We are all guilty of harbouring negative thoughts at times; some of us do it more than others. There are scientific links to negative thinking and physical and mental symptoms which demarcate ill health. Those who are constant worriers tend to build up the hormone cortisol in the body.
Cortisol is commonly known as the stress hormone. Excess levels of cortisol and other stress hormones in the body are known to promote abdominal fat and weight gain, anxiety, depression, heart disease, sleep disorders and impaired cognitive functions.
On the flip side, there is another body of research on mindful awareness which has been linked to positive health effects which may include the following: physical effects such as lower blood pressure and improved immune functions; mental effects such as greater attention span, relief from anxiety and depression and improved brain functions; and emotional effects such as promoting well-being and addressing moodiness.
Mindful awareness involves being attentive to what is happening in the now around you; it requires an acceptance and openness to experience the present eagerly with the aim to acquire self-knowledge. The practice of mindful awareness is at work during meditation, yoga, playing or listening to music, painting or other creative activity or simply spending time in the outdoors. These types of activities have been shown to help lower stress levels as we learn to direct our reactions to various stimuli differently from our norm in a more compassionate manner.
The unconscious mind is able to assimilate approximately 3 different ideas or concepts or observations every second or a total of about 60,000 in one day. Included in these thoughts is self-talk: the words we speak to ourselves during the day. These thoughts are not conscious but they are always present; they exert tremendous influence over our focus, actions, reactions and skills.
Inherently each of us has a different capacity for the type of thoughts we process. Some people have a pre-disposition toward negative self-talk; some are inclined to more positive thoughts.
Prior to 1998 the field of positive thinking in psychology was considered to be frivolous; in 1998 an American psychologist, Martin Seligman assisted in providing scientific theory to substantiate this aspect of psychology.
Positive thinking has since been linked to many desirable health outcomes which include some of those listed below:
• More happy experiences which lead to lower stress levels
• Decrease in depression periods
• Better immune responses leading to less instances of the common cold for example
• Better management of cardiovascular disease
• General increase in life span
• Greater ability to deal with trials and challenges
Positive thinking was, and perhaps in some circles is still, scoffed at as a valid, scientific practice. Some schools of thought consider it similar to believing in fairies and unicorns. It is more constructively viewed as being able to change the manner in which you speak to yourself, providing a backdrop of uplifting ways against which distressing matters or situations may be viewed.
It is generally accepted that a negative response to a challenging event or occurrence is cohesively bound to focus and a lack of a panoramic view of said situation. When cornered in a seemingly hopeless situation, negative thinking results in the victim being unable to discern a way out.
Positive thinking does not mean that the hopelessness of a situation has to be ignored and the victim must pretend that all is well. What it does mean is that a positive thinker will have a variety of responses for the same scenario; he or she will have a clearer grasp of the situation which allows for more logical thought to take place.
To incorporate positive thinking into our lifestyles, we need to address the words we speak to ourselves. Instead of focusing on minor issues we need to put on a different lens to see the bigger picture. Instead of only remembering the one mistake or misstep that was made for the day, we need to remind ourselves of the many successes we did have. Instead of thinking of about the one extra piece of cake that you ate and how much weight you may gain, think about how lucky you were to be able to eat or that this now gives you even greater impetus to exercise.
Positive affirmation is another good way to beat negative thinking. By telling yourself that you are a good artist, you direct your mind to acknowledge your ability and skill. By saying that the dress you chose for your birthday in the next five months will fit you well then, you give yourself encouragement to work on achieving the body size you will need. While it does not mean that you can think yourself into doing everything, it does ensure you are able to deal with a variety of issues using a repertoire of options rather than being self-limiting.
Negative thoughts act like a semipermeable membrane allowing only one type of physical response to a situation; usually this response develops levels of distress linked to states of ill health. Positive thinking is akin to a permeable membrane: many responses are allowed to combat the variety of problems life may present on a quotidian basis. It allows the body to cope with difficulties and recover quickly from setbacks; and it allows individual to enjoy more active lifestyles which tend to incorporate more healthy practices which in turn fertilizes well-being.
The question then is are you willing to give up your old ways of thinking, to adopt more mindfulness which in turn leads to a more optimistic outlook and a healthier you? In my next post I will delve into the arena of exercise.