The negative impact of pessimism, cynicism
and defeatism on health has been researched extensively. It is
not a question of IF. The research has been approached in many
different ways by many different researchers, and the facts are
in: Pessimism is bad for your heart. Pessimism damages your cardiovascular
In other words, negativity is a major contributing
factor to the number one cause of death in industrialized countries:
Learn more about how fighting pessimism
can help prevent heart disease by reading the information below,
and then undemoralize
yourself. Here are a few summaries of some of the best studies:
In a twelve-year study, those who felt
negative emotions frequently were seventy percent more
likely to die of a heart attack or a stroke.
In a thirty-year study at John Hopkins
on a thousand men, the most easily-upset men were six
times more likely to have a stroke and three times more
likely to have a heart attack.
In another study, men who had reduced heart
function after a heart attack were given psychological tests.
The ones who measured high on negative emotions were more than
four times more likely to have another heart attack in
the next ten years.
At the Mayo Clinic, they studied 380 people
who were entering a cardiac rehabilitation program. At the time
the study started, 41 of them had anxiety or depression but didn't
have any more severe heart disease than the rest of the group.
Six months later, the anxious and depressed group were more than
twice as likely to be rehospitalized for heart problems.
In another study, half of a group of heart-attack
survivors were given the usual medical follow up, the other half
met every other week in group therapy where they concentrated
on solving troubling personal problems and practicing relaxation
techniques. In other words, they worked to reduce the amount
of pessimism, cynicism and defeatism by gaining more control
in important areas of their lives more control over their
ability to relax and more control over handling negative emotion
constructively. They became less helpless, less defeated, and
we can guess with a fair degree of certainty, this gave them
less pessimism and cynicism.
One year later, the people in the therapy
group were much better off than the control group. Their blood
pressure and weight had dropped more. Their cholesterol levels
had dropped about 37 mg/dl. The control group had only dropped
about 5 mg/dl. Blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight
are all risk factors of heart disease.
In another study, researchers hooked up
a hundred participants with blood pressure monitors that took
a reading every half hour. The most pessimistic people had the
highest average blood pressures.
In another study, researchers injected
100 calories worth of triglycerides into healthy, nonsmoking
volunteers. Half the people then rested for 40 minutes while
their triglyceride level was monitored. The other half were put
through 40 minutes of stress. The volunteers had to prepare and
give a speech while being videotaped, do some difficult word
problems, some motor skills tests, and some timed math problems.
Their triglyceride levels were also monitored.
The results were consistent. The ones with
the most stress had the highest triglyceride levels. Stress impairs
your body's ability to clear the fat out of your blood stream.
The reason this is important is that the longer fat circulates,
the more likely it will be deposited in the arteries where it
contributes to heart disease.
Pessimism causes more stress in your life. Having negative feelings of stress more often
harms your cardiovascular system over time.
In a study of 376 young people (aged 18
to 30), those who measured high on hostility and had a cynical
view of the world were two and a half times more likely to have
some calcium deposits in the arteries leading to the heart than
the less hostile and cynical people. Calcium deposits are the
early signs of developing heart disease. And the hostile, cynical
participants were nine times more likely to have high levels
of calcification, which is an indication that fatty plaques were
already developing. The link between hostility and calcification
held even after they accounted for smoking, blood pressure, and
being overweight. Hostile and cynical ways of looking at the
world were causing the calcification independently of other factors.
Blair Justice, a psychologist who specializes
in how the mind influences the body, says, "Hostile, cynical
are three times more likely to have a heart attack
and six times more likely to die of it."
At one time it was discovered that having
a "Type A" personality made you more prone to depression.
The Type A personality was defined by a combination of characteristics.
But since then, researchers have looked in more depth to find
that the key characteristic is hostility, which causes
frequent feelings of anger, and that regular input of adrenaline
and cortisol and other stress hormones has a cumulative impact
on a person's heart. It raises blood pressure. Some of the stress
hormones encourage plaque to build up in the arteries. And cortisol
contributes to the rise in cholesterol and triglycerides and
helps put fat on the abdomen (the worst place, as far as heart
health is concerned, to store fat).
Hostility and indeed all negative emotions
are caused or made worse by pessimism, cynicism, and defeatism
(learn more about
Not only does hostility increase blood
pressure, but it prolongs high blood pressure. In a study
at the University of Michigan, they had participants recall an
incident that made them angry, while the researchers monitored
their blood pressure. People with generally hostile personalities
jacked up their blood pressure the most. No surprise there. But
for the hostile people, the diastolic blood pressure remained
high for about 80 seconds. The blood pressure of the less hostile
people were back to normal in 42 seconds.
Think about this. People with hostile personalities
get angry more often. Their blood pressure rises higher and stays
high almost twice as long. This has an unhealthy long-term effect
on the cardiovascular system.
