Studies show that glass-half-empty types don't live as long as those who look on the bright side. When pessimists put a more positive spin on the calamities in their lives, they have less stress and better health. A classic UCLA study found that law students who began their first semester optimistic about the experience had more helper T cells mid semester, which can amplify the immune response, and more powerful natural killer cells, than students who had a more pessimistic perspective. One reason could be that optimists take better care of themselves. It could also be due to less stress-related damage to the immune system, such as killer cells that suddenly become pacifists.
Personality is tough to change, look for reasons—however small—to feel lucky every day. Sounds hokey, but try striking up a dinner table conversation with your family where you all share a couple of good things that happened every day.
You Bottle Up Your Moods
A constructive argument with your spouse can actually increase immunity, say UCLA researchers.
They asked 41 happy couples to discuss a problem in their marriage for 15 minutes. The researchers detected surges in blood pressure, heart rate, and immune-related white blood cells, all of which were similar to the benefits seen with moderate exercise. But you still have to play nice: Couples who frequently use sarcasm, insults, and put-downs have fewer virus-fighting natural killer cells, have higher levels of stress hormones, and take up to 40% longer to recover from injuries than those who manage to stay positive and affectionate during their quarrels.
Don't keep what's bothering you bottled up. People with type D personalies—those who keep their opinions and emotions hidden—have killer T cells that are less active than those found in more expressive peers.
You're Under the Gun
Chronic stress—the day-after-day kind you experience over job insecurity or a sick relative—takes a toll on many aspects of your health, including immunity.
There is compelling scientific evidence that this kind of stress (as opposed to the every-now-and-again kind from a bad day at work or a screaming match with your kid) causes a measurable decline in the immune system's ability to fight disease. Periods of extreme stress can result in a lower natural killer cell count, sluggish killer T cells, and diminished macrophage activity that can amplify the immune response. In fact, widows and widowers are much more likely to get sick during the first year after their spouse dies than their peers who have not experienced a major loss.
We're not going to tell you to take a bath or light a scented candle (unless those really help you relax, that is!). Do find go-to, healthy stress relievers that can take the edge off—be it a long run on the treadmill, a relaxing yoga class, or baking dessert just for fun. The important thing is that you unwind and recover from stress, since it's often hard to avoid in the first place.
You Don't Stash Pens in Your Purse
Having your own supply of dime-a-dozen plastic ballpoints might just keep you from picking up a virus. Cold and flu germs are easily passed through hand-to-hand contact, says Neil Schachter, MD, a professor of pulmonary medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu. Any way you can avoid touching public objects -- such as the communal pen at the bank -- will cut your risk.
"When you get up in the morning, don't leave the house without a pen in your pocket or your purse," Schachter suggests. "Take your own wherever you go, and use it instead of the doctor's, the delivery guy's, or the restaurant waiter's"
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