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September 12, 2022 7 min read

Can your thoughts affect your health?



We know positive thinking can benefit our outlook on life and generally improve mood, however, there is an emerging body of new science in western medicine (that has long been accepted in Eastern Medicine) that is showing the undeniable  physiological benefits as well.  


The same is true of negative thinking and how it can have a negative impact on our health long-term.

How To Know If You're More Of A Positive Thinker Or Negative Thinker?

Positive thinkers think about the future, the good things that are going to happen, and the great possibilities that are in store for them. They do think about consequences, but tend to focus on positive outcomes rather than negative possibilities.

Negative thinkers, on the other hand, often look at potential problems as obstacles that can't be overcome instead of opportunities to improve their lives or learn new things. They see failure as an end instead of a means to get better.

Of course positive vs negative thinking ids a spectrum. 

Here are some signs to assess if you screw towards being a positive thinker or a negative thinker:

If your initial reaction to assessment of past failures, or possibilities of future outcomes in relationships, at work and generally in life is optimistic, then you likely lean towards being a positive thinker.

If you find yourself thinking “it won’t work out” or “this won’t be good enough” or if you tend to chide yourself over past "failures" when it comes to your health,  relationships, career goals, or otherwise, then chances are you lean towards negative thinking by default.

The Benefits Of Positive Thinking

Positive thinking doesn't magically solve all your problems. It can however help with: 

  • Reducing stress levels by calming down the nervous system - making your body feel safe
  • Lower risk of depression
  • Build resistance to the common cold and a stronger immune system
  • Decreased risk of heart attacks and heart disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Allow better problem-solving skills
  • Greater ability to adapt to change
  • More creative thinking
  • Consistent attitude with fewer mood swings
  • Stronger leadership skills

Implementing something as simple as changing our thoughts has the power to dramatically change our lives and our health in the long run. A lot of our issues start in our mind, then manifest into our physical reality, stress being a main cause.

 

Our Autonomic Nervous Systems Role

Being driven by your negative thoughts not only causes stress but encourages it. If you find you're someone who views life glass half empty, your body interprets this as not feeling safe. Our autonomic nervous system is what allows the body to enter states of stress & panic as well as rest & relaxation. This nervous system is split into two parts:

  • Sympathetic nervous system (SNS)
  • Parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS)

Our sympathetic nervous system controls our fight-or-flight response. This is an automatic reaction that takes place when a threat presents itself. When in this state our heart rate increases, cortisol and adrenaline is produced and our digestive system is shut down so that we can harvest that energy to deal with the threat at hand. 

However, in today's age, these threats are less intense - for example the threat of a saber tooth tiger chasing you. But our thoughts can create the same feeling of this threat in the body by allowing ourselves to feel stress and anxiety at work for example. A stressful call from your boss is not the same as a vicious animal chasing you - but the body can view these as the same, activating your SNS putting you in a constant state of fight-or-flight. As you can imagine, this can result in many negative physical effects in the body such as a weak immune system, gut issues, sleeping problems, etc. 

Our parasympathetic nervous system when activated allows us to enter a state of rest and digest. Part of its job is to allow your body to relax by reducing heart rate, increasing your rate of digestion, allowing your gut to properly digest and break down food, and so much more. 

Our autonomic nervous system wants to keep the balance, allowing us to enter a state of fight-or-flight when needed, then activating our PSNS after the threat has passed, allowing the body to relax and regulate itself.

 

How Negative Thinking Affects Your Nervous System

Negative thinking increases your chances of having an unregulated autonomic nervous system keeping your SNS activated. This is because the more we convince ourselves that life is hard and stressful, the more our bodies believe us.

Keeping your body in a state of stress due to our thinking habits can manifest into a number of physical illnesses, some of these include:

  • Heart disease
  • Asthma 
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Headaches
  • Depression

Most believe that negative thinking such as constant worrying or negative self-talk lives only in the mind. It's important to recognize how over time our body will become accustomed to these thoughts which can change our biology and cause physical discomfort and illnesses.

