If you’re already on the path to a fit and healthy lifestyle, you know the importance of proper nutrition. You know the effects that eating clean and whole foods can have on your appearance, energy levels, endurance and overall feeling of well-being. You do a good job of nurturing your body, but are you aware of the importance of nurturing your mind, too?
A positive attitude isn’t just critical to your mood, it’s essential to your overall health.
Positive thoughts act like good food; they are nutritious for your mind. What we think, whether positive or negative, has a direct effect on our actions. When you think positively about something, you’re more eager to do it or face it with self-confidence. The opposite is true as well — a bad attitude tends to lead us into negative situations that can leave us stressed and anxious.
There’s a little something to the saying, “attitude is everything.”
It all goes back to the strong two-way connection between mind and body, and your thoughts are a part of that connection. The role of your thoughts is so strong that one study found that a positive attitude and overall demeanor helped lower the risk of dying from heart disease and stroke.
“By changing the internal state of mind, people can change the outer aspects of their lives.” — William James
So while you’re physically healthy, it’s also important to work out your mind into positive thinking. We’re not recommending that you ignore the negative thoughts and commit to faking a happy demeanor. It’s more about managing your outlook in the positive or negative situations you find yourself in. Having a positive outlook on a negative situation means you’re not willing to give up or that you understand it’s out of your control and can let the stress of it go.
Switching into this state of mind may sound hard. Luckily, we can train ourselves to have a positive attitude regardless of the situation by focusing on the 3 B’s: body, brain, and breath.
Your state of mind affects your body and breathing. But breathing changes your mind and body as well; slightly different breathing patterns can create a different state of mind from what you’re used to. That’s why it is so important to learn how to use your breath as a tool to manage the two-way connection between the brain and the body. Let’s take a look.
YOUR THOUGHTS AND YOUR HEALTH
Your internal dialog affects so much more than your mood. While someone with a cantankerous demeanor isn’t usually the top choice for company, negative attitudes influence more than just your social interactions. Your internal dialog also affects how well you can work. A confused state of mind does not correlate with clear, focused actions. On the other hand, those with positive attitudes make for better company and positive people can easily achieve a calmer, clearer state of mind.
Your internal dialog can have a big impact on your physical health, too. When your anxious and negative thoughts run through your mind, your body tenses up. It activates the fight or flight response, getting ready to fend off the thing that’s causing those negative thoughts — even if it’s just a deadline and not a deadly predator. When you learn to turn negative thoughts into positive ones, you’ll be less tense — another indication of how strong the connection between mind and body truly is.
EVER HEARD OF NEUROPEPTIDES?
If you’re new to the world of neuropeptides, fear not! They aren’t just a word from sci-fi novels, they are an important part of our brain activity. These signaling, protein-like molecules help neurons communicate with each other while sending signals to your brain. Sounds complicated, and it is. These little guys do so much and are so important, they even have entire scientific journals dedicated to them!
We won’t dive in too deep and overwhelm you with the details. What is important to know, for the purposes of this article, is that your neuropeptides are the means by which your thoughts, desires and emotions get transmitted to your nervous system. In simple English terms, the neuropeptides are messengers. The receptors in your nervous system and immune system then receive these messages. Feelings of stress, nervousness, anxiety and sadness can cause your body to release hormones that, over time, can wreak havoc on your immune system, causing it to break down. They have a huge impact on our various states of mind.
Excessive negative emotions, like calories, build up over time. You may be able to burn some of them off, but after awhile, they build up to a point where you’re feeling sluggish, low energy, disconnected and in a confused state. Conversely, training your mind to think positive thoughts, stay clear, focus on the good in situations and react calmly can result in improved health and overall well-being.
STRESS AND POSITIVE THINKING
We talked briefly about stress above, but let’s take a deeper look. In the USA alone, 40 percent of Americans report moderate to high stress. What happens in your body when you become stressed out?