And hostility, like all negative emotions,
is not on or off. It is a sliding scale. We all feel anger and
hostility from time to time. The only thing to realize is that
the more we do, the worse it is for the heart. And more importantly,
you can do something that will reduce how much anger and hostility
you have. It's not difficult and it makes life more enjoyable.
about that here.
In another study, researchers found that
hostile people are more likely to experience repeated periods
of depression, and depression itself is another risk factor for
heart disease, which we will get to in a minute. The researchers
guess that at least one of the causes of the depression is that
hostility makes people less capable of having good relationships
with people, and poor social support is a risk factor for depression
as well as heart disease.
New studies are coming out all the time,
and they all point in the same direction: Negativity is bad for
your heart, bad for your health, bad for your relationships,
and no fun.
Angioplasty is a treatment for blockages
in the arteries. Having an artery blocked can obviously lead
to a heart attack, so one treatment is to stick a balloon into
the artery and inflate it where the blockage is, to open up the
Studying 298 people who received this treatment,
researchers found that the people with the most pessimism, cynicism
and defeatism at the time of the treatment were more likely to
have problems at a six month follow-up problems like a
heart attack, another angioplasty, bypass surgery, or the heart
disease simply getting worse.
One of the researchers, Vicki Helgeson,
said, "Patients who scored in the lower third of the index
were three times as likely as patients who scored in the upper
third of the index to sustain a new coronary event."
Keep in mind, all we're talking about here
way you habitually think. And what defines healthy thinking
from unhealthy thinking is not a mystery, it's not complicated,
and it can be improved. Learn how to change your thinking.
In a study with a surprising outcome, known
as the Coronary Drug Project, researchers experimented on men
who had suffered a heart attack and survived. Some men took a
drug called clofibrate, and some got a placebo (a sugar pill
with no medicinal value). The surprise was that five years later,
the survival rate was almost the same.
But they also found that those who took
80% or more of the pills they were supposed to take had a much
better survival rate than those who didn't, regardless of
whether they were taking the placebo or the drug.
In other words, it wasn't the drug that
made the difference. The study accidentally measured how consistently
they took their medicine. In other words, it measured how much
pessimism, cynicism, or defeatism they had about the medicine.
That's not how the researchers put it, but think about it: If
you were taking a medicine and you believed it would help, or
at least if you were committed to doing what you could, you would
take your medicine. But if you thought your condition was hopeless
(pessimism) or if you thought it wouldn't make any difference
(cynicism), or if you thought you're a dead man already (defeatism),
you would probably be more careless about taking your medicine.
Why bother? And it was this factor rather than the content of
the pills that predicted how well their hearts recovered from
the heart attack.
In another study, researchers looked at
data from 31 different medical facilities. Again, the study was
on men who'd had a heart attack. Some got a placebo, and some
got a real medicine, in this case, propranolol. The propranolol-takers
did better than the placebo-takers this time. And yet, there
was a similarity to the earlier study: Men who failed to take
their medicine 75% of the time or less were twice as likely to
die within a year, and they did not have more severe cardiac
problems to begin with.
Whether they were taking a placebo or a
real medicine, those who were pessimistic or cynical or defeatist
enough to neglect to take their medicine were more likely to
cortisol and stress
Here's a short course on stress hormones
for you brainiacs. First some stimulus in the brain either
an event in the world or a stressful way of thinking, or a combination
of the two causes the hypothalamus to release CRH (corticotropin
releasing factor). The CRH tells the pituitary gland to secrete
ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) into the bloodstream. ACTH
acts directly on the adrenal glands.
You have two adrenal glands, one on top
of each kidney. The cortex of the adrenal glands, stimulated
by ACTH, releases cortisol, causing the body to break down muscle
fibers to release amino acids into the bloodstream. And cortisol
also has an anti-inflammatory effect, reducing swelling.
Cortisol is called a stress hormone, but
it is necessary for the normal functioning of almost every part
of the body. It is only excessive amounts of cortisol, released
too often, that create problems. Cortisol has a tremendously
wide range of jobs to do, including the regulation of blood pressure.
Your body increases its output of cortisol
in response to stress. The stress could be extremes of temperature,
illness, physical exertion, trauma, or psychological stress (upset,
Cortisol triggers certain parts of the
body to stop burning blood sugar so that more will be available
to important organs, such as the brain. Cortisol also releases
glucose from storage, mobilizing it for use.
Cortisol makes the body release fatty acids
(triglycerides) from fat cells so muscles can use it for fuel.
It gears up the body to deal with stressful situations and potential
Once the stressful situation is over, cortisol
levels stay high, making you hungry enough to replenish the fuel
you have just burned.
