We often hear that we are what we eat, but we’re also what we think. Like many things in life, negativity can become a habit. When you think negative thoughts, those thoughts affect your emotions. Your emotions, in turn, affect your behavior. If you are thinking negative thoughts a lot, most likely, you are dealing with negative emotions like sadness, depression, apathy, anxiety, fear, and more.
Pessimism affects more than just your emotional health, too. Extended bouts of negativity can result in serious health problems since negativity triggers a stress response, often called ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. Though some stress is good for us, too much can be detrimental to our health.
In fact, scientists have found that people with high levels of negativity are more likely to suffer from degenerative brain diseases, cardiovascular problems, digestive issues, and recover slower from sickness compared to those who have a positive mindset.
A new study has identified a possible link between negative repetitive thinking and the key signs of dementia. Repeated Negative Thinking, or RNT, is largely based on rumination and worry, where a person repeatedly thinks about the past and is constantly concerned about the future.
The authors of the study wanted to explore the relationship between RNT and the key signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers measured participants’ RNT, depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline levels for up to 4 years. In addition, they measured the buildup of certain types of brain proteins, which are key to the development of Alzheimer’s. The authors found that the higher someone’s RNT, the more rapid their cognitive decline. They also found that these people were more likely to have significant deposits of the destructive proteins in their brains.
Thinking yourself sick
While negative thinking may not cause cognitive decline directly, it affects brain health over the long term because it usually correlates with elevated stress. Elevated stress is tied to many health problems, including insomnia, elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, eating disorders, drug use, alcohol abuse, memory issues, outbursts of anger, and anxiety, to name just a few. Negative attitudes also affect the chemicals in the brain and disrupt the hormone balance in our bodies, making us feel even more out of whack.
Clearly, negative thinking is an extremely destructive habit. Luckily, most habits can be broken. Negative thinking is a choice, albeit one that most of us aren’t aware that we are making. It isn’t just what happens to us that matters, but how we think about it that shapes our psychological wellbeing. If you’ve found yourself in a constant downward spin of negativity, it’s time to change your perspective. Negative thinking has likely affected your health in some way already, whether you realize it or not, and the longer you take to make a change, the bigger that effect will be.
Taking charge of your thoughts for better health
By taking charge and choosing to look at things from a positive perspective for a change, you can give yourself the foothold you need to get out of the habit of negativity. It can take time to remove a doom and gloom disposition, but with patience and practice, you’ll begin to see the sunnier side as a default.
Positive thinking comes with many rewards. The physical and emotional benefits of positivity include faster recovery from cardiovascular stress, better sleep, fewer colds, and a greater sense of overall happiness. The good news is not only that positive attitudes have a direct impact on health and wellbeing, but that we can develop them ourselves with practice.
Here are some simple things you can do to take charge of your thoughts for better health.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help you out-think negative patterns that may be keeping you from enjoying life and experiencing health. A recent systematic review of studies found that mindfulness-based and cognitive behavioral interventions may be effective in reducing negative thought patterns like rumination and worry. Try a simple exercise where you finish each day by visualizing its best parts. At the end of each day, write down or type into an online journal what you’re most thankful for. Recording positive thoughts, and even sharing those thoughts online, can help you form new associations in your mind and create new positive thought pathways.
Positive breathing meditation
This meditation technique can be practiced anywhere, for as little as 30 seconds or as long as you like. First, inhale, taking in light, love, and healing energy. Picture this as clear, bright, or sparkling. Feel yourself becoming brighter as you fill with light and joy. Then exhale fully, releasing any negative feelings. You may picture negativity as darkness or fog. If you feel any anger, fear, or sadness, breathe them out. If you have tension, anxieties, or worry, release them as you exhale. Repeat this cycle for several breaths or longer.
Thoughts can affect our emotions, which in turn can affect us physically. For example, when we feel scared, we tense up, and our breathing patterns change. Practicing mindfulness toward feelings and emotions has been proven to be an effective treatment for anxiety and depression. Instead of trying to push feelings away, make room for them. Notice where in your body you feel an emotion or sensation, and imagine breathing into this space. Feel a knot in your stomach caused by worry and anxiety? Try closing your eyes, and as you inhale, imagining you’re sending fresh air to that body part. This action is very nurturing and healing and will help you physically as well as psychologically.
Start a thought journal. By doing this, you can start to recognize if you have a particular negative thinking style that keeps cropping up. Make a list of your negative thoughts and write a positive statement to counteract each one. Repeat them back to yourself when you notice the little negative voice in your head creeping in. In time, you’ll create new associations, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.
While repeated negative thinking is a harmful habit, it can be changed. By noticing your negative thinking patterns and taking steps toward changing them, you can create long-lasting health in both body and mind.