Optimism/Pessimism and Stress

April 02, 2018

Optimism/Pessimism and Stress

There is a difference in the way that people approach experiences, challenges, and stressors. Those people who are more optimistic in their outline will tend to expect more positive than negative things to happen to them. Whereas, people who are more pessimistic in their views tend to expect more negative outcomes. 

While there are positives and negatives to both perspectives, there is a large body of research that has shown that optimists, when compared to pessimists, adjust better to difficulties. More specifically, optimists tend to adjust better to stress and exposure to a stressor than pessimists. Optimists have been found to experience less psychological distress and less negative impact on their long-term physical well-being.

Stress and the consequences of stress may arise from how people appraise experiences rather than from the experiences themselves. Optimists tend to have a generalized positive outlook about the future, and this impacts how they appraise and approach stressors. Optimists generally report experiencing less distress during stressor exposure compared to pessimists, and it seems that optimism may have a protective role during exposure to a stressor in that optimism acts as a buffer against the adverse impact of stressful events. To understand the underlying components of why optimists deal with stress better, we will look at their goal engagement and choice of coping strategies.

SELF-FULFILLING PROPHESIES

There are often two options when encountering challenges; engage to overcome the challenge and achieve goals, or disengage to avoid the challenge and give up on the goal. The choice between these two options may depend on whether the desired outcome is perceived to be attainable. Because optimists see positive outcomes as attainable, they are more likely to engage and continue to invest the effort to achieve their desired outcome, rather than give-up or disengage as pessimists tend to do.

Several studies have shown how dispositional optimists persist longer on tasks compared with pessimists, in some cases particularly when self-awareness is high, as awareness tends to highlight one’s own goals. The tendency for optimists to expect positive outcomes and remain engaged in challenges creates a self-fulfilling prophecy because positive outcomes and success have a greater chance of becoming actualized. On the other hand, for pessimists, the tendency to expect negative outcomes and give up on challenges creates a self- fulfilling prophecy of failure.

 

This is an excerpt from my soon to be released book on stress



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