A frequent and excessive release of cortisol
results in a storage of fat in the abdomen and elevated insulin
levels, which is linked to heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
In an interesting pilot study by Elissa
Epel, those who controlled stress with daily meditation or muscle
relaxation exercises lost significantly more abdominal fat
(the most unhealthy place to store it) than the control group.
When you are experiencing anxiety or anger or depression, the
cortisol stimulates your abdominal fat cells to soak up and store
fat. This is unhealthy if it is done too often.
The fat stored in your belly is worse for
your heart health than the fat stored elsewhere in your body.
One of the things cortisol does is activates fat-storage enzymes
in cells. The fat cells in your middle the cells behind
your abdominal muscles and surrounding your organs have
more receptors for cortisol than do other fat cells in your body.
And several studies have looked at the
link between stress and belly fat. The findings all point in
the same direction. For example, women were asked to do some
stressful tasks over a period of several days. They gave public
speeches, did difficult puzzles and arithmetic. The women who
said they were stressed out a lot in their everyday life also
got stressed out the most during these tests, and they produced
more cortisol. They also had the most belly fat.
The way a person thinks about a situation makes that situation
more or less stressful. The stress produces cortisol. Cortisol
causes the fat cells to store fat, especially in the abdomen,
and it all contributes to heart disease. This is one ways the
of the mind" sucks the life out of us.
Cortisol is produced in excessive amounts
by stress. Stress can be increased or decreased by increasing
or decreasing your pessimism, cynicism, and defeatism.
Cortisol not only increases abdominal fat
storage, it also raises your insulin level, which contributes
to heart attacks, diabetes and strokes. Cortisol also raises
blood pressure, and raises your cholesterol level.
And just to finish the short coarse on
stress hormones, the medulla of your adrenal glands again,
stimulated by ACTH produce two hormones: epinephrine (what
we normally call adrenaline) and norepinephrine (sometimes called
noradrenaline). These cause your system to step up its pace:
they increase heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure (by
constricting the peripheral blood vessels), blood flow to the
muscles, and metabolism.
When your adrenal glands release too much
stress hormone regularly, it is bad for your health, bad for
your relationships, bad for your long-term ability to effectively
do your work, and it feels bad.
Daniel Mark of Duke University asked 1719
heart disease patients whether or not they thought they'd make
it. This is a very simple and specific measure of their level
of pessimism, cynicism, and defeatism. Some said yes, they think
they'll make it. Some said no. The ones who said no were twice
as likely to have died within a year as the ones who said yes.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University
tested 309 people who were scheduled for a bypass surgery. A
bypass surgery reroutes blood around a blocked artery. Six months
later, those who had the most pessimism, cynicism and defeatism
were the most likely to be rehospitalized.
In another study of bypass surgery patients,
researchers tested the participants before they left the hospital
and then did a follow-up one year later. Those who were depressed
in the initial interviews were three times more likely to have
another heart problem within a year (chest pain, a heart attack,
the need for another cardiac procedure, or heart failure requiring
Depression has a very strong relation to
the deadly triad of pessimism, cynicism and defeatism. Combine
those with a setback of any kind and it can produce depression.
And depression isn't on or off. It's a sliding scale. That means
being even a little depressed has a small effect similar to the
large effects of major depression. This is a point of dispute
among experts in the field. Some believe that major depression
is a distinctly different animal than mild or moderate depression,
but Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, who is one of the world's
leading experts on depression and also a careful scientist and
researcher, makes a very good case that there is no evidence
good enough to justify the claim that the two are different.
So in the following descriptions of the
effects of depression on the heart, do not discount the effects
of even mild depression or everyday kinds of demoralization.
you think can make a setback either a passing annoyance with
relatively little impact or something with much more serious
consequences. And since the most important defining characteristic
of a depressed person is their pessimistic, cynical and defeated
way of thinking, a study about the effects of depression is a
study about the deadly triad, make no mistake. We're looking
at the lamprey
of the mind and what it can do.
In a huge study of 7893 volunteers over
a period of ten years, depressed men were seventy percent more
likely to develop heart disease than men who were not depressed.
None of the volunteers had heart disease at the start of the
study. For women, at the same level of depression, they were
only twelve percent more likely to develop heart disease. However,
when the researchers looked at severely depressed women, they
were seventy-eight percent more likely to develop heart
disease than women who weren't depressed. And the findings were
true even when they factored in other risk factors like weight,
blood pressure, smoking, and age.
A researcher at Washington University studied
103 patients with coronary artery disease. Twenty percent of
them were depressed. Those depressed few were eight times
more likely to develop VT (ventricular tachycardia). This rapid
heart rhythm happens most often before a sudden cardiac death.
In another study of 887 people who already
had one heart attack, researchers found that the depressed people
were three times more likely to have a second heart attack within
a year of their first one than those who weren't depressed. Temporary
depression is common after a heart attack. But about a third
of the people stay depressed. Plenty of research has shown that
what makes people remain depressed is their level of pessimism,
cynicism and defeatism. Which means what makes people remain
depressed is their habitual way of thinking.
