“What worries you, masters you.” – John Locke
Sometimes, having a positive attitude may seem impossible when the news shows us a constant stream of tragedy and trouble. It is even more challenging to have happy thoughts when you are experiencing personal hardships like illness, financial distress, or work issues. With the deluge of events we have to endure on a daily basis, it’s easy to develop negative beliefs about the future and adopt a more pessimistic attitude.
All this negative thinking may be doing more than making you feel down – it may also be having a negative impact on your physical and mental health. Over the years, scientists have been studying the effects of optimism and pessimism on the human body. Unsurprisingly, it seems that constantly viewing the world in a negative light could be causing your health to take a turn for the worse. As you will read, however, optimism may be able to boost your health. Here are some connections research has made between these thought patterns and your health and wellbeing:
Negative thinking may cause inflammation: Scientists have examined the effect of optimism and pessimism on seven different inflammatory markers in over 6,000 people. Those who self-reported higher levels of negative thinking had a measurable increase in some of these markers, positively associating a pessimistic outlook with inflammation. Another study of over 300 older men revealed similar results. Men who were more positive in their outlook had lower levels of inflammation.
Negative thinking may be aging to body: One study examined the role that pessimism played in aging the body. Specifically, the researchers looked at the effect negative thoughts have on the immune system in 36 healthy postmenopausal women. They discovered that pessimism shortens the length of DNA, thus shortening our lifespan, in addition to increasing the inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-6.
Negative thinking may drive up blood pressure: Another study found that pessimists consistently had higher blood pressure than their optimistic counterparts. However, the optimists weren’t completely safe from the negative effects of pessimism. A short-term bout of negative thinking elevated the optimist’s blood pressure to the same levels as people who had consistently pessimistic thoughts.
Negative thinking may effect career and confidence: Researchers had 504 high school students take a test measuring their outlook on life and compared it to the levels of career planning, confidence about their career decisions, and career-related goals. Those with higher pessimism reported lower levels of career planning, lower achievement in school, and more indecisiveness about their career. In addition, the negative thinkers had significantly lower levels of self-esteem and more psychological distress. It’s easy to see how the negative effects of pessimism can radiate into all aspects our lives, affecting our ability to achieve our full potential in our careers.
How to overcome negative thoughts: While it’s clear that pessimism has negative implications for our health and wellbeing, for many of us, becoming more positive is easier said than done! Shifting your thoughts to the optimistic side of things likely won’t be a quick process. Instead, it will require frequent monitoring of your thoughts and a conscious effort to change your thought patterns. A great place to start is by incorporating a daily gratitude practice into your routine.You may also consider the “Cancel-Reset-Replace” technique: Every time you find yourself thinking a negative thought, say to yourself “cancel”, and replace the thought with something that is positive. You’ll find that after a while, negative thoughts will appear less and less as you train your mind towards positivity.
Changing your pessimistic thoughts may seem daunting at first, but your body and mind will thank you for the effort! Lower levels of inflammation, a better immune system, lower blood pressure, and higher levels of confidence and achievement are great rewards for nixing negative thinking.