Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash
A recent NY Times article cited a number of recent long-term studies that linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments, and to fostering "exceptional longevity." (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/27/well/mind/optimism-health-longevity.html)
Optimism, the psychological attribute characterized as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes, may be as important as a good diet and ample exercise when it comes to factoring into your heart's health.
Historically, many studies have indicated that more optimistic individuals are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases or die prematurely. An increasing number of recent long-term studies have linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments, and to fostering what they identify as "exceptional longevity," a term that refers to people who live to 85 and beyond. (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2752100)
One research article published by Dr. Julia K. Boehm, a psychologist at Chapman University in Orange, California, in the American Heart Association Journal, found that positively-thinking people have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular-related deaths when compare to their more pessimistic counterparts. One possible explanation for this is that optimistic people may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviors like exercising, eating fruits and vegetables, and avoiding smoking. (https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/circresaha.117.310828)
A second research article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that "optimism is specifically related to 11 to 15% longer life span, on average," and to greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity”. These connections were independent of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors such as smoking, poor diet, and alcohol use. Overall, their findings led them to believe that optimism may be an important psycho-social resource for extending life span in older adults.
The MayoClinic.org has some great guidelines and advice that help one identify both positive and negative thinking. They include:
Identifying negative thinking Not sure if your self-talk is positive or negative? Some common forms of negative self-talk include:
Filtering. You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. That evening, you focus only on your plan to do even more tasks and forget about the compliments you received.
Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled, and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.
Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst. The drive-through coffee shop gets your order wrong and you automatically think that the rest of your day will be a disaster.
Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or you're a total failure.
Focusing on positive thinking You can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. The process is simple, but it does take time and practice — you're creating a new habit, after all. Here are some ways to think and behave in a more positive and optimistic way:
Identify areas to change. If you want to become more optimistic and engage in more positive thinking, first identify areas of your life that you usually think negatively about, whether it's work, your daily commute or a relationship. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.
Check yourself. Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you're thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.
Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.
Follow a healthy lifestyle. Aim to exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week. You can also break it up into 10-minute chunks of time during the day. Exercise can positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body. And learn techniques to manage stress.
Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.
Practice positive self-talk. Start by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you. Think about things you're thankful for in your life.
Here are some examples of negative self-talk and how you can apply a positive thinking twist to them:
Putting Positive Thinking Into Practice:
I've never done it before.
It's too complicated.
I don't have the resources.
I'm too lazy to get this done.
There's no way it will work.
It's too radical a change.
No one bothers to communicate with me.
I'm not going to get any better at this.
It's an opportunity to learn something new.
I'll tackle it from a different angle.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
I wasn't able to fit it into my schedule, but I can re-examine some priorities.
I can try to make it work.
Let's take a chance.
I'll see if I can open the channels of communication.
I'll give it another try.