The benefits of positive thinking could help improve both your quality of life and your overall health.
Do you expect positive things to happen or do you tend to expect the worst? Increasingly, evidence shows that your health and even longevity may depend on your answer. But if you're not a natural optimist, all is not lost! You can train yourself to think more positively, and the benefits of positive thinking could help improve both your quality of life and your overall health.
The Connection Between Your Mind and Body
When you're in a negative frame of mind, your body can suffer. Stress and anxiety can weaken your immune system, which may increase the odds of getting common infections like colds. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, having a negative outlook can also increase your risk of developing serious conditions such as heart disease and depression.
On the flip side, research suggests that the benefits of positive thinking may include:
- Better physical and emotional health
- A longer life
- Better coping skills in stressful situations
- Reduced feelings of loneliness
- Higher pain tolerance
We may be born with a tendency toward optimism or pessimism, say researchers at Johns Hopkins, but we can learn to look on the bright side.
Are Your Thoughts Friends or Foes?
Are you naturally more positive or negative? If you're not sure, start noting the things you routinely say to yourself. You may find that, as is the case for many of us, your "self-talk" is often critical. According to experts at Mayo Clinic, negative thought loops often boil down to a version of:
- Things are terrible.
- People are terrible.
- Terrible things will happen, and . . .
- It will be my fault, because . . .
- I am terrible.
Over a lifetime, these types of thoughts become so fixed that you start to believe they're facts. They're not—and they may be affecting your health and your happiness. Fortunately, you can make a change for the better and brighter.
Think About Your Thoughts
As you tune into your self-talk, try to identify the categories that take up the most space in your head. Work stress? Fears about the future? Frustration with politicians? Knowing the topics you tend to get stuck on can help you focus your effort as you train yourself to think more positively.
Use these tips to help stop negative thinking in its tracks:
- Catch critical or pessimistic thoughts as early as possible. Don't dwell. As soon as you notice negative thinking, take action.
- Replace negative statements with positive ones. For example, replace "I can't do this" with "I can keep trying," or instead of thinking, "This is unfixable," tell yourself, "I'm going to find a way."
- Leave yourself positive affirmations and notes. Try putting a sticky note on your mirror that says, "Good things are coming my way," or a calendar reminder in your smartphone that pops up to tell you that you're a good and capable person.
- Reframe "bad" situations. Stuck in traffic? How about telling yourself it's a great time to listen to an audiobook?
- Fake it 'til you make it. When all else fails, fake a smile or a laugh. The action, even when forced, can reduce stress and immediately lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Use the golden rule in reverse: treat yourself as you would treat others. Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to someone you care about.
Patience and Practice
Learning to think more positively takes time and practice, so don't be discouraged if it takes a few weeks to notice a difference in your thought patterns. By making the choice to nurture a more positive outlook, you've taken an important first step on the path to a happier and healthier life.
By Nancy Burtis Boudreau
US Department of Health and Human Services, The Power of Positive Thinking
The Atlantic Monthly, How the Power of Positive Thinking Won Scientific Credibility
FamilyDoctor.org, Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health
Mayo Clinic, Stress Management
Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Power of Positive Thinking