How Bad Habits can affect Diabetics Positively

Amylia Grace Yeaman Health Guide
  • Attention All Diabetics:  [cue cheesy music] Are you fed up with always being told the glass is half-full? Are you criticized for imagining worst case scenarios? Do you wish your pals with rose-colored-glasses would just let you vent your frustrations with life--or diabetes--from time to time without being told to "buck up" and look on the bright side of life? Well science, it seems, may finally be on your side.


    Over the years, researchers have proven that many things we considered undoubtedly unhealthy (germs, caffeine, UV rays, etc.) can actually be good for us under the right circumstances. Lately, research is proving the same to be true when it comes to certain "bad" habits, "negative" quirks, and human foibles.

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    One researcher explains: "In certain situations, what is typically a detrimental trait can turn out to be a good one," says CMU social psychology professor and researcher, Dr. Bryan Gibson. This is good news for those of us who occasionally dip into pessimism, frustration, and anger, despite our best efforts.


    The following three "tips" are part of several proven examples of "negative" habits* that can actually be helpful: 


    • 1.) USING PESSIMISM: Taking time to critically analyze "worst-case scenarios" and other possible potentialities in given situations help people do their best by preparing for the worst."Thinking specifically about what might go wrong can help turn anxiety into action," says Dr. Julie K. Norem, professor of psychology at Wellesley College and author of The Positive Power of Negative Thinking


    For diabetics, this can be a real life-saver, considering the crucial "in-the moment" decisions we must make in certain situation. Working through all the possibilities so you're prepared for everything, even the worst, can pay off, big time. If something goes wrong, you're ready for it, so it's less likely to bring catastrophic results.


    In fact, Dr. Norem cites myriad examples of how results are often poorer when folks are forced to think positively since critical negative thinking has been proven to bolster desired outcomes and help manage anxiety effectively. It's called "defensive pessimism," and can have a positive place in our lives*. 



    • 2.) SWEAR, Dammit!: A recent study published in NeuroReport found that participants who immersed their hands in icy water and were allowed to swear experienced significantly less prickly, numbing pain than when they repeated neutral words.


    This could be good news for diabetics such as myself (prone to leak an expletive from time to time) since pain is a part of life with diabetes. No need to make it worse by berating yourself if a curse word slips out every now and then while injecting insulin, lancing a finger, or dealing with frozen shoulderdiabetic neuropathy, or other nerve pain. Researchers speculate that cursing activates the stress response, boosting the body's pain threshold, especially when the body is stressed, or in crisis.


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    • 3.) GET MAD!: Getting mad when you face an unfair situation can actually buffer stress, according to Harvard's Decision Science Laboratory director, Dr. Jennifer Lerner. We're not talking about chronic anger, here, however. Our sense of outrage stems from feeling wronged--and reacting withcontrolled (!) anger rather than runaway anxiety releases less of the body's stress hormone cortisol-too much of which has been linked to bone loss, depression, obesity, and related disorders.

    (!) Key word: controlled


    When it comes to managing diabetes--and the roller-coaster ride of emotions that can follow diagnosis or particularly challenging days--consider reframing how you view "negative" habits, and ask yourself if there may be some good in there, too.


    • BOTTOM LINE: Though counter-intuitive in America's "positivity rules" culture, the truth is that what we often perceive to be faults or negative habits-even small things like a well timed "f*cK" when stressed out-can, in the right context, become positives--and help us cope with challenging situations far better than denying our natural impulses.



    *"What's intriguing about defensive pessimists," adds Lawrence Sanna, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has also studied the phenomenon, "is that they tend to be very successful people, and so their low opinion of the outcome isn't realistic; they use it to motivate themselves to perform better." [blurb courtesy of]


    **For more examples of "bad" habits that can help us (including gossiping, doodling, and indulging in distractions like Facebook friending, check out the April 2010 issue of O Magazine.

Published On: November 29, 2010