The Power of Positive People: Why They're Important to Your Health

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Dr. Mirgain on NBC-15

Dr. Mirgain spoke about positive relationships during an NBC-15 interview. Watch the interview


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Dr. Shilagh Mirgain explains why positive relationships are important for your health

Madison, Wisconsin - Ever notice how a bad mood can be contagious?


Maybe your spouse is stressed at work and brings it home. What started out as just another evening ends up with the two of you fighting and you're not really even sure why. Maybe it's a co-worker who is unhappy in his position.


Without even realizing it, you may find yourself increasingly dissatisfied and less tolerant of the typical day-to-day stresses.


"Research has shown that when someone close to us experiences negative emotions, those emotions frequently influence everyone around them," explains Shilagh Mirgain, health psychologist at UW Health. "The emotions can creep into the relationship and they can have a profound and lasting impact on our own outlook."


Chronic negative emotions can actually influence our emotional and mental health, our physical well- being, even our self-esteem. And that's one reason why it's so important to choose your relationships carefully.


"Having strong, positive social support is one of the most important factors in predicting the physical health and well-being in people of all ages," explains Mirgain. "It can help us cope effectively with stress and even help strengthen our immune system and lower our risk of disease."


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Ever know someone who never seems to get sick? Chances are he or she has a lot of positive friends. But positive support is more than just knowing happy people. It means being surrounded by people who support you in your goals, encourage you and help you feel good about yourself. And, you can cultivate this kind of support through your own relationships.


Draw In Positive People


"Someone once said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with," comments Mirgain. "We inherit the beliefs of those we spend the most time with and it affects our way of thinking, our self-esteem and our decisions."


Research shows that when we are surrounded by positive people, we're much more likely to achieve our goals, such as losing weight. When those around us help us feel good about ourselves, it's easier to be successful in our goals. But, how can we tell if our close relationships are helping us, or inadvertently undermining our efforts?


Mirgain suggests taking the time to think about those people you spend the most time with and reflect on your typical experiences with them. It can help by asking yourself a few questions, such as:


  • Do you feel refreshed after spending time with them, or do you feel drained and deflated?
  • When you anticipate seeing them, is there a sense of excitement or a bit of dread?
  • Who do you think believes in you and accepts you for exactly who you are?
  • Who can help you achieve your important goals and be a cheerleader when you experience setbacks?

"The people on your list who leave you feeling positive and renewed – those are the people you should prioritize spending time with," notes Mirgain. "When we nurture these positive relationships, our lives can change dramatically."


Mirgain goes on to suggest that we could all benefit from a personal "board of directors." Just like organizations, these people have a vested interest in our well-being and can provide us with feedback, insights, advice and support. They can, in effect, help us reach our full potential. And just as one bad apple can sour the bunch, having a negative person on our "board" can create roadblocks that make it difficult to achieve our goals.


Keep Communicating


Sometimes we have to deal with difficult people. It could be a family member, co-worker, even a neighbor. And somehow, they know all of the buttons to press. And that, according to Mirgain, can be a gift.


"There are some people that you just have to learn how to interact with them because circumstances don't allow you to distance yourself completely," says Mirgain. "But that becomes an opportunity to strengthen our sense of self and even practice being assertive about our needs."


Mirgain suggests thinking about what makes it difficult to be around the person. Maybe she's a "know-it-all," or he always seems to have a reason why your ideas will never work. Can you talk honestly with them, using "I messages" – "I feel like…" – and be assertive in your needs? If you can, consider being direct with the person, "I feel like we struggle to work collaboratively together. I would like to figure out together how we can change that."


"When you can communicate honestly and express what you need, it helps move you away from a place of reaction toward a place of action. And, often, having difficult and courageous conversations can help strengthen the relationship and change a negative one into a positive experience," comments Mirgain.


And, despite your best efforts, there are those with whom it can still be challenging to get along. That's when the best thing you can do is to find something to be grateful for – even if it's just that person's existence – and reflecting on that. Mirgain recommends trying a "Loving Kindness"-type meditation – thinking daily about the person and wishing him or her well. When you do it daily, it can actually influence your perception of the person over time and help you feel better.


Be Positive Support to Others


For Mirgain, offering love and support is a bit karmic – it comes back to us multiplied. "When we speak kindly to others, believe in someone even when they don't believe in themselves, we actually feel more happiness ourselves," says Mirgain. It can be something as small as smiling at a stranger, or offering a sincere compliment. Wishing the clerk at the store a "good day" and actually meaning it. When we are genuine and compassionate with others, it can literally improve our own health.

Date Published: 02/17/2015

News tag(s):  shilagh a mirgain

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