Your thoughts are a lot more powerful than you probably imagine, with the ability to affect your health and well-being for better or worse. Just as the power of positive thinking can be used to improve health and happiness, negative thoughts have been linked to all types of health issues, and, they may even be killing you.
Does your blood start to boil when someone cuts you off on the freeway, or when someone gets into the checkout line with far too many items over that 10- or 15-item limit? You’re not harming the offender, you’re harming yourself by basically cutting your life short, says molecular biologist and 2009 Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn and health psychologist Elissa Epel, who studies stress and aging.
The Telomere Effect
The authors claim in their book, The Telomere Effect, that negative thoughts harm your health at the DNA level. They say that a positive frame of mind, along with eating and sleeping well, “can help reduce chronic disease and improve wellbeing, all the way down to our cells and all the way through our lives.”
On “CBS This Morning,” Blackburn explains that “telomeres are like the caps at the end of your shoelaces that protect them from fraying but on tips of our chromosomes.” Those with longer telomeres, she says, “have lower death rates from cancers and some diseases.” Epel added that “long-term stress or negative thinking can actually shorten your telomere length, while different types of meditation appear to strengthen them.”
Basically, telomeres appear to respond to what’s going on in your life, the authors said. They’re actually listening to your thoughts, which is why of the approximately 65,000 thoughts the mind processes a day, it helps to be aware of the negative and positive styles of thought. The authors warn that pessimistic thoughts shorten telomere because when a pessimist develops an age-related disease like cancer, that illness tends to progress faster and the victim dies earlier. Continuously ruminating over a difficult situation is destructive too, as it causes stress to stick around in the body long after the reason for it has ended. If you become anxious or depressed because of it, the telomeres become even shorter.
Types of Stinkin’ Thinkin’
Stinkin’ Thinkin’ is a phrase that originated in Alcoholics Anonymous as a way to describe the kind of thinking that could easily lead one back to drinking, but over time it came to be used to describe any number of self-destructive thought processes, like that Inner Critic we call the “voice” of such thoughts.
While it may sound funny, there’s definitely nothing funny about it. This type of self-speak fosters a bad way of thinking, making you believe that bad things will happen to you, that you don’t deserve good things or that you’ll fail, and it comes in many different forms, according to Psychology Today.
Do you recognize any of them?
You see everything in black or white. This kind of all-or-nothing type of thinking sets you up for failure. If a situation doesn’t turn out just like you thought it would, you see the experience as a complete failure – for example, you’re on a diet and decide to indulge in one small cookie. You tell yourself that now you’ve gone and blown all of those hard efforts, which makes you feel even more guilty so you end up eating the entire package.
You overgeneralize. You see one negative event, like being rejected from the guy or girl of your affections, or not getting that coveted job, as a total defeat, with thoughts like “I’ll never be good enough to get ___.”
You dwell on single negative details. You concentrate on the negative so that your reality is much darker. For example, you get lots of positive comments about the speech you just gave, but one person says something slightly critical so you obsess over that reaction, ignoring all of the positive.
You jump to negative conclusions. Even when you don’t have all, or any, of the facts, you immediately jump to the negative conclusion. For example, perhaps you pass someone you know on the street, but they don’t bother to say hello. You conclude that it was an intentional effort to avoid you, but the reality was, the sun was in their eyes and they didn’t even see you.
You predict things will go badly. You often assume things will go badly – for example, you have to take a test and tell yourself you’ll never pass, or you’re heading out on a first date, wondering why you’re bothering to go in the first place because he or she will never like you.
You magnify the importance of perceived flaws or problems. Exaggerating the importance of those things in your head, or minimizing your desirable qualities is stinkin’ thinkin’ too. Also known as the “binocular trick,” you see that little zit on your forehead as a huge target, other people don’t even notice. But they do see your twinkling blue eyes, something you take for granted.
While all of those forms of stinkin’ thinkin’ can lead to premature death and many other health issues, negatively impacting the quality of your life, the persistent worry is a big one. As Erma Bombeck once said, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. While it gives you something to do, it gets you nowhere.” Except, we should add, to worse health. Those worrisome thoughts are known to weaken the immune system, which in itself can lead to all sorts of health issues, something proven by scientific research, including digestive problems, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Just think about it this way: when you’re scared, for example, can feel your heart start to race, an obvious sign that your thoughts and your body are interconnected.
Giving Up That Stinkin’ Thinkin’
Replacing those negative thoughts with something more positive can have the opposite effect, improving both mental and physical health. There have been numerous studies that have confirmed the power of positive thinking, showing optimism can promote healing, enhance overall health and lead to a longer life, with pessimism often bringing the opposite effect.
One of the best ways to give up that negative type of thinking is to be grateful what you do have by taking the time to write down what you feel gratitude for each and every day. Regular meditation, perhaps focusing on a certain positive thought, has been found to relieve stress, promote relaxation and better sleep, lower the heart rate, reduce cortisol levels and provide an overall sense of well-being.
The next time you have a negative thought – stop. Think about turning it around to something more positive and look forward to enjoying a much happier, healthier, longer life.