More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Negativity and Health

The following is an excerpt from the book In Control
by Redford Williams, MD, and Virginia Williams, PhD
Published by Rodale; February 2006;$24.95US/$33.95CAN; 1-59486-256-7
Copyright ? 2006 Redford Williams, MD, and Virginia Williams, PhD

Hostility isn't the only negative trait that can have an impact on people's health. Behavioral medicine research has identified a number of other risk factors with a definite link to serious health problems.

Depression. The negative impact of depression also increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease, and people who are depressed after having a heart attack are more likely to die within the following 6 months. Several studies have shown that patients with any disease -- diabetes is one example -- who are depressed end up needing more medical care, accounting for a disproportionate amount of medical costs.

Lack of adequate social support. People who have little support -- whether it's help with chores at home or someone to listen sympathetically -- are also more at risk. Social support acts as a buffer that enables people to cope better with whatever stresses they face, whether they're imposed by personality or life situations. Support is a function of both the person and the environment. Those of us who have a cynical mistrust of others are less likely to reach out for support, and some of us find ourselves in situations that simply don't include people who can be sources of support.

Stressful environments. Jobs that impose high demands for output of services or products but allow workers little control over how those demands are met have been termed high-strain jobs. Psychologists Robert Karasek, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts, and Tores Theorell, MD, PhD, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, have documented that people working in high-strain jobs are more likely to develop high blood pressure, infections, and job-related injuries, as well as heart disease.

Risky behaviors. People who are hostile, depressed, isolated, or in stressful life situations are more likely to overeat, smoke, and abuse alcohol.

Studies show that these different risk factors often cluster in the same individual. For example, in a study of working women, Redford and his colleagues found that those who reported high job strain were also more depressed, hostile, and socially isolated. As in people with high levels of hostility, these other psychosocial risk factors are associated with changes in biological functions, such as increases in adrenaline and cortisol, blood pressure and heart rate surges, higher cholesterol levels, and alterations in the immune system and blood-clotting mechanisms. All of these changes are felt to lead to disease.

Redford's research has continued to build upon the observation that these risk factors, along with the accompanying biological markers of stress and health-damaging behaviors, tend to cluster among certain groups. The people most likely to be affected are those stressed by lower income, education, and/or occupational levels. This clustering may be the result of reduced brain levels of the chemical serotonin, a neurotransmitter that nerves use to relay messages to one another. When serotonin levels are low, we are more likely to be angry, depressed, and anxious; to be less interested in relating to other people; to have greater fight-or-flight responses when stressed; and to smoke, drink, and eat more than is good for us. If true, this theory could point to the brain's serotonin system as a key neurobiological mechanism that regulates our ability to be in control. Two studies have found weaker brain serotonin function in persons with lower income and education levels.

In his most recent research, Redford has begun to study how genes that are involved in regulation of serotonin affect all of these health-damaging psychosocial, biological, and behavioral characteristics. This work is still in an early stage, but we have some likely hypotheses for where it will go. The serotonin "transporter" is a molecule that sits on the surface of serotonin nerve end. It's responsible for the reuptake of serotonin -- squelching the effects of the neurotransmitter after it's been released from the nerve endings. The gene responsible for making this transporter comes in various forms. Certain of these forms seem to make a person more likely to experience negative emotions, such as anger and depression, and to have greater adrenaline, blood pressure, and heart rate surges when angered.

Redford's ongoing work aims to identify the interactions between key genes and the environment and to help account for the clustering of health-damaging characteristics in the same individuals and groups. No doubt, we'll also learn more about how genes affect our ability to be in control in stressful situations.

Copyright ? 2006 Redford Williams, MD, and Virginia Williams, PhD

Redford Williams, MD, is director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center, professor of psychology, professor of psychiatry, and professor of medicine at the Duke University Medical Center. He has served as president of the American Psychosomatic Society, Society of Behavioral Medicine, and Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, and he is president-elect of the International Society of Behavioral Medicine.

