Rheumatoid Arthritis: Keeping a Positive Outlook
Realistic optimism fuels the body's immune system and triggers natural painkillers.
The stress of waging a constant health battle can get to you. Day after day,
week after week. It's easy to get down, depressed.
Just ask Carla Guillory. She's become an expert at what psychiatrists call
realistic optimism -- reining in your thoughts, keeping fears and
negativity at bay. It's been Guillory's mental way-of-life for upwards of 20
years, ever since rheumatoid arthritis set in.
It's a simple formula: "I just don't think about what might happen, what
deformities might pop up. I hold onto positive thoughts," Guillory says.
Yet she's no Pollyanna. "I have less strength in my arms and hands. I move
slower now. And I know I will get a little slower as I get older. But beyond
that, I don't think about the future. I believe that I'll always do pretty
Guillory also gets a good bit of support from her family and friends. She
stays active. She worked for many years after her diagnosis. She exercises when
she can. She wouldn't think of skipping her medications.
All this adds to her quality of life, experts say. By taking care of herself
and staying emotionally strong -- taking things in stride -- she's helping her
body stay strong, even reducing her own pain. There's good scientific evidence
that a positive attitude is necessary for optimal physical health.
It's the mind-body connection. As studies have shown, your state of mind is
an essential element in your health and well-being.
The Importance of Optimism
"Optimism is necessary for good health," says Charles L. Raison, MD,
a psychiatrist and director of the behavioral immunology clinic at Emory
University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "There's growing evidence that,
for many medical illnesses, stress and a negative mental state -- pessimism,
feeling overwhelmed, being burnt out -- has a negative affect on immunity,
which is especially important in rheumatoid arthritis."
Indeed, your brain can create all sorts of tailor-made prescriptions to
nurture your body. Raison says these include endorphins -- the natural
painkillers; gamma globulin, which fortifies your immune system; and
interferon, which helps combat infections, viruses, even cancer.
When depression sets in, we're less likely to take care of ourselves, which
means the brain doesn't get prompted to produce those great natural remedies,
Raison says. We don't exercise, because we don't have much energy. We don't eat
right. We lose sleep -- or we sleep too much.
Even worse, we forget to take the very medications that can help us feel
better, Raison tells WebMD. "There's a lot of evidence that when people are
depressed, they feel hopeless, they give up on themselves, which affects
whether they take medications," he says. "There's also evidence that
people who have a positive attitude, what we call realistic optimism, the
fighting spirit... they live longer, do better... they take their