Are you a cup-half-empty or cup-half-full person? According to the medical community, some substantial health benefits come from positive thinking. Although many people may think they’re wired to focus on the negative, it appears to be well worth the effort to change some thought patterns and behaviors. Trading in worries for positive thinking might not happen overnight, but minimizing the former and promoting the latter can lead to improved mental and physical health.
Negative thinking can impact health. Pessimistic thoughts, often triggered by stress, can lead an individual to catastrophize -- to think the worst. Ruminating on potential or past negatives can cause cortisol levels in the body to rise. Higher cortisol rates lead to increases in inflammation. This, particularly when it is chronic, can precede disease. Negative thought patterns may seem entrenched, but people can learn to think more positively.
The key to reducing cortisol levels is to learn to cope well with stress. While some stresses are inevitable, it is important to manage chronic stress associated with our work or everyday lives to prevent its mental and physical health impacts. Learning ways to think positively about problems or even setbacks and failures can lead to improved stress management. Coping in healthy ways can set the foundation for positive thinking.
Positive thinking can support improved physical health. A body of medical research demonstrates that positive thinking can actually increase lifespan. Researchers report that positive thinking benefits cardiovascular health. Just as negative thinking can lead to physical health problems like gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, and even rashes, positive thinking can reduce those physical symptoms perhaps already established from pre-existing chronic stress.
Negative thinking can increase a person’s vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Positive thinkers have reduced rates of depression. Positive thinking helps people feel more emotionally resilient even when setbacks occur. Learning to think and look "on the bright side" can lead to improved psychological well-being. If anxiety and depression are allowed to continue, they can wreak emotional havoc in a person’s life. Positive thinking may not cure clinical mental disorders once they occur, but this type of thinking could help to prevent chronic stress from triggering them.
By thinking in more positive terms, you could support immune system function. If you think of negative thinking as a means to tear down health, you can view positive thinking as a means to support it. According to medical research, people who display optimism in association with elements like work, family, and school demonstrate a stronger immune system response than those who think negatively.
Taking control of our thought patterns isn’t always easy. First, we must assess them before we can take steps to change them. When something is troubling us, it’s important to consider our natural response. Are we catastrophizing? Are we filtering our thoughts to focus only on the negative aspects of the situation, and are we failing to acknowledge the potential positive outcomes of a given situation? If all your thoughts veer negative, it’s a sign that you should take steps to think in more positive ways.
Even in those times when you don’t feel like laughing, it can be helpful to seek humor. Protect yourself from further “heavy” thinking by watching a funny video or laughing over a memory. Try to seek out the humor in everyday life. Evidence shows laughing each day can improve your outlook and help you to think in more positive terms.
Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and promote positive thinking. Activities like walking, running, and swimming lead to the production and release of feel-good endorphins. These endorphins have a definite physical function; they help reduce pain and promote the healing of tissues after exercising. Their benefits do not stop there, however. Endorphins actually have a positive impact on the brain; if you’re feeling down, after their release, you may feel rejuvenated and better able to cope with a given situation.
Many medical researchers believe that diet can play a role in supporting positive thinking. For instance, foods that contain probiotics may support mental health. The fact is, optimum nutrition is a terrific stress-management tool. By eating nutrient-rich foods regularly, you can promote optimum mental health and make transitioning to positive thinking easier. To help stave off anxiety and depression, be sure you’re eating healthy fats contained in foods like salmon and walnuts. Limit ingredients like caffeine that can trigger nervousness and anxiety—conditions that make thinking positively more difficult.
If thinking positively was easy, wouldn’t everybody do it? Unfortunately, many people find it extremely challenging to change their thought patterns. Therapy can help us learn to think more positively. A therapist may guide people to self-identify negative thought patterns so they can reverse them before they become entrenched and more difficult to manage. Though it may require time, working with a therapist has led many individuals to manage their stress levels better and internalize effective ways to think positively.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.