Virginia Williams, PhD, is the president of William Lifeskills, Inc., in Durham, North Carolina, and has organized and led workshops teaching the In Control process to thousands of individuals, corporations, and government agencies around the world. The Williamses also coauthored Anger Kills, a bestseller, and Lifeskills. They live outside of Durham, North Carolina. For more informaiton, visit:


This morning when I awoke, I was depressed for some period of time. In the depression, I was unmotivated, and I had a hard time getting going. Then, when I encountered my first positive thought, I immediately got up & started doing things. I wonder how universal this experience is.

Due to a combination of factors in my life right now, I no longer awaken and bounce merrily out of bed at 4:30 in the morning. I am glad for the extra sleep but am hoping that, when some of these factors improve, I will again have my morning zip and vitality.

My situation has improved somewhat from the situation I was describing on a former thread, and I think I can settle myself now & begin to take practical measures to regain my positive attitude once again. For one thing, I've successfully rented a room, and I was able to pay my entire month's rent yesterday (of only $375, which is a blessing.) So I'm no longer dealing with the uncertainty of not having a steady residence.

I am still feeling tired and unmotivated, but that is probably due to that recent days have been a drain on me physically as well as emotionally. If my current contentment can continue, I'll probably feel more energetic and enthused in a day or two.

Thanks for listening to me.



Glad to hear that you are no longer dealing with the uncertainty of not having a steady residence. That truly is a blessing and one less worry I am sure.

I am sure that once you regain your strength both physically and emotionally you will be motivated and enthusiastic again.

Take care
stargazer, i find too that once a positive thought goes through my mind that the weight of the world seems to lift. it is amazing what a difference our thoughts and beliefs make in our well-being.

great to hear you were able to get your rent taken care of! that must be a load off your mind. it definitely will help to maintain the positive mindset. you're doing good work and keeping focused on getting well, try to keep that in mind when you feel depressed again. i always forget when i get down again but coming back to the threads here help to pick me up again.

hope to hear from you again soon.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I guess I'd say that it's more of a skill... if you have acquired that skill, it's a choice; if you haven't yet learned that skill, it's not as easy as it sounds.


I think it takes consistent practice to perfect the "art" of positive thinking. You have to work at it for awhile before it becomes habitual. :)


I think, in a way, it is a choice. You can make the choice to strive to learn how to stop negative thinking and replace it with positive thinking, or you can make the choice to do nothing and continue to allow negative thinking to control your life. In that way, it is a choice, I suppose.


Everything that we do in life is a choice. Sure we can choose to get better from the depression, but becoming depressed for most isn't a choice. And just as any skill, it is a choice and dedication to learn that skill.

We also need to remember that our choices interfere with the lives of the people around us. If we are depressed it hurts our families just as it hurts us. Its like a ripple effect. Toss a pebble into a puddle or lake or whatever, and there are ripples that eminate around it.

And as the information above indicates, it causes many problems. Internally and externally.

We also need to realize that there are those who aren't very strong when depressed or even when not. And the thought process can't always be controlled, choice or not.

Depending on your life growing up and the things around you that caused any emotional process in our lives now effects us. If we were abused, those self destructive thoughts are difficult to shut down and stop. Its like a movie that goes on in your head and you can't seem to find the shut off button.

Of course how we take what happened to us, and how we move forward is a choice. Yet there are many who aren't strong enough to do that, and the thought process always interferes with it.

For me, depression is strongest during pms. I get up, know I need to do things, but can't seem to get a handle on it. I wonder why am I depressed? And I should realize this each time, but I always forget how depressed I get during this time of the month, or multiple times of the month sometimes. There are days I just sit and look at the computer and wonder why am I doing this? Am I ever going to get to where I can be self suportive?

The root of that is the abusive nature of growing up mixed in with the depressiveness of menstrual cycles.

I hope I have made sense here a bit.
i think it kind of depends. once you realize that there is another way of thinking, then yes it becomes a choice in the sense that you decide whether you want to fix the thinking or not.

if you decide you want to fix your thinking, then it takes work and practice to get there. it's not a matter of just turning it on.

if you are more than mildly depressed you may need the help of anti-depressants to get your brain to co-operate and for the positive thinking to become effective. in that sense it's not a choice - when the brain is depressed it is very difficult to get it to start thinking positively.
Replying is not possible. This forum is only available as an archive.