The Power of Positive Thinking
Every decade for the last century, we’ve managed to increase our average life expectancy by about 2 years. More and more of us are living productive, healthy lives for longer. But how much does positive thinking help and how can we teach ourselves to look on the bright side?
It’s difficult to tease out the real benefits of positive thinking for your health. So often, feeling miserable means you don’t look after yourself as well. That in turn can lead to not taking care of your physical health – ‘comfort eating’, not exercising, drinking too much alcohol etc. However, there are lots of examples that suggest positive thinking really does make a difference in its own right.
- Happily married couples live longer, have higher levels of general contentment and lower anxiety scores than people who have divorced and never remarried. That’s regardless of how much money they have.
- There’s compelling evidence that recovery rates from heart attacks and major surgery are better if your mood is good.
- Taking the initiative to exercise regularly is one of the most effective treatments for tiredness associated with cancer, cancer treatment and mild depression. It also slows down brain ageing.
- Socialising regularly with friends keeps your brain active and slows down brain ageing.
- You’re less likely to suffer from troublesome conditions like irritable bowel syndrome if you have high levels of optimism and describe your stress levels as low.
There’s also evidence that you can ‘think yourself happy’. For instance, people who smile more report feeling happier. One of the most effective ways to get into the habit of thinking positive, though, is by teaching yourself to interpret things that happen to you in a positive way – and that’s where Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, comes in.
Cognitive behavioural therapy – do it yourself style!
CBT is one of the most common, and well proved, ‘talking therapies. It’s widely used for managing everything from anxiety or depression to phobias or coping with illness.
The aim of CBT is to separate feelings (basically, a feeling is something you can sum up in one word – anxious, angry etc) from negative thoughts. The idea is that a single negative thought can set off a whole chain. For instance, if you’re feeling anxious and a friend walked past you in the street, your thought might be ‘Have I done something to offend her?’ This might lead on to thinking ‘I offend everyone’ and then ‘I don’t want to see anyone in case I offend them’. If you challenge your negative thoughts (‘Isn’t there another explanation – maybe she was deep in thought and didn’t see me?’) you can nip this negative chain in the bud and start focusing on the positive.
Changing from negative to positive ‘automatic chains of thought’ doesn’t happen overnight, but it really does reap dividends for a happier – and hopefully healthier – life.
Give yourself peace of mind with health checks.
We all have niggling worries about our health, but so many of us lead busy lives that all too often it’s hard to find time to take positive action. Fortunately, for many of them, the answer isn’t so much on your doorstep as your doormat! The NHS sends out regular invitations to everyone most likely to benefit for many of the most common serious conditions. These include:
- Cervical smears up to age 65
- Mammograms to detect early breast cancer for women aged 50-70 (you can get them after this age by asking)
- Bowel cancer screening (being rolled out soon to all people in the 50-70 age bracket)
- You can also get regular tests of your blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes risk by making an appointment with your GP. It might give you peace of mind, or the incentive you need to make some positive changes to your lifestyle!
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.