April 22, 2022

Positive thinking: How optimism can improve your health

By Renée Sylvestre-Williams

Being optimistic can boost your physical and mental health. Here’s how you can start maintaining a positive outlook.

Wellness is an important consideration for our overall health. In particular, nurturing an optimistic mindset can improve your wellbeing - in terms of both physical and mental health.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some benefits of positive thinking include:

  • lower rates of depression and distress,
  • greater resistance to the common cold,
  • better heart health,
  • better coping skills and
  • increased lifespan.

So how can you actively develop an optimistic mindset for the betterment of your health? Consider the following ways to change your perspective.

Identify negative self-thinking

Some negative self-thinking is easy to identify. It can be as simple as having thoughts like "I'm not good enough." Or "I really messed that up today."

Other forms are harder to identify, such as:

  • Personalizing. Blaming yourself for something bad that has happened, even if you weren't directly involved.
  • Catastrophizing. Assuming the worst in everyday situations. This could take the form of spilling your coffee and assuming the rest of your day is going to be terrible, too.
  • Filtering. Focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation, and filtering out all the positive aspects.
  • Polarizing. Only seeing black and white, no shades of grey. That means there's only good or bad, perfection or failure.

Recognizing these types of negative self-talk in your everyday life is the first step toward changing your mindset.

Practice positive thinking and self-talk

Once you've identified your pattern of negative self-talk, it's time to turn it around into positive self-talk. Our brains are wired to put more weight behind negative aspects versus positive ones. That's why we tend to focus on the bad things. That can be changed with practice.

Here are some strategies to turn negative self-talk into your own personal pep talks:

  • Check on yourself. It's natural for negative thoughts to pop into your mind throughout the day. When that happens, take a moment to be conscious of your thoughts. If they're negative, try to turn them into positive thoughts. For example, instead of personalizing an incident, think it through and understand your role in the bigger picture. (More than likely you'll see there were many factors at play.)
  • Keep up a healthy lifestyle. It can be hard to exercise every day. But any type of exercise for 30 minutes a day can reduce stress and affect your mood. Eating healthy can also be part of this lifestyle.

Practice gratitude to boost your mental health

Another simple way that's been shown to improve our mental wellbeing is practicing gratitude. According to Harvard Health, practicing gratitude can help people feel more positive. So how can you tap into that feeling?

For one, you can start a gratitude journal. That can be a simple blank notebook or a pre-made gratitude journal that comes with motivational quotes and daily prompts, if you need structure.

Start writing down what made you grateful each day. It doesn't have to be a long list - three items are usually a good start. And those items can be simple. Gratitude journaling encourages people to appreciate the small things, like a perfect cup of coffee.

Try to make journaling a consistent habit. That might be a ritual around a certain time of day you set aside for gratitude journaling. You don't have to do it every day, but regular writing helps.

Change how you think about stress

Practicing positive thinking doesn't mean ignoring the stressors in our lives. Rather, it means cultivating an optimistic mindset and focusing on positive outcomes.

In fact, stress can actually lead to benefits. Stanford University lecturer Kelly McGonigal has proposed a change in how we think about stress. She posits we embrace the concept of stress as having the potential to make us stronger, smarter and happier.

Changing your mindset about your current situation, as well as practicing tools to build up optimism, can lead to positive change. And that, in turn, can provide positive, long-term effects on our emotional and physical wellbeing.

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This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical advice, or a substitute for that advice. 

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