Many people believe that a positive outlook can improve your chances of beating disease. But is it true?
It's hard to know for sure. Clearly, people respond in a variety of ways after being told that they have a serious illness. But no one has proven that an optimistic outlook can help you overcome a serious illness. It's also possible that outlook or psychological makeup could have very different effects on people with different diseases.
A study published last fall took a look at how people's emotional state affects their disease outcome. The study, which was published in medical journal Cancer, included more than 1,000 people with head and neck cancer. During their treatment, each person answered a detailed survey. It contained questions on emotional well-being. These assessed what people thought about their quality of life and whether they had a positive or negative outlook. Researchers also took account of other important factors (such as tumor location and size). They found that emotions had no effect on survival.
This follows other recent research about the effects of attitude, outlook, or emotional state on cancer survival. Together, these studies challenge the notion that attitudes help (or hurt) the chance of surviving a serious illness.
So, does this mean that it's worthless to try to keep a positive attitude during serious illness? Probably not. A positive outlook can be helpful whether it's part of trying to stay healthy or dealing with an illness. For example, people are more likely to exercise, eat well, keep up with doctors' appointments, and take medicines and treatments as prescribed if they believe these measures will help.
In addition, there may be individuals for whom outlook does matter, even if there is no effect on average. It's also possible that outlook matters more for diseases with a higher cure rate. In this recent study of people with head and neck cancer, nearly 60% died during the study.
No one should discourage optimism or efforts to improve outlook. But this new study may help to keep expectations realistic. Psychological factors may help people feel better during a battle with cancer or other serious illness. But no one should assume that outlook alone will change the chances of survival.
What you can do
If you have cancer or another serious illness, it's important to have a solid, trusting relationship with your doctors. Ask questions until you're sure you understand all of your treatment options. Decide on a treatment plan with your doctors. Then, do your best to follow their recommendations.
Other measures also may help you to feel better. For example:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Join a support group. Knowing that others are coping with many of the same stresses you have can be powerfully comforting. Learning from others about how they cope can be quite helpful.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Consider seeing a mental health professional. Depression and anxiety are common among people with serious illness. Psychotherapy, medicines, or a combination of these can make a big difference in your outlook and emotional health.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Learn about hypnosis, meditation, or guided imagery. These and other relaxation techniques may help you deal with your fears and worries if you have a serious illness.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Exercise regularly and follow a balanced, healthy diet.
Although these steps may not alter your chances of beating your disease, they could make living with the disease easier to bear.
It's important to keep up with the medical news that affects your health and well-being. It's even better when the facts come directly from the more than 8,000 doctors and researchers at Harvard Medical School. There is no more trustworthy source of medical research articles and advice than the Harvard Health Letter.
You can find the following related articles on Gather:Recognizing the Â‘Emotional AmbushesÂ’ that Can Derail Healing
The emotional side of breast cancer and its treatments
Counseling May Aid Cancer Caregivers
This content is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your healthcare provider. Read our full disclaimer.