How Positive Thinking Leads to Healthy Change
Believe it or not, positive thinking can add up to 10 years to your lifespan. You read that right, 10 years! Mayo Clinic has shown that this increase in life span is a result of a variety of positive health outcomes, including lower rates of depression, increased immune response, and better cardiovascular health! Let’s take a closer look at how positive thinking can lead to healthy changes in your body!
According to Lisa Yanek, MPH, of John Hopkins, people with a family history of heart disease are 33% less likely to have a heart attack when they have a positive outlook compared to a negative outlook. In this study, positivity was measured as cheerfulness, energy level, anxiety level, and overall satisfaction with life and health. So, what causes this huge difference in cardiovascular health. It is suspected that positivity protects against stress induced inflammation. Additionally, the University of Kansas reports that smiling reduces heart rate and blood pressure! On the other hand, negative emotions have been found to weaken the immune response. When added together, it is easy to see why positive thinking correlates to a strong and more efficient cardiovascular system.
If negative emotions weaken the immune response, does that mean that positive emotions strengthen the immune response? It absolutely does! Positive emotions have been linked to decreased rates in catching illnesses, decreased recovery times for illnesses, and a lesser severity during the illness itself. So, someone with a positive mindset will be less likely to catch an illness, like a cold. It is also likely that the cold they experience will be less severe and more quickly overcome compared to those with a negative mindset. While researchers have yet to explain the phenomenon, one thing is clear: positive thinking plays an important role in the effectiveness of your immune system.
As mentioned previously, positive thinking also improves your body’s ability to quickly recover from illness. But this occurrence isn’t limited to contagious diseases! Studies show that a positive attitude improves outcomes for those recovering from traumatic brain injuries, strokes, brain tumors, and surgeries. It is likely that part of the reason a positive attitude improves outcomes is related to pain tolerance. Recent research shows that positivity helps you refocus on something other than pain! So not only is recovery time shortened, but the recovery process is also less painful when utilizing a positive attitude.
Finally, positivity has been shown to correlate to social health change. Positive thinkers are more likely to interact in social settings, exhibit a more confident self-esteem, and are better equipped to build healthy interpersonal relationships. Additionally, positivity is shown to be a desirable skill in leadership positions, leading to a higher promotion rate for people practicing positivity.
So, how do you practice positivity? For some, positivity comes naturally. For others, it is a skill to be acquired. Either way, positive thinking is a practice that must be nurtured. Let’s take a quick look at developing positive thinking!
Identify Negative Thinking - Before you can start thinking positively, you need to work on clearing out the negativity. Negative thinking can come in many shapes and sizes, and there are many different ways to help push away the negative attitude.
Perhaps you magnify the negative in your life and have a hard time seeing the positive at all. If this is the case, practice reframing the negative as an opportunity for growth or change.
Sometimes, negative thinking latches onto insecurities and you end up personalizing the events at play. If this sounds like you, practice positive self-talk by addressing the negative personalization, refusing to own negativity, and instead visualize what your best response could be to a situation.
For others, negativity is a snowball rolling down a hill, speeding up and growing as it rolls. Don’t let negativity catastrophize in your head. Instead, focus on developing healthy coping mechanisms that allow you to step back, pause, and re-evaluate. Sometimes stepping away is all you need to reset in a positive framework.
Another common form of negative thinking is polarization, in which everything is either good or bad. To combat this, focus on gratefulness! Life is full of gray, so embrace the good and the bad as opportunities and be grateful for every lesson you get to learn.
Build Resiliency - Positive thinking is really an active process of building resiliency. Resiliency, or your ability to recover quickly from difficulties, is built through coping mechanisms to combat negative thinking, such as those listed above. Positive thinking can help you decrease the effects of stress on the body. By learning to problem solve, rather than feel shame, guilt, anger, or resignation, you will find it easier to bounce back from a negative event.
If you are looking for concrete ways to practice positive thinking, check out our other blog article Positivity for Physical Health.