Stop your negative thinking. Most people are aware that negative thinking isn’t doing them any favors on the happiness front. However, fewer people realize that the patterns of their thinking, when they are habitually negative, could be making them sick.
In an article for UCL News, Dr. Natalie Marchant discusses her research on the link between cognitive decline and negative thinking. She reveals that depression, anxiety, and PTSD are all risk factors for developing dementia. Furthermore, she notes that common to each of these conditions is a pattern of engaging in what is termed “Repetitive Negative Thinking.”1
Stop your negative thinking
The mechanism by which negative thinking causes physical harm to the body is thought to be through inducing stress which raises blood pressure and cortisol levels, among other less understood impacts. Fortunately, there are ways to break out of patterns and create new, healthier ones. The following six methods are a good place to start.
The first step in making any change is identifying what isn’t working. Until you do that, it’s woefully difficult to know where to begin. It helps to start by creating a habit of reflecting on the nature of your self-talk, the dialogue going on in your head that narrates what you’re doing and often has a value judgment attached to it.
At first, just identify patterns, take note of them and reflect on how they make you feel. The more persistent the thoughts are, the more attention they should receive. If they’re both frequent and leave you feeling rotten, you’ve just identified a weed that needs pulling.
Once you establish that fact, you can begin incorporating a replacement positive thought each time the negative one emerges. Make it incremental and realistic. For example, if you habitually think, “I’m such an idiot!” It might not work to replace that thought with, “I’m such a genius!”
Your mind may convert that to sarcasm, undermining your effort. Instead, try something like, “I’m a work in progress.” This is a true statement of any of us and promotes efficacy.
Exercises to stop negative thinking
A simple way to improve the nature of your thoughts is to be mindful of how you’re treating yourself. If you eat low-quality food, don’t exercise, and get lousy sleep, your body and mind will not function at their best. In addition, those behaviors send the subconscious message that you do not value yourself. That alone can be the wellspring of negative thinking.
So eat a balanced diet of the freshest, highest quality food you can get, prioritize moving every day, and get serious about your sleep hygiene. Do those three things and you’ll find your thoughts naturally turning in the right direction.
The Blue Zone studies which track some of the healthiest and longest-lived people across the globe revealed nine consistent behaviors. Of those nine, four of them are related to relating. These are moderate consumption of wine with friends, a shared faith-based community, prioritizing family, and a consistent long-term friend group.2
There is abundant additional evidence to support the value of forming and sustaining healthy relationships, but the simplest way to recognize the value is to try it. The act of connecting with others is very likely the method through which we evolved our big brains. The more love that you share, the more love you feel, perpetuating both good emotions and long life.
When negative thoughts start pounding in your head, take a pause and redirect. Think of one to three things that you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be complicated, or expansive, but it can be too. You might start with being grateful that you woke up. From there, that you had a bowel movement, that you were able to eat breakfast, that nobody is shooting at you, that someone loves you, etc.
The point is to start paying attention to things that are going right for you and acknowledging them. This creates a habit of seeing good and can help to crowd out some of the bad.
Be More Kind
This can begin with being nicer to yourself. However, it should extend to others as well. Few things get you out of your own head faster than thinking about another being. Doing something thoughtful for someone is a way to promote surges of good chemicals (oxytocin, dopamine) and add value to your day.
Even little things, a call, a text, opening a door, rescuing a bird, watering a plant, asking an employee at your favorite grocery store about their day (and actually listening), can all make a difference. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Also, it has the added benefit of making other people be nicer to you as well. Try it, you’ll see. There are few things more amusing than nice offs.
Don’t Take Things For Granted
You might not realize it but ruminating on the past and worrying about the future are both ways of getting outside of where you actually are. The more time you spend outside of the moment, the more likely you are to ignore what actually matters and what needs your attention in the here and now.
Life is a fleeting thing and we’re only here for a flash. Impermanence is something that we’d do best not to forget. It’s not about morbidly pondering death, but rather embracing each and every moment, living fully and leaving nothing to regret. Live your life like you love to live, and it will love you back.