July 22, 2003 -- It's no secret that stress can take a toll on your health, but a new study shows that keeping a positive attitude could be just the right medicine to fight the common cold.
The study, appearing in the July issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, reports that people with a positive attitude -- energetic, happy, and relaxed -- are less likely to catch colds than people who are depressed, nervous, or angry. The study even reported that uptight or sad people are also more likely to complain of cold symptoms even when they don't have a cold.
Researchers interviewed more than 300 healthy people three times a week for two weeks to assess their emotional states. Each volunteer described how they felt based on three categories of positive attitude: vigor, well-being, and calm. They also described their negative feelings according to three criteria: depression, anxiety, and hostility.
After each assessment, researchers gave the volunteers a squirt of rhinovirus -- the germ that causes colds -- and monitored them for five days to see who became infected and how symptoms developed.
Smiling Away the Common Cold
"Increases in positive emotional styles were linked with decreases in the rate of clinical colds, but a negative emotional style had no effect on whether or not people got sick," said Sheldon Cohen, PhD, of Carnegie Melon University, in a news release.
People with a positive attitude produced fewer signs and symptoms of illness, probably because healthy attitudes tend to promote healthy lifestyle habits, Cohen says.
Although negative emotion was not linked with a person's risk for getting sick in the study, it was connected with more reports of symptoms of illness. Researchers say this could happen because negative emotions may make a person perceive ambiguous physical sensations in a negative way.
Finally, researchers say they hope their findings will lead to more studies about how a positive attitude affects health, not only to help people fight the common cold but also stave off other illnesses.