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Stay positive to fight disease

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September 01, 2017

The author of Positive Oncology said developing strategies to manage the psychological impact of her triple negative breast cancer diagnosis made a ‘‘huge’’ difference to her treatment journey and outcome.

Having a positive attitude can improve outcomes for those living with chronic illness, a research review has found.

Researchers at Curtin University in Western Australia have studied the power of positive and negative thoughts on people living with cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study, published in the international journal Psychological Bulletin, analysed more than 270 studies and found strong negative emotions led to avoidance or denial, which can in turn interfere with treatment and recovery.

According to the study, patients with a negative attitude towards the illness were more like to suffer depression or anxiety and are less likely to get better.

Those who viewed their illness as having fewer serious consequences on their life were less likely to be distressed, more likely to stick to their treatment and experience better outcomes.

‘‘Broadly, the research suggests that what people think about their illness impacts on what they will do about it and, importantly, their recovery, or, at least, how well they manage their illness,’’ lead author Martin Hagger said.

Breast cancer survivor and former intensive care nurse Sue Mackey is a big believer in the power of positivity.

‘‘It’s something that we’ve always known but it’s not been scientifically proven yet, because it is a difficult thing to prove, but most doctors and nurses really do see that the people with the positive attitudes do seem to do better,’’ Ms Mackey said.

The author of Positive Oncology said developing strategies to manage the psychological impact of her triple negative breast cancer diagnosis made a ‘‘huge’’ difference to her treatment journey and outcome.

Among the helpful strategies Ms Mackey used to shut out the ‘‘white noise’’ and ruminations were using daily mantras and listening to particular songs.

‘‘I would have songs that I would just sing in my head if I felt that things were getting out of control,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s about distracting yourself in a constructive and uplifting way to incorporate more ‘micro moments’ of joy even in the really dark times.’’

Professor Hagger hoped the new research would translate into improved care of patients with chronic illnesses.

‘‘Health professionals should not only communicate the serious consequences of the illness but also identify concrete ways to help patients deal with their illness such as taking their medication as prescribed or attending their medical appointments as required,’’ he said.

‘‘It may also be helpful for health professionals to offer ways of dealing with emotional distress and stress related to their illness,’’ he said.

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