Optimism and Health: One Woman’s Experience With the Mind-Body Connection

I’ve only known Amanda, a nanny from California, since March, but her story about optimism and health and how they affect each other has inspired me so deeply. In October 2016, Amanda was diagnosed with autoimmune primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), a rare liver disease, which means that her body is attacking the small biliary ducts of her liver. Although PBC is generally slow to progress, a biopsy performed about a month after Amanda received her diagnosis showed that she had “significant” liver scarring.

Dealing With the Unexpected

“After I was diagnosed, I went through a lot of stages of emotion. I was angry — at God and at my body,” she says. “I went through stages that I grieved for what I thought my future was going to look like. I definitely went through periods where I was scared because there are so many unknowns with my diagnosis. Some days I live completely pain-free, and other days I have very severe pain in my upper right abdominal, where my liver is located.”

Amanda also experiences debilitating itching. “It’s a painful itch, and I often scratch until my skin is raw and I’m bleeding. For the first few months after diagnosis, my pain absolutely, 100 percent affected my state of mind. It’s all I could think about. I went from being a naturally happy and optimistic person to being very negative and unhappy.”

Amanda’s friend, who runs an online course geared toward helping women become more empowered and confident by inspiring them to live lives full of love and positivity, challenged her to change her thinking regarding optimism and health. “She suggested that instead of focusing on my pain, or on the fact that I’m always fatigued, to instead focus on something that does feel good. She said it could be something as simple as your ears feeling particularly soft that day,” Amanda explains. “The next day, I woke up and I made the decision to focus on the good, and I’ve never looked back.”

How Positivity Affects Health

According to research published in Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health, “Optimistic individuals are positive about events in daily life. In the research carried out regarding this perspective, positive correlations have been found between optimism and physical/mental well-being. Optimistic subjects tend to have more frequently protective attitudes, are more resilient to stress, and are inclined to use more appropriate coping strategies.”

Amanda’s experience closely mirrors this research. When she made the decision to focus on the good, even when it felt easier to think about the negative, she started seeing changes in her condition and in her overall health. Before she changed her mind-set, she explains, “My liver enzymes were very elevated. When I made the decision to focus on the positive, to change my way of thinking and choose happiness, my liver enzymes dropped to almost the normal range, and most of my symptoms went away completely.” Amanda was able to reduce the amount of pills she took — an astounding 18 to 25 pills per day — to only two. In just a month, her doctor went from recommending a potential transplant to “being absolutely thrilled” with Amanda’s liver levels.

“It is apparent that optimism is a mental attitude that heavily influences physical and mental health, as well as coping with everyday social and working life,” the research states. “Through an adaptive management of personal goals and development, and by using active coping tactics, optimists are significantly more successful than pessimists in aversive events and when important life-goals are impaired.”

Now, Amanda takes things one day at a time. It’s easier to be positive some days than others, and she’s glad she went through all the emotional stages because she’s thankful to be on the other side and in a place of peace and optimism about her life and condition. She concludes, “To those facing disease, I would say: our minds are so powerful — more powerful than I think we will ever understand. Choosing optimism has changed my life, and it’s changed my health.”