"Try to stay positive . . . it’s become a common call to those who are ill as the belief has grown that having a positive attitude will not only help you get through illness, but make you better quicker.
But is it true? In fact, there’s no evidence that teaching yourself to have a positive attitude makes you physically healthier. A recent study of cancer patients in Finland and Sweden found no association between survival rates and whether people were positive or negative in their outlook.
The study, in the American Journal Of Epidemiology, looked at 4,600 people with cancer over 30 years, and found that whether they were extrovert or neurotic, their attitude to life had no relationship with how long they survived their illness.
It’s not an isolated finding. An analysis of research by Dr James Coyne, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, found that there were no good quality studies showing that ‘positive psychology’ had any effect on physical health.
In one of his own large studies, he found that the sense of emotional wellbeing of cancer patients had no effect on how long they lived.
Yet self-help gurus such as Louise Hay, whose book You Can Heal Your Life has sold 35 million copies worldwide over the past 20 years, says that ‘science is now confirming that we can’t allow ourselves to indulge in negative thinking. It’s making us sick and it’s killing us’.
British researchers and health staff are becoming concerned that American lifestyle gurus who urge us to ‘be positive and live longer’ may be doing more harm than good.
Claire Murrell, head of nursing at the Barts and the London Hospital Cancer Unit, is concerned that too many people are being urged to ‘be positive’ after a cancer diagnosis, when they need to be realistic and realise they will experience emotional lows.
‘I think that some people with cancer do come down with a bump when they realise that, for all their positive attitude, they haven’t been cured,’ she says. ‘I’ve come across people who feel a lot of pressure to be positive, sometimes from family and friends, at a time when they really don’t want to.’
Her words echo those of film star Michael Douglas, who last year spoke of his concern for his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones when she was reported to have mental health problems.
He said she broke down under the stress of his battle with throat cancer because she tried to put on a brave, positive face all the time. He may have been right.
As one patient recently wrote on an internet forum for cancer patients: ‘Keeping up with the positive thinking is very hard, particularly in front of friends and family. Sometimes I just feel like screaming at the world.
‘For me, remaining positive is sometimes harder than dealing with the chemo side effects and having cancer.’
Things can be even harder if you expect positive thoughts to make you better. In her book Smile Or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America And the World, Barbara Ehrenreich quotes a woman who had been following the healing advice of mind-body guru Deepak Chopra.
The woman wrote to Chopra: ‘Even though I follow the treatments, have come a long way in unburdening myself of toxic feelings, have forgiven everyone, changed my lifestyle to include meditation, prayer, proper diet, exercise and supplements, the cancer keeps coming back. Am I missing a lesson here that it keeps reoccurring?’
The problem is research findings are diverse and complex, so the science is ambiguous enough to allow lifestyle gurus scope for claiming it backs their teachings. There are studies indicating that people with a positive attitude cope better with illness — even if they don’t get better quicker.
Indeed, relaxation and emotional support are extremely important in helping people with life-threatening illness get on with life.
And how stressed people are (as opposed to how positive) does seem to predict how some conditions such as heart disease progress — stress affects the body’s immune and hormone systems.
There are also some studies suggesting that people who are born with, or develop early in life, an ability to dwell on what can be done, rather than what can’t, may be healthier.
Research on 1,000 people attending the famous Mayo Clinic in the U.S. over 30 years found that those classified as optimists had a 19 per cent higher chance of still being alive than pessimists.
But this is all different from saying that taking a positive attitude makes you healthier. "Når jeg i juli 2011 skrev en blogg om kroppens visdom, og hvordan "positive tanker" kan brukes på feil måte, med skadelige konseikvenser, kom innlegget på lesernes vg . Det kom en rekke med spennende kommentarer, og det var tydelig det er et tema som engasjerer.
Simon Crompton, Daily Mail
Det som vi trenger er egentlig en viktigere ting. Vi trenger å bli hørt ,sett og å bli tatt på alvor! Vi trenger også høre, se og ta oss selv på alvor. Når vi trykker ned våre følelser, da trykker vi også ned oss selv. Det gjelder ennå mere nå vi er syke. Hvor mange ganger har jeg ikke hørt at de kunne legge fra seg sine vonde følelser når de gikk ut gjennom dørren fra mitt kontor? Det er en stor kraft i å tale ut hva hjertet er fullt av til någon som lytter, ikke bare med hodet, men også med hjertet!
I vårt samfunn skal alt gå så raskt, og det er lett å ty til enkle raske løsninger. Nå skal vi via tankene programmere om hodet, slik at vi på ny er tilpasset enn i samfunnet.
Men det er ikke alle som passer inn i den modellen. Skal vi få lov å være våre autentiske selv, da må vi ha kontakt med hele følelsesregistret. Fremfor alt trenger vi tid til å finne tilbaks til de blomstrende individer vi egentlig er. Får man den akseptans og ro som muliggjør en god blomstringsprosess som er vi, uten noen som helst "programmering" Vi skal også ha akseptans for at alle ikke kommer dit, og vi vet heller ikke alt. Derfor er det viktig å følge med i forskningen, også på den somato-psykiske.
Det finns mye ønsketenking både bland privatpersoner og helsepersonell, men den ønsketenkingen kan faktisk innebære en avvisning for den som trenger hjelp.