 

How To Start Implementing Positive Thoughts

Though sometimes it may feel like we don't have control over our thoughts, we need to understand that our mind is a muscle that can be trained. Going from a negative mindset to a positive one will almost never happen overnight, however there are many practices and habits that we can implement to change our mindset overtime, allowing us to not only create a better outlook on life but heal our bodies as well.

  1. Focusing on the positive - Life is constantly filled with blessings, though in moments of frustration or sadness it's easy to forget. It's not to say ignore the negative feelings that arise, but when they do give yourself grace. Feel what needs to be felt, but remind yourself of all that is good - and allow that to take over. Yes, driving to work in morning traffic is annoying and stressful, but you have a car to travel in, you have a job that offers you value, you have the ability to drive - give those thoughts more attention.

  2. Practice positive self talk - Again, this is a muscle that needs to be trained, especially if you tend to speak negatively of yourself on a daily basis. Start with morning affirmations in the mirror, even if at first they feel silly, or you don't believe the words coming out of your mouth, your brain will eventually learn to accept these words as true, and with time - they will become your truth.

  3. Express Gratitude - Whether its gratitude for your health, career, family, or just life and this beautiful planet. Take the time to deeply enjoy your internal and external reality, thank your food for fuelling you, thank your bed for the comfort it provides, thank your body for everything it does for you to keep you alive. There is so much to be grateful for when you stop and look around - it really is a beautiful life. You can even keep a gratitude journal and write down 5 things a day that you are grateful for - you'll be surprised at how easy it becomes over time.

 

Other Habits That Promote Positive Thinking

If you're dealing with the negative effects due to your current mindset, it can be hard to make the switch when you feel like your mind and body are against you. Feeling your best physically and viewing life in a more positive way works best when your mind and body are working in harmony. Regulating your thoughts is one step, giving your body what it needs to cooperate is another. A lot of mental health issues stem from poor health, when dealing with anxiety or depression - this could be a symptom relating to a hormone imbalance, inflammation, poor gut health, etc. 

Here are a few things to consider when trying to heal the mind through the body:

  • Drinking enough water - Making sure you're drinking enough water can help so many critical functions in the body like breaking down foods, reducing brain fog, aid in energy levels, etc.

  • Getting your heart rate up- Moving your body, allowing it to sweat out toxins, promoting blood flow and increasing metabolism are all essential for regulating our bodies and even releases endorphins which help with regulating our mood and happiness levels.

  • Taking a daily probiotic- 95% of our serotonin levels are created in the gut, which are also known as our happy hormones. Taking a daily probiotic supplement to help regulate our gut microbiome not only helps to heal our gut from the inside out but can actually increase our production of serotonin. Our Flora supplement can help to reduce inflammation in the gut, increase our microbial diversity and support overall health by healing the gut.

  • Getting enough sleep - Lack of sleep causes stress in the body and throws off our circadian rhythm. By getting enough sleep not only are we reducing stress and increasing energy levels, but we can feel a drastic change in our mood.

 

The Long-Term Effects Of Positive Thinking

With reaping the benefits of anything in life, consistency is key. When you allow yourself to look at positive thinking as a task to stay dedicated to, not only will your mind and body adjust allowing it to become your reality now - there are many long-term benefits to your health and well-being in doing so, a few include:

  • Better quality of life
  • Higher energy levels
  • Better psychological and physical health
  • Faster recovery from injury or illness
  • Fewer colds
  • Lower rates of depression 
  • Better stress management and coping skills
  • Longer life span

Life as we know it begins in the mind. Everything you know to be true starts with what you believe, and what your mind believes, your body believes. However, it's never too late to rewire your beliefs, to train your mind to take care of itself and your body through thought - vs allowing it to slowly take a negative toll. Shifting from allowing your thoughts to control you into controlling them is possible, take life lightly, express gratitude daily and know your thoughts hold power and being aware of this power is step one into harvesting it for the better.



 

 

References:

  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24997029/
  • https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-power-of-positive-thinking
  • https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-think-positive#overview
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23266-parasympathetic-nervous-system-psns
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23262-sympathetic-nervous-system-sns-fight-or-flight
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950

 



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