To protect from potential threats (think wild animals chasing you through the night), your body comes equipped with a stress response that gives you a boost of energy to handle urgent situations. This boost of energy, however, is accompanied by an elevation in your heart rate, raised blood pressure and a release of hormones to top it off. One of these hormones, cortisol, alters immune system responses while suppressing your digestive and reproductive systems.
While this is beneficial in a temporary fight-or-flight scenario, chronic releases of these hormones, especially cortisol, can be dangerous. Prolonged increase in stress levels is linked to arrhythmias, anxiety, digestive problems, weight gain, the infamous popped blood vessel and more. This is enough to put anyone in a stressed and confused state.
“With excessive stress, performance falls off — we do things less well.” — Dr. Adam Perlman, Executive Director of Duke Integrative Medicine
Just reading about all of those things can be stressful! Time to take some deep breaths.
You have the power to control your responses, your stress levels, your internal dialog and your attitude. They are all intertwined, and controlling them leads to a more stress-free state of well-being.
This is a process, however. Don’t just dive in and become frustrated because it might be a little tough to incorporate these new learnings. Learning to reframe negative experiences with a positive attitude takes time; especially, if you’re used to the negative thinking. You can’t roll out of bed one day and run a marathon without having trained, built endurance and gained the needed strength. Likewise, you have to train your mind and how you respond with positive thoughts. Over time, you’ll have enough steam to win the race.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
1. Shift Your Perspective
The way we interpret situations is critical to a healthy state of mind. Stress comes at us from every direction. When confronted with a difficult situation, try shifting your perspective into a positive one. Let’s try it out…
Scenario: You’ve been working for weeks on a presentation only to find out your work will not be used in an upcoming pitch. All those hours wasted. Right?
Try shifting this situation with an optimistic view: Find gratitude in the experience you’ve gained and be proud of your work ethic and perseverance to get the job done. Shifting your perspective can shift you into a new state of appreciation.
2. Find Gratitude
We can’t over-emphasize the importance of being thankful. Finding something to be thankful for in every situation and focusing on that can help you find a positive message in any negative situation.
“Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”
— Harvard Medical School study, In Praise of Gratitude
3. Express a Positive Attitude
Training yourself to have positive thoughts is half of the equation; the other important part is being able to express it in positive words and actions. Finding a way to put a positive spin on things and saying it out loud can help the thought process move past anxious, negative emotions. Become more aware of how much power you have to take control of the situation and make choices that will point you in the direction of positivity. Don’t let your positive attitude be dampened by ever-changing circumstances. Use your words and actions to help your positive thinking.
4. Don’t React, Breathe
Instead of immediately acting in emotion and anger, pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Then take another. And another. Finding the calm and taking a moment of reflection will help you get needed perspective.
Taking a deep breath is a positive action that can help you re-assess and find a positive point of view in a tough situation. Plus, deep breathing helps relieve physical stress your body might be feeling. Deep breathing helps lower blood pressure, floods your muscles with oxygen and can release tightness in your abdomen.
Luckily, deep breathing is an action you can take anywhere and at any time. After a small moment of breathing, you might find yourself in a better place and with a more positive outlook on the situation.
Breathing also does more than reduce stress and anxiety; it re-energizes your mental state. Studies have shown that breathing enables focus and productivity, helps reduce aches and pains and even lowers your blood pressure. When you’re feeling more productive, in less pain and healthier overall, your state of mind naturally shifts into an improved mental state.
See how strong and cyclical the process is?
By learning how to manage your breath, you can manage your emotional state and improve your overall health.
“You’ll not only be more productive but able to think more clearly and work at a higher level.” — Dr. Lloyd Sederer, medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health
Remember, we have more control over our health and well-being than we may know. Nurturing your body is important and taking care of your state of mind is, too.
Luckily, we now know that our state of mind can be managed.
Start incorporating the strategies above into your daily routines and see how your health, energy and attitude can improve. Optimism is not an out-of-reach characteristic. By training your mind to pause and put a positive spin on tough situations, you can have a positive attitude through life.