A lot of research has associated severe
depression with a greater risk of fatal heart disease. But depression
is a sliding scale, and a study by a team of researchers from
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have discovered
that even mild depression harms the heart. They selected 2800
people who had no signs of heart disease, in an age range between
45 and 77. At the beginning of the study, about a fourth of the
volunteers had at least mild depression.
Twelve years later, those who were even
a little depressed had a significantly higher rate of heart disease.
Those who had the most depression in the beginning were twice
as likely to have developed heart disease than the undepressed
Why? How do feelings of defeat, cynicism,
and pessimism harm the heart? There are several different ways.
The researchers in the study above (by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention) point out that having these feelings
fairly often can thicken artery walls and promote blood clotting.
In another study, this time of a group
of 600 diabetics, the participants were tested every two years
for six years. They used the Beck Depression Inventory, a questionnaire,
a kind of mood scale, to determine the diabetics' level of depression.
Over the period of the study, the participants' scores on the
Beck Inventory predicted the development of heart disease better
than the measures of blood sugar level.
We're looking at many different studies
by many different scientists looking at many different aspects
of many different levels of depression over many different levels
of severity over many different lengths of time, and all the
results point in the same direction: Depression is bad for the
heart. And to put it in more practical terms: Pessimism, cynicism,
and defeatism are bad for the heart.
Here's another one: Brenda Penninx, a researcher
from Wake Forest University started with a group of 2900 volunteers.
Some had heart disease and some didn't. She tested them for depression.
Four years later, those with severe depression were almost four
times more likely to die of heart disease as people who were
not depressed, and this ratio held true even for those people
who didn't have any heart problems at the beginning of the study.
People with only mild depression had fatal heart disease fifty
percent higher than the undepressed.
Depression is stressful on the body. Stress
produces extra cortisol, and we've already seen what kind of
damage that can cause. People who feel more pessimistic or cynical
or defeated have also been shown to exercise less and to be less
likely to seek medical help for problems (they doubt it would
make any difference).
In a separate study, 4493 people over age
65 were followed for six years. None of them had heart disease
at the beginning of the study. Using the Depression Scale, the
volunteers were tested every year. They were also interviewed
and given medical exams.
The Depression Scale is a questionnaire
that asks the volunteers to determine how often they behaved
or felt a particular way in a given week. The study found out
that for every five-unit increase on the depression score, their
chance of developing heart disease increased fifteen percent.
Curt Furgerg, a professor of public health
science, says that there are several possible ways depression
can contribute to heart disease. First, we have evidence that
depression increases production of free radicals and fatty acids,
and these can harm the blood vessel lining. Also, the stress
of depression might increase plaque and blockages in blood vessels.
And finally, people who are depressed, even mildly, tend to be
more likely to smoke and less likely to exercise.
In another study, this time with 2000 people
over a period of ten years, a team of researchers discovered
that depression increases the fatality of heart disease
and that even healthy people who were once depressed had a greater
risk of heart disease down the road.
Let's be very clear on this point: Pessimism,
cynicism, and defeatism is not cool, it is not chic, it does
not make you superior in any way. It is dangerous. It is deadly.
And it is also contagious. It harms your health, it makes you
weak, and it is bad for the people around you.
In so many different ways, the deadly triad
are bad for your heart. Of course, when a study shows that you
have four times greater chance of dying of a heart attack if
you get depressed, it doesn't mean if you've been depressed,
you will die of a heart attack. Pessimism, cynicism and defeatism
are not the only risk factors for heart disease they only
increase the chance. They are not the only factor, but they are
major risk factors. This is important enough to be worth doing
something about. Not only is the deadly triad bad for your heart,
they make life significantly less enjoyable. They're bad for
your heart and even bad for your sense of humor.
The researcher, Lee Berk, looked at heart
disease patients over the course of a year while they went through
a rehabilitation program. The participants were randomly assigned
to two groups. Both received the same therapy, but he added one
extra exercise for one of the groups: Every day they watched
a half hour of a humorous movie of their choice. Those who laughed
the most during the movie experienced the least heart-disease
symptoms. One of the side effects of pessimism, cynicism and
defeatism is that things aren't as funny.
All of this research I've presented here
is only a concentrated sampling of the tremendous body of research
on how the deadly triad contributes mightily to heart disease.
When you encounter people who act as if pessimism or cynicism
is good, use this information to disabuse them of the idea. Do
it with finesse, but make sure you leave no doubt how supremely
foolish is is to continue thinking pessimistically.
Pessimism doesn't just contribute to heart
disease. It also weakens your immune system. Read more about
that here: Pessimism and Health.
Click here for a