yoga
  • guided meditation
  • long walks
  • massage — foot, neck and hand massages are all massages you can do on your own body to release tension
  • heat (hot water bottles are the best!) over tense areas
  • water (in the form of showers or baths, as well as increasing hydration by drinking lots of water!)
  • orgasm
  • acupuncture
  • qigong
  • tai chi
  • reiki
  • deep tissue massage
  • physical therapy

 

I really hope this list of 10 things you can do to improve your state of mind, boost your hopefulness and increase your feeling of health — even in the middle of great personal and global stress — is helpful to you and a blessing of some new ideas to consider.

Offered with much love…

xoxox, Laura Koniver, MD