The Power of Positive Thinking

As we continue to modify our daily lives during this time of COVID-19, remaining positive can come as a challenge to many of us. Media outlets are constantly publishing news stories that are often sad and alarming but meant to inform us and keep us safe. However, now is the time to remain positive and full of hope. Recent studies, such as this one, suggest that positivity can actually help us live longer, more fulfilled lives. This 2019 study found that “optimism is specifically related to an 11 to 15% longer life span.” The study also suggests that an overall positive outlook can increase an individual’s chances of achieving something called “exceptional longevity,” or, “living to the age of 85 and beyond.” With the current state of our world and the normal happenings of life, it’s not uncommon to experience negative thinking. However, long-term negativity can have a powerful effect on one’s life.

The Impact of Negative Thinking

Studies have suggested that negativity can have various effects on our physical and mental health. One study suggests that negative thinking can make existing depression worse and cause depressive symptoms in those who didn’t previously report as feeling depressed. Another study found that prolonged negative thinking can actually cause physical pain. Participants in the study who suffered from chronic pain and arthritis found their symptoms increase when they reported negative thinking and self-talk. Along with physical pain, these participants also experienced psychological distress. These are the most common symptoms experienced from prolonged negativity:

  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression and sadness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Angry outbursts

The Power of Positivity

According to the Mayo Clinic, adopting a positive attitude starts with self-talk. Self-talk is comprised of all the thoughts we have running in and out of our heads every single day. When these thoughts are more uplifting and positive, it can actually help us live healthier lives. The Mayo Clinic has gathered research exploring the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Here are some of the benefits they found:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of stress
  • Greater resistance to illness
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

Senior Lifestyle Magazine also published a variety of ways positive thinking can affect our health:

Boost immunity – Our bodies all have the power to fight off diseases. The stronger our immune systems are, the more likely our bodies will be able to prevent illness and disease. Positive thinking can actually help fight stress, which allows our immune systems to function more efficiently.

Improve heart health – Stress and anxiety can have powerful negative effects on our bodies. In fact, they can interfere with our heart function and even increase our risk of stroke, heart disease, and heart attacks. Positivity tends to lead to a healthier lifestyle. Those who have a positive outlook are more likely to exercise and eat healthy.

Fight stress – Stress can cause many different problems in our bodies and can increase our risk of disease and illness. People who think positively most of the time are more likely to better manage their stress.

Increase resilience – Life is full of ups and downs. Those who have a positive outlook on life find it easier to make it through tough situations.

How to Identify Negative Thinking

The first step in adopting a positive mindset is to identify your negative thoughts. The Mayo Clinic has identified some of the most common types of negative self-talk:

Filtering – This can happen when we focus all of our attention on the negative elements of a situation instead of choosing to focus on the positive ones.

Personalizing – When something negative occurs in our lives, many of us personalize it, which means we automatically blame ourselves. When we do this consistently, it can build a negative self-image and further promote harmful self-talk.

Catastrophizing – Many of us automatically anticipate the worst in a given situation. When we’re nervous or anxious, our minds immediately present us with the worst-case scenario.

Polarizing – While we speak in terms of “positive” and “negative,” not all things are clear cut. Polarizing thoughts take place when we categorize situations as good and bad, not taking into consideration that there is a middle ground.

Tips for Adopting a Positive Outlook

Adopting a positive attitude can take time, but don’t let that be discouraging. Making simple, small changes throughout your day will lead you to a more positive outlook, one step at a time. Here are some tips to get you there:

Be open to humor – We’ve all heard the old adage laughing makes you live longer, but it’s true! Laughing naturally makes us feel more positive and upbeat. Instead of becoming angry in frustrating situations, sometimes it’s helpful to find the humor instead. You can also do this by watching light-hearted movies, or having fun and stimulating conversations each day.

Identify areas to change – Before you adopt a positive mindset, it’s important to evaluate where you need the most work. Take a minute to reflect on where you feel the most negativity. Is it within your relationships or your home life? Once you identify the area of most need, concentrate your efforts there. Remember, start by making small changes. When you notice a negative thought, take a moment to find something positive in the same situation.

Focus on health – It is proven that our physical health directly affects our mental health. Making time to exercise and maintain a healthy diet will actually help you think more positively. Start by trying a gentle exercise for just 30 minutes a day. This can be as simple as taking a walk, or trying something different like Tai Chi or Chair Yoga.

Stay engaged – Our minds are active and need to be stimulated each day. Releasing our inner creativity will help us feel productive and engaged, and will lead us to feel more positive. Finding a new hobby or getting back into an old one can be a great way to stay engaged. Hobbies can help us connect with friends, cope with stress, and structure our days, especially now during self-quarantine. Take an art class, learn how to play a new card game, start a wine-tasting club, or try a new type of exercise. There are hundreds of options!

Start your day with gratitude – The morning can set the tone for the rest of your day. If you start your day on a positive note, the rest will follow suit. It’s a great practice to begin your day with gratitude. Many positive people do this by reflecting on things or people they are grateful to have in their lives. If you need help getting started, you might consider purchasing a guided gratitude journal. New York magazine recently published a list of the best gratitude journals, most of which provide prompts to get you started.

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