Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Here’s how that impacts your physical and mental health

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Here’s how that impacts your physical and mental health

Research suggests your wellbeing habits are impacted by your outlook on life. 

I don’t know a single person who hasn’t felt at least a little concerned about the future right now. We don’t need to go into all of the things that are causing our stress, but let’s just say that financial worries, concerns over jobs and careers and global politics aren’t exactly helping us have a positive mindset right now.

Traditionally, you may associate those feelings of doom with a lack of self-care. After all, what’s the point in going for a run when everything around you is falling apart? But, it turns out, we’re actually more likely to look after our wellbeing when we’re lacking optimism. 

That’s according to the Lululemon Global Wellbeing Report, which surveyed 10,000 people to find that despite fewer people feeling optimistic about the future (dropping from 59% to 40% year on year), our desire to look after our wellbeing is up. 

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51% of people say they expect to increase their focus on their physical wellbeing, 48% on mental wellbeing and 41% on social wellbeing in the next year. So why is it taking a bad mood to get us to take our holistic wellbeing seriously?

“Because these are things that are within our control,” says Belinda Sidhu, Vitality’s head of mental health and wellbeing.

“Right now, we have had several months of long, dark days filled with uncertainty. Winter can bring feelings of low mood and depression, and the seemingly never-ending pandemic and lessening of restrictions can bring about anxiety.

“All of these things are out of our control. But turning inwards to concentrate on the things we can control helps with our own sense of agency.” 

We’re more likely to focus on wellbeing when we’re pessimistic

Control in uncertain times

This was the lesson we were all trying to learn over lockdown, wasn’t it? That we should ‘control the controllables’. Seemingly, that lesson has settled in our brains just in time for the new wave of uncertainty that arrives with another new normal – one in which we seemingly have to live with a virus, get back into the office and get on with life despite feelings of unease.

Just this morning, my friend sent me a message full of stressful things that were going on in her life: issues with a mortgage broker, a contractual issue with a new job, busy season arriving in her current role. But after the rant, my friend said: “In a weird way I’m relatively calm. All of it is out of my control, so I just think I need to leave it to those in charge to deal with it.”

Interestingly, she’s just come back from a trip to the Scottish Highlands, where she forewent her phone for a week to spend time hiking with family.I’m not saying that being in nature helped her sense of perspective, but maybe focusing on her wellbeing for the past week has given her a sense of control despite her concern for other things that are going on in her life. 

Channelling our negative energy into these kinds of practices seems to be quite a healthy thing to do. At least, that’s compared to other coping mechanisms that the nation has taken up to deal with the messiness over the past few years – research suggests that one in three were drinking more during the first lockdown, for example.

“Wellbeing practices definitely have a place,” says Sidhu. But she warns that masking over pessimism with green juice and yoga isn’t the answer. Instead, she says: “it’s also important to use self-awareness to explore where these pessimistic feelings may be coming from. Practices such as reflection and journaling can be really useful in helping to process pessimistic thoughts and feelings – or speaking to a trusted friend or mental health professional.”

We clearly shouldn’t rely on pessimism as the only source of motivation for our self-care, either. Focusing on wellbeing should be a priority even when the chips are up, as well as down. But when you are feeling low on optimism, there are certain practices that can help. 

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“Mindfulness can be a great way to help you bring your mindset to the present moment – which is useful as it means we aren’t thinking about the past or future, which can be a cause of low mood or anxiety,” says Sidhu.

“Moving your body can also release endorphins, also known as happy hormones, which are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. And when we exercise often we do this in a sociable way. When we’re mixing with other people, this does tend to give us a boost. 

“When we socialise, we’re increasing our protective factors. Protective factors are things that help prevent problems or help us face problems – so we are adding to our mental resilience. And moving your body isn’t just a HIIT workout. It can be a walk in nature which has been found to have beneficial effects on our wellbeing.”

Most importantly, Sidhu suggests that you find wellbeing practices that are about more than just you. “Volunteering and helping others can be useful. It can create a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of loneliness. Volunteering can increase your self-esteem and wellbeing, as well as having a positive impact on others,” she says. And if we want to be more optimistic about the world, that sounds like a great place to start. 

Images: Getty

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