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Even before COVID-19 came along, many of us were walking around like tightly wound springs. Now, in year three of the pandemic, stress has become like a visitor who came and forgot to leave.
There is clear-cut evidence that chronic stress can be fatal.
Even the low-level anxiety or sadness that we may brush off as just situational can have profound negative effects on our health and even lead to premature death.
On the other hand, research also proves that there are at least seven major ways that being a “glass half full” kind of person can save your life.
So how do you become the kind of person who sees the positive in situations, rather than the problems?
It all starts with how you talk to yourself.
The impact of ‘self-talk’
The reality is that we talk to ourselves all the time, and the messages we give ourselves have a profound impact on our health and well-being.
For example, one study showed that participants with negative attitudes towards aging actually had slower walking speed and poorer cognitive abilities — two years after the study — compared to older adults with more positive attitudes towards aging.
The best kind of self-talk is focused on the present moment, rather than the past or future.
According to Malgorzata Sobol-Kwapinska of the Department of Psychology at the University of Wroclaw in Poland, negative self-talk that focuses on the past has a strong link to depression.
She says that “attention on the present, combined with perceiving the current moment as valuable, reduces the frequency of mentally returning to the negative past or thinking ahead into the uncertain future.”
In other words, if you can stay focused on making the here-and-now a better place to be, you’ll be less likely to dwell on the past or worry about the future.
The benefits of positive thinking
Research has shown that positive self-talk can provide many health benefits, including:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
Having a positive outlook helps you cope with stress more effectively, which reduces the harmful effects of stress on the body.
And it’s also likely that “glass half full” people tend to live healthier lifestyles that include getting more physical activity, following a healthier diet and participating less in harmful activities like smoking.
4 kinds of self-talk that are bad for you
Have you ever caught yourself engaging in any of these types of negative self-talk?
- 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, completing all your assigned tasks. You received compliments for a job well done, but in the evening, you can only think about the things you didn’t get to.
- Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, when your friend has to cancel plans because of another commitment, you assume that it’s really because they didn’t want to spend time with you.
- Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst. The drive-through coffee shop gets your order wrong, so that means 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.
5 ways to focus on positive thinking
I have one rule, and it works for me 99.9 percent of the time: don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a good friend. This automatically rules out being mean, sarcastic, or impatient with myself.
Getting into the habit of positive self-talk takes time, but you can learn to make the change.
Here are five things that will help:
Identify areas to change. Start small. Which area of your life do you usually have negative thoughts about? Work? Relationships? Health? Start there.
Be open to humor. There’s nothing like a good laugh to defuse a negative situation. It’s okay to laugh at something difficult. Seeing humor in everyday problems will improve your health.
Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise and diet will help lift your mood, which will make managing stress and talking to yourself positively a whole lot easier.
Surround yourself with positive people. Keep people in your life who are supportive and who see the world in a positive light. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.
Oh, and here’s the ultimate diet for stress management, based on a long-term study.
Try these exercises and maybe all, or one in particular, will work best for you. You’re worth and owe it yourself.
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Keep Your Self-Talk Positive by Focusing on the Here and Now — Psychology Today