I have mentioned a number of times that I am enrolled in the Entresto Central Support Program. This program is sponsored by Novartis, the manufacturer of the new heart failure drug known as Entresto. The program pays most of my co-payment for this new drug, which is a substantial amount when compared to my other co-payments.
The program also generates snail mail and e-mail correspondence to me that contains a lot of helpful tips about things like diet, exercise, the benefits of getting into a routine, organizing and taking your meds, etc. So I was intrigued by a recent e-mail from the program appeared in my inbox. The subject was: Staying Positive Can Help Maintain Progress.
The first paragraph acknowledged how far I have come since learning that I had heart failure. Wow – I believe that is a true statement, but I wondered if they had a camera in my condo that let them know how really well I am doing. But rather than obsessing on unauthorized surveillance, I realized that their e-mail in large part was based on feedback they get from their periodic conversations with patients. The second paragraph contained something that was important for each heart failure patient to hear:
The rest of the e-mail discussed the need to be proactive about being positive, and had some tips on behaviors that would help patients achieve this goal.
I know that it is often hard to find the silver lining in the cloud when you are so tired and everything in your life has changed. But I believe the Entresto support program is correct that maintaining a positive attitude is the key. This may be one reason why I sometimes go out of my way to place a more humorous or light-hearted spin on serious topics in this blog. If I can find a way to remain optimistic, then the chronic disease has not beaten me yet!
It’s not just me and the Entresto Support Program singing the praises of staying positive. A May 2008 article on the Harvard Health Publishing website entitled It’s Time to Accentuate the Positive” says: “Positive thoughts and feelings may help your heart thrive.” The article begins with the observation that it is the negative aspects of psychological functioning that are focused on when discussing heart disease.
The article focused on a study about emotional vitality, and found that those with higher emotional vitality had less recurrence of some type of heart incident. Why? The article said that “emotional vitality could calm the stress-induced arousal of the nervous system that boosts heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and activates inflammation and other heart disease promoting processes. Positive emotions might contribute to an individual's sense of control over his or her destiny, which has been associated with protection against heart disease.”
The Johns Hopkins Medicine website has an undated article entitled The Power of Positive Thinking that says: “People with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.” The article had two theories for why this may be: (1) people who are more positive may be better protected against the inflammatory damage of stress; and/or (2) hope and positivity help people make better health and life decisions and focus more on long-term goals.
The article concluded with a number of techniques we can practice to boost our bright sides: The first is simply smile more, which a University of Kansas Study found can reduce blood pressure and heart rate during stressful situations. The second is to practice reframing. The example given was that when you are stuck in a traffic jam, appreciate the fact that you can afford a car, and use the time to listen to music. The third is build resiliency by maintaining a good relationship with family and friends, accepting that change happens, and taking on solving problems rather than hoping they will just disappear.
Of course, I initially focused on research that discussed the need for a positive outlook when you have a heart condition. But then I broadened my web search to look for articles on how patients with other chronic conditions would benefit from a positive outlook. I found on the National Kidney Foundation website (www.kidney.org - the Kidney Cars page) with an article with the subject line: Having a Positive Outlook When Faced with a Chronic Illness. The article included the following tips to keep a positive outlook on life amidst pain and difficulty.
The first tip initially does not sound positive: Allow yourself to be mad. But this is the reason why it is included, and it makes a lot of sense to me:
The other sensible tips included: Take are of yourself, find a hobby, and get outside. Finally, there was to the tip to serve others. Sometimes when you are chronically ill, it seems that you don’t have the energy to serve yourself much less anyone else. But it doesn’t always have to involve physical service. The article suggested something as simple as sending a note or a text to someone who needs a pick me up, will serve to both lighten their load and give you a boost in your attitude.
I found a website called painnewsnetwork.org. The organization is a non-profit, independent online news service that provides in-depth coverage about chronic pain and pain management. Their mission is “to raise awareness about chronic pain, and to connect and educate pain sufferers, caregivers, healthcare providers and the public about the pain experience.” Their website includes an article entitled “Power of Pain: Benefits of a Positive Attitude.”
The article is written by Barby Ingle. She has several conditions that require pain management and she is a chronic pain advocate, a pain educator and the President of the Power of Pain Foundation. There is one paragraph which reinforces that not only does a positive attitude benefit those with chronic pain conditions, but also helps to attract people to your side who can help you:
To build a positive attitude you must oust those negative voices inside you that sabotage your ability to move forward. The article “Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self Talk to Reduce Stress” on the Mayo Clinic” website provides a number of techniques to stifle or totally exile those voices from your life. The first step is to examine whether you engage in any of the following behaviors that undermine your optimism: filtering, personalizing, catastrophizing and polarizing. Here are the positive techniques that you need to cultivate: Identify areas to change, check yourself, be open to humor, follow a healthy lifestyle, surround yourself with positive people, practice positive self-talk.
Take a look at the article to get more details about what the undermining behaviors are and how debilitating they are. Trust me, I have fallen prey to all of these behaviors, and these are behaviors that working with a therapist helped me learn to spot the behaviors and rebuild my positive attitude and confidence. Don’t feel bad if you need the help of a professional.
Finally, I want to leave you with a voice that is young but as wise as Solomon. Sneha Dave is a contributor to US News and World Report website who wrote the July 2015 article How to Stay Positive when Life Includes a Serious Chronic Illness. Ms. Dave at the time was a student at Indiana University , and a teen with ulcerative colitis. She studies chronic illness advocacy, journalism and economics.
She started a non-profit called Crohn’s and Colitis Teen Times. How impressive! When I was I college, it was all I could do to stay ahead of my studies. This young woman is not only battling a very challenging chronic illness, she is making lives better for others.
Here are just a few insightful sentences from her article:
What an inspiration to all of us who are walking down the chronic road! If you are cynical that positive thinking can improve your life, just take Ms. Dave's advice. Think positively, take one step at a time and who knows how far you can go!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.