By now, we’ve all heard about positive thinking, and innately as humans, we intuitively know that it feels better to feel good than to feel bad. Did you know that your thoughts can impact how you feel, and the same thoughts repeated over time can impact your mental health for better or worse?
Yes! This is why it’s so important to be aware of your thought patterns and to make sure that your thoughts align with what you wish to experience in your health… and life.
What Is Positive Thinking?
Positive thinking boils down to having a mental attitude of optimism most of the time. It doesn’t mean that you’re always positive every second of every day but that overall you’re a positive person and your thinking follows suit.
Positive thinkers strive to make the best of situations, even unfavorable ones. They try to see the good in everything. So when something bad happens, they think about what they can learn from it and look for the silver lining. They look past the current circumstances to hope. They improve or make the best out of situations and focus on what they can control rather than what they cannot.
Positive thinking doesn’t mean you ignore life’s unpleasant circumstances; you approach these difficult circumstances positively and productively. Instead of thinking about the worst things that can happen, think about the best things that can happen, and when tough circumstances arise, try to ask yourself how you can learn and grow from it and take the time to work through those emotions.
There is power in positive thinking; when you harness your mind’s power to work favorably for you, your mental well-being will improve.
Good Health and Why it Pays to Think Positively
There are differing opinions on what a good life entails, but no one will envision a life that includes poor health and being mentally unwell. Thinking positively is an extremely powerful and free way to impact your mental health for the better.
The health benefits of positive thinking are highly impactful, and not only can it reduce stress, but it can also improve mental health. Some studies show that optimism and pessimism affect a multitude of areas of health and well-being. If your mind jumps to negative thought patterns, don’t worry; you can change this by learning positive thinking skills and implementing them.
Positive thinking starts with inner conversations or the conscious and unconscious thought patterns that make up those unspoken thoughts that continuously go through your head. Awareness of your dominant self-talk is so important. Indeed, you could very well operate in a dominantly negative space without this awareness. When the thoughts running through your head are mostly negative, you will see this reflected in your life; likewise, if most of the thoughts going through your head are positive, you will see positivity reflected in your life.
Yes, sometimes bad or negative things happen that are out of our control, but many are within our control. Therefore, you must take the reigns concerning your mental health and decide that you want to impact your life positively. It all starts with your thoughts. Sometimes negative circumstances can lead us into a negative thought loop, and it’s okay to cry, sulk, and be sad when something bad happens. Still, it’s more important to come out of that space and make the conscious decision to direct your thoughts to positivity.
The Benefits of Positive Thinking
Researchers have found numerous benefits to positive thinking on overall health, including increased life span, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and decreased likelihood of illness from viruses or the common cold. Specifically, as it relates to mental health, scientific research points to lower rates of stress, and depression, better mood, and better-coping skills during difficult times, hardships, and distress. Positive thinking also improves psychological well-being, thereby improving mental health.
4 Easy Things You Can Do To Promote Positive Thinking
Everything in our bodies is connected in some way. How can you give yourself the best chance to engage in positive thinking think most of the time? Practicing these four things will increase the likelihood that you will lean toward positive thinking rather than negative.
1. Eat a Brain-Healthy Diet
Eat nutrient-dense whole foods and combine the to make interesting, delicious meals. Try to stay away from foods in packages or foods that are heavily processed. Buy organic whenever possible, especially foods with no skin or thin skin, such as berries, grapes, and spinach. Pesticides and herbicides can penetrate these kinds of fruits and vegetables easily since there is no thick skin protecting the inside of the fruit, such as you find on bananas.
Your brain loves healthy sources of fat (avocado) and omega-3 fatty acids (salmon). Consume more foods that your brain loves. Remember what foods make you feel good and energized after consuming them, and consume more of those foods.
Most everyone knows that exercise is beneficial…but how is it so good for the brain? Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and promotes endorphin release. It helps keep your brain healthy by improving cognitive health by helping you think better, problem solve, learn, enjoy experiences, and foster emotional balance. It has also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Regular physical activity can reduce your chances of getting dementia. One study found that cognitive decline was twice as prevalent in people who were inactive as compared to those who were active. That’s HUGE! This reason alone should be enough motivation to make it a point to be active.
Quality sleep is one of those essentials to life and something that cannot be ignored. So many necessary processes occur while we sleep. Thus, it’s important to get the best sleep possible so that our bodies can successfully perform the tasks they need.
Sleep is critical to numerous brain functions, including how neurons (nerve cells that transmit information) communicate. Studies show that sleep is the time when the brain clears out toxins that build up while we are awake.
Research shows that sleep is important to every tissue type in the body and chronic lack of sleep negatively affects them. Lack of quality sleep has been associated with numerous mental health concerns, including depression.
4. Have a Relaxation Practice
We can all be guilty of being too busy and not taking any downtime. But these are necessities for sound emotional and mental health. Take some time to be mindful and focus on the positive things as you go through your day. When you struggle to do this, think about something you’re grateful for, even if it’s as simple as just having the ability to breathe.
Having time to relax and quiet the mind is important to nurture brain health and stress. You can try deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation.
It doesn’t matter how positive you are…you have had negative thoughts. We all have. When most people think about positive affirmations, they think about saying words out loud, and this is a major aspect of them, but there’s more. We think thoughts all day long and have inner conversations. These inner conversations and thoughts aren’t always uplifting or positive. Many times, it’s an unconscious process, but before you know it, you’re feeling down, negative, or downright depressed.
Use the way you feel as information as to which kinds of thoughts you’ve been thinking. When you’re feeling down, have the awareness to know that your thoughts (even if unconscious) are not serving you. Likewise, you can be sure that your inner thoughts serve you well if you feel uplifted and great. Your feelings are messengers and can quickly inform you of thoughts running through your mind.
So what are positive affirmations?
They are positive phrases and/or thoughts used to challenge negative or unwanted thoughts. For affirmations to be effective, they must be practiced with repetition. So, to see and feel the benefits of positively affirming in your life, you must repeat them daily until it’s second nature, until the new neural pathway has developed, and you are now thinking these positive thoughts on autopilot.
It’s important to be aware of these thoughts and monitor them accordingly. When you become more aware of these negative thoughts that may come across your mind, you have much more of a chance to switch that thought to a positive one immediately.
You can also practice reframing- when unwanted situations happen, take a deep breath and accept that at that moment, all you have control over if yourself. Simply smiling more can give you a positive frame of mind, even if you’re not in one already. When you smile, the muscles that contract send a signal to your brain to release happy chemicals. You always have this tool to use when you’re not in a positive state.
Neuroscientific research and MRI evidence suggest that certain neural pathways are increased when people practice positive thoughts and physical changes, specifically in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Think positively. It’s good for you!
Final Thoughts About How Positive Thinking Impacts Mental Health
It’s common for many to wake up in the morning with that ugh feeling or a feeling of I don’t want to get out of bed. These can quickly spiral into thinking negatively. It’s essential to be aware of this and fill your mind with positivity first thing in the morning. It sets the tone for the rest of your day.
- Tell yourself it will be a great day.
- Affirm positively over your life
- Express gratitude for things as commonplace as the ability to move your body or read this article.
Always remember that you control your thoughts, no matter what’s happening around you. Even when something bad happens, you can choose the thoughts you think about it. No one can take this away from you. You hold the power to think whatever thoughts you choose.
By Dr. Kirstin Kraft January 07, 2023