Understanding your thoughts and emotions
Have you heard the saying, "you are what you think"? While it might come off as cliché, it holds an essential truth. Your thoughts have a significant impact on your mental well-being, and when you allow negative thoughts and emotions to take over, the consequences can be harmful to both your mind and body. In this article, we'll explore the various ways negative thought patterns can affect your health, and share practical strategies for improving your mindset.
More than 60,000 thoughts go through your mind every day, influencing the way you feel and the decisions you make. How you move throughout life involves a close network between your thoughts, body, and your environment.
Our thoughts and emotions help us navigate the world, communicate with others, and make important decisions.
Your brain processes information and decides whether it's good or bad. A positive stimulus (like a happy, loving thought or experience), generates a release of “feel-good” chemicals. This is the same reason why you feel a rush of pleasure when achieving a goal or receiving praise. A negative stimulus can trigger the stress response, pumping out chemicals that cause physical reactions like an increased heart rate, sweating, and heightened awareness.
Positive emotions have a scientific purpose—to help the body recover from the impact of continuous negative emotions. Therefore, cultivating positivity over time can help us better cope with stressful situations and adversity.
What is negative thinking?
Negative thinking includes those automatic, self-defeating thoughts that creep into our minds. It's the little voice in your head that constantly criticizes, doubts, and judges every move you make. While it may seem harmless, this can have damaging effects on your emotional health.
If you're looking to feel better, it may seem like filling your head with happy thoughts is the way to go. However, for most of us, our thoughts are not always within our control, and negative ones tend to creep in. There are several common negative thought patterns that we tend to fall into. Let's take a closer look:
Imagining the worst-case scenario, even if it's unlikely to happen.
Taking one negative experience and applying it to everything else.
Blowing things out of proportion and making a huge deal out of minor things.
No matter what happens, you blame yourself. This can make you feel self-conscious and paranoid.
Shifting blame onto others instead of taking accountability.
Setting impossibly high standards for yourself, then becoming disappointed in yourself when you “fail”.
Black and white
You see things as either good or bad, right or wrong, with no middle ground.
Do any of these sound familiar? By identifying these patterns, you can begin to rewire your brain to work for you rather than against you.
The Effects of Negative Thinking on the Body
The more negative thoughts we have, the more prone we are to stress, and the more our physical health can suffer. It's like your body is stuck in rush hour traffic, honking its horn and revving its engine, all while you're trying to relax and enjoy a peaceful drive.
Let’s take a closer look at the common physical effects that can result:
Negative attitudes and feelings of hopelessness can lead to chronic stress. This kind of stress can disrupt your hormone balance, reduce the levels of “happy” brain chemicals, and harm your immune system. This leaves you more susceptible to everything from the common cold to more serious health problems. Scientists have also discovered that chronic stress can shorten our telomeres, the “end caps” of our DNA strands, which speeds up the aging process.
Decreased brain function
The effects of negative thinking patterns over time can shrink the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of your brain responsible for decision-making, focus, and emotional regulation.
Low self-esteem & mood
Constant self-criticism can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Low self-esteem not only impacts your ability to enjoy life, it also makes it hard to pursue goals and form meaningful connections.
Negative thoughts and emotions can disrupt the normal functioning of your digestive system. When you're stressed, angry, or anxious, your body diverts blood away from your digestive organs, leading to nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.
Tiredness & fatigue
When your brain is on overload, it’s hard to switch it back off when it’s time to sleep. This can leave you feeling tired and groggy the next day, and impact your ability to focus. You can compare it to your brain running a bunch of programs in the background, slowing down your system.
Muscle pain & tension
When you're feeling tense, your muscles also tense up, resulting in headaches, back pain, and other types of body aches. If you're prone to negative thinking, you may find that you have chronic pain in certain areas of your body.
Other effects of stress and negative thinking may include:
- Changes in appetite
- Low sex drive
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain or loss
5 Simple Ways to Begin Feeding Your Mind with Positivity Today
Maintaining a positive attitude isn't always easy. Life can throw us curveballs, and it's completely natural to experience negative emotions from time to time. Good emotional health simply starts with being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Check out 5 simple ways you can start feeding your mind with positivity today.
Express your emotions
Give yourself the freedom to express your emotions and let them flow. When you experience your emotions without any judgment or attachment, they tend to flow fluidly, without impacting health. On the other hand, repressed emotions, especially those that are fearful or negative, can deplete your mental energy and even lead to health problems.
Reframe your thinking with gratitude
Expressing gratitude is a simple yet powerful way to shift your focus from negative to positive. Take a few moments each day to think about the things in your life that you're grateful for, no matter how big or small. You can keep a gratitude journal, write a thank-you note, or simply take a mental note of the things that bring you joy. Focusing on what you have instead of what you lack can help cultivate a sense of abundance and positivity.
Identify the negative thoughts
Identify the negative thoughts affecting you. Write them down and analyze them. Are they true? Are they helping you in any way? Usually, the answer is no. By acknowledging these negative thoughts, you can begin to work on letting go of them.
Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment, without passing judgment on your thoughts or experiences. Instead of allowing negative thoughts to control your mood, mindfulness encourages you to acknowledge and let them go. You can integrate this practice into your daily routine through activities such as meditation, yoga, or focused breathing exercises. By dedicating a few moments each day to quiet your mind and focus on your breath, you can develop a sense of inner calm.
More positive self-talk
We can be our own worst critics. By speaking kind and positive words to ourselves, we can build resilience and confidence instead. Once you've identified your negative thoughts, replace them with positive affirmations. For instance, if you're thinking "I'm a failure," challenge that thought with "I've succeeded in many things, and I can do it again."
It shouldn’t feel complicated. These simple strategies can help you shift your mindset towards a more positive and empowering outlook. Start small, and remember that change takes time and practice.
The Long-Term Health Impact of a Positive Outlook
Our thoughts can strengthen pathways in the brain.
The connection between our thoughts and brain activity has been a topic of discussion for many years. Research suggests that individuals who practice positive thinking are less likely to get sick and are more resilient when they do. This is because positive thoughts and emotions trigger the release of the “feel good” endorphins, chemicals that help maintain the immune system and protect us from illness.
But the benefit doesn’t stop there. Studies show a more positive outlook may also improve heart health by reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. This could be due to reduced stress and inflammation levels in the body.
A 1995 study examined the brain activity of 11 healthy women using a functional brain scanner. The study revealed that when participants focused on happy thoughts, brain activity in the prefrontal cortex “cooled” down. However, when participants focused on sad thoughts, brain activity in the prefrontal cortex and brainstem increased significantly. This pattern was found to negatively impact areas of self-control, planning, and judgment.
Clear brain, clear mood
Your emotional state can have a significant impact on your long-term health. Negative thinking is like a dark cloud that follows you around - raining down doubt, fear, and anxiety. The good news is that you can break out of those negative grooves and start forging new, positive pathways in your brain. It takes effort and practice, but by nurturing the mind with some of the strategies outlined in this article, you can reduce stress, improve mental health, and maintain your most important organ.