How bad news hurts your health - and what you can do about it

Mass redundancies, anti-humanitarian international policies, school shootings and celebrity suicides … it seems the supply of bad news is never-ending. Add to that the fact that we are tuned in 24/7 thanks to social media and you have the perfect equation for stress-related ill health.

As early as the 1970s, it was neuroscientist and pharmacologist Candace Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion, who showed that emotions create chemicals in the body that influence cells and even genetic response – now part of the new science known as epigenetics

Simply put, a constant supply of bad news can not only depress your mood but your immune system, making you more prone to acute and chronic diseases. In contrast, an optimistic attitude or a regular connection to bliss, can literally change not only your daily life but your long-term health outcomes.  

In a study of Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality Harvard researchers have found that optimism had a significant association with a decreased risk of death from cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and infections. Even after controlling for other health factors those in the quarter with the highest optimism scores had a nearly 40 percent lower risk for heart disease and stroke than those in the lowest quarter.

In 2004, University of California researchers found that the genes of people with high levels of eudemonic happiness, a form of bliss based on meaning or self-realisation, function better by keeping inflammatory gene expression low and antiviral and antibody expression high.

 Another study, Optimistic Attitudes Protect Against Progression of Carotid Atherosclerosis in Healthy Middle-Aged Women, published in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, observed that in the three years following menopause, heart disease tended to progress more slowly in optimistic women compared with their pessimistic peers.

As the current priestess of holistic medicine and author of Making Life Easy, medical practitioner Dr Christiane Northrup, affirms: your beliefs are your biology, with positive thoughts accompanied by positive changes in your body’s biochemistry and negative thoughts tending to depress both your mood and your immunity.

Northrup suggests a positive attitude needs to be practiced because repetitive thoughts create faster and larger neural pathways in the brain. Saturate the brain with constant bad news, however and the pathways you build will eventually go straight to ill health

Health boosters in a bad news era

1.       Regularly turn off bad news media. For example, catch up with the news you need to once a day, perhaps, don’t saturate your life with it.

2.       Surrounding yourself with things you love – art, furniture, luxury linens and the trappings of a sophisticated lifestyle can help boost the feelgood factor but no more so than simply having good music, photos of loved ones, or fresh flowers, within your immediate environment.

3.       Meditation may cheat a pessimistic or stressed brain of its misery fix: MRI scans taken for an American study funded by the National Institute of Health and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Opportunity Fund  found that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, the amygdala, appears to shrink. The result: pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker and disappointing or calamitous events, such as losing a crucial business deal, have less impact on your emotional state.

4.       Avoid pessimistic people, particularly in business.

5.       Feel that you can make a difference, in your business, or in your community.  Volunteer for projects that assist not just your goals but others. Altruism can protect you from extreme stress and boost your health in many ways, including allowing you to feel more powerful to effect change.

6.       Make a conscious effort to see your glass as half full, not half empty.

7.       Rather than totalling problems, total blessings. A daily dose of gratitude can help shore up your immune system.