Being friends with such a moody pessimist can be difficult, if
not miserable. If you work or live with someone who continually
grumbles about life in general, his or her bad attitude could
be affecting you. Negative emotions can affect people with even
the most optimistic of dispositions. They can eventually ruin
relationships and friendships, and can even break family ties.
Researchers believe being around negative people -- and, of course,
being negative yourself -- can harm your immune system and impact
your psychological and physiological health. Studies also show
negative emotions are associated with cancer, heart attacks, and
high blood pressure. In other words, our moods can make us sick.
You may not be able to change other people's bad moods, but keeping
your attitude positive can protect you against negative influences.
"Cultivating positive emotions produces an upward spiral that
broadens habitual modes of thinking and acting, and builds personal
resources for coping," advises Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D.,
associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
Research shows that production of the stress hormone cortisol
increases when we experience negative emotions. That little hormone
could be a factor in your decision-making during a stressful relationship.
A study conducted by Ohio State researcher Janet K. Kiecolt-Glasser,
Ph.D., found that women whose cortisol levels increased while
discussing their marital history were twice as likely to be divorced
a decade later.
So what can you do if a close relationship is plagued by chronic
First, accept the possibility that having negative relationships
can, and probably is, wreaking havoc in your life. According to
Fredrickson, the solution lies in your response to the negativity.
"The most important thing is to not escalate or reciprocate negativity
and to have positive interactions to build solid relationships,"
she advises. That's good advice for times when you're tempted
to get drawn into the pessimism around you.
Negative relationships can keep you in a constant state
of agitation, compromising your mood and your health.
Second, tune in to your body's physiological response to stressful
situations. Negative relationships can keep you in a constant
state of agitation, compromising your own mood and health. Ever
notice what your body feels like when your partner is in a bad
mood, or when a consistently negative co-worker draws near you?
Your body undergoes intense physiological changes as if it's being
threatened, slipping into a "fight or flight" mode. This leads
to stress and other physical responses.
A new attitude
In research that confirms the obvious, the American Psychological
Association (APA) has determined that those who are optimistic
experience fewer negative moods. But don't disregard these results
because they seem oversimplified -- what they point out is important
to remember. If you are naturally positive, remember to take personal
responsibility for your environment. You can help both yourself
and your moody friends just by maintaining your positive outlook.
Taking control is the key to enhancing not just your own emotions,
but also the emotions of those around you.
Doing that depends on having healthy self-esteem and good boundaries.
So take time to learn from your current experiences. Know that
if you believe your time is valuable and that you yourself are
valuable, you will be ready for positive, life-affirming experiences
and relationships. Here are a few tips to help lead you forward:
you're interacting with a negative person, think before you
-- go for a walk, meditate, remove yourself from stressful situations.
your interactions with negative people. If your partner is negative,
old habits with co-workers and friends who try to engage you
in negative conversations. Don't feed the fire.
healthy boundaries by limiting the amount of negative information
you will tolerate and listen to.
all else fails, consider ending negative relationships.
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Nancy Duncan, M.S.W., holds a master's degree in social work and
works in the state of California with children and adults of all