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Positive Thinking May Affect More Than Your Mental Health

Brooke McKelvey

Published in Mental Health

7 min read

April 28, 2022

So many things can affect your health and wellbeing. Did you know that one of them is your outlook? It’s not necessarily essential to have a positive outlook to stay healthy, but it sure does help.

This isn’t that surprising. After all, it’s no secret that negative thinking can lead to stress and anxiety. In contrast, positive thinking can improve your mood and help you cope with difficult situations. But there’s more to it than that because a positive outlook may also benefit your physical health.

What is Positive Thinking?

a person reading a book

Positive thinking is a practice that includes affirmative, optimistic, and hopeful thoughts. Basically, focus on looking at the bright side of life or having a ‘glass half full' attitude. For example, rather than thinking, “I’m not good enough,” a positive thinker would say, “I can do this.” By practicing positive thinking, you can train your brain to focus on the good, which can increase happiness and can help with overall health.

Studies have shown that positive thoughts can increase life expectancy and lower rates of depression, anxiety, and stress. Positive thinking has links with lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and arthritis, as well as an improved immune system. Read on to learn more about the power of positive thinking and how it can help you live a healthier lifestyle.

The Health Benefits of Positive Thinking

People with positive attitudes are more likely to lead healthier lifestyles—but why? They’re more motivated to exercise, eat better, and get regular checkups. In contrast, people with negative attitudes are more likely to keep bad habits, feel more anxious in stressful situations, and experience mental health conditions like depression.

Studies have shown that a positive attitude can boost your immune system, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress levels. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the benefits:

Immune Response

A positive attitude can have a profound effect on your overall health. As we mentioned, positive thinking can boost your immune system. Numerous studies have shown that people who maintain a positive outlook may live longer and enjoy better overall health.

There are several reasons for this—positive thinking can help reduce stress levels. On the flip side, chronic stress can take a toll on your immune system, leaving you more prone to illness.

Blood Pressure

Stress can affect your body in many ways, one of which is that it increases your risk of health problems like high blood pressure. When you're anxious or overwhelmed, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, releasing hormones that constrict your blood vessels and raise your heart rate.

It can lead to hypertension, which puts you at risk for heart disease, strokes, and other serious health problems. But here’s the good news: studies have shown that having a positive attitude can help to lower blood pressure.

Cardiovascular Health

Yes, a positive outlook can also affect your cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that people with a positive outlook on life tend to have a healthier heart overall (thanks in part to the low blood pressure we mentioned above).

The reduction in stress levels leads to less heart-damaging inflammation and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. One study found that people with a positive outlook were less likely to develop heart disease. Since positive emotions lower stress hormones in your system, you have the potential to decrease inflammation and reduce plaque buildup in arteries.

Blood Glucose

A positive attitude can have a significant impact on your blood sugar levels. When you feel positive and hopeful, your body releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting and pain-reducing properties.

Again, that reduction in stress levels pays off here, helping to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Negative emotions like stress and anxiety can have the opposite effect and affect morning blood sugar values.

People with diabetes and other blood glucose-related health conditions often face stressors that make it challenging to manage blood sugar levels. Of course, more research is necessary here, but if maintaining a positive attitude has the slightest chance of improving blood sugar control, why not try?

How to Attain a Positive Attitude

two people sitting on their doors and chilling outdoors

Research has shown that people with positive attitudes are more likