If believing in something could make it so, then there would really be power in positive thinking. But, how do you stay positive throughout your busy day?
From antiquity to modern times positive thinking has fascinated us and the belief that a person’s thoughts shape their feelings, actions, and identity has given rise to the frequently espoused advice that people who think positively fare better when facing challenge or adversity, but can positive thinking also affect our physiology?
Many clinical and experimental studies have shown that the mind plays a significant role in our health, and positive thinking has a favourable effect on survival in healthy and diseased populations.1 In fact, personality, attitude, and emotion are etiologic/ contributory in suppressing the immune system and can lead to the development of many diverse diseases.2
Across experimental and prospective epidemiological studies, significant aspects of health that appear to be influenced by positive emotion include self-reported health, lower mortality rate, better health, faster long-term recovery and improved immunological response.3,4 Although the literature is not without methodological variables, overall, the research suggests that positive emotions have quantifiable health benefits, the cumulative effect of which may delay the onset of disease and extend healthy functioning in later life.5 In addition, consistent patterns in the literature suggest that positive emotion may alter disease risk via dampening chronic activation of neuroendocrine, immune and cardiovascular systems.6 Experimental evidence also suggest that positive psychology may also make you less susceptible to diseases.
So how does this work?
So, how is the body and mind linked? A field of study that looks at the effects of the mind on the functioning of the immune system, especially in relation to the influence of the mind on susceptibility to disease and the progression of a disease is Psychoneuroimmunology.
The basic notion is that brain thought can either be positive, coming from the left prefrontal cortex and promoting homeostatic physiology and inhibiting stress and adaptive physiology, or they can be negative, coming from the right prefrontal cortex and promoting stress and adaptive physiology and inhibiting homeostatic physiology. These pathways are consistently activated, and they continue to be stimulated even in chronic states of thought processes, whether they be positive or negative.
The power of positive thinking and cardiovascular health
One of the largest research areas conducted on the power of positive thinking and health relates to the cardiovascular system. Positive emotions have been linked, for example, to lower cortisol output, lower rates of hypertension, and longevity.7 In fact, the biologic interplay between emotion and Cardiovascular health has been dramatically enhanced through studies on mirthful laughter and the vascular endothelium.8 Amongst other things, positive thinking has also shown significant benefits for weight loss. Evidence indicates that individuals that avoided negative thinking and had a positive body image had better weight loss maintenance.
So, what can you do to maintain a more positive outlook?
Thankfully, the implementation of stress management techniques, such as humor, laughter, and positive mood have all been seen to be effective in helping to overcome the effects of stress, to varying degrees, on the mind and body. I love the way one writer puts it “courage, hope, faith, sympathy, and love, promote healing and prolong life. A contented mind, a cheerful spirit, is health to the body and strength to the soul.”9
In reality, the benefits of positive thinking have been espoused as far back as the beginning of mankind. In 621 BC one ancient Hebrew proverbs text stated that a “a merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
The Greek philosopher Plato has also chimed in on the topic and wrote to the Republic in 380 BC “he who is of calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.”
So what simple steps can you implement today to start incorporating positive thinking into your life:
1.One important thing is to try to identify what may be causing the stress and negative cognition and replace any negative coping patterns with positive ones. Some typical negative copying patterns can be:
• too much television
• emotional outburst
• dependence on chemicals: legal & illicit drugs.10
2. Implement calming techniques that promote a parasympathetic tone such as taking daily walks in nature and practicing deep breathing exercise.
3.Investing in a gratitude journal, be grateful each day and taking steps to value the power of your will.
4. Meditating on proverbs and other positive and empowering literature. Controlled studies have shown that mediating and therapies not only improve quality of life by contributing to positive thinking and reducing overall distress. It has also been found to epigenetically affect genes and other areas in our genomes that are implicated in inflammation, stress, and distress.11
As one of my favourite writers, Ellen G White once said "Teach the people that it is better to know how to keep well than how to cure disease". (Medical Ministry para 22)
Have a great start to your week and be kind to yourself! You are fearfully and wonderfully made!
With love from Nature's Physician Nutrition Clinic
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Chida Y, Steptoe A. Positive psychological wellbeing and mortality: a quantitative review of prospective observational studies. Psychosom Med. 2008 Sep;70(7):741-56. doi: 10.1097/ PSY.0b013e31818105ba. Epub 2008 Aug 25. PMID: 18725425. Textbook of natural medicine, Joseph E. Pizzorno and Michael T Murray, p 574 Rasmussen H, Scheier M, Greenhouse J. Optimism and psysical health: a meta-analytic review. Ann Behav Med. 2009;37(3):239–56 Andrade G. The ethics of positive thinking in healthcare. J Med Ethics Hist Med. 2019;12:18. Published 2019 Dec 21. doi:10.18502/jmehm. v12i18.2148 Ong AD, Mroczek DK, Riffin C. The Health Significance of Positive Emotions in Adulthood and Later Life. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2011;5(8):538-551. doi:10.1111/j.1751- 9004.2011.00370.x Ong AD, Mroczek DK, Riffin C. The Health Significance of Positive Emotions in Adulthood and Later Life. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2011;5(8):538-551. doi:10.1111 /j.1751-9004.2011.00370 Brummett BH, Boyle SH, Kuhn CM, Siegler IC, Williams RB. Positive affect is associated with cardiovascular reactivity, norepinephrine level, and morning rise in salivary cortisol. Psychophysiology. 2009;46(4):862-869. doi:10.1111/j.1469- 8986.2009.00829.x Miller M, Fry WF. The effect of mirthful laughter on the human cardiovascular system. Med Hypotheses. 2009;73(5):636-639. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.02.044 Page 241, Ellen G White ’The ministry of healing’ The Stanborough Press Ltd Textbook of natural medicine, Joseph E. Pizzorno and Michael T Murray Kripalani S, Pradhan B, Gilrain KL. The potential positive epigenetic effects of various mind-body therapies (MBTs): a narrative review. J Complement Integr Med. 2021 Jun 22. doi: 10.1515/jcim-2021- 0039. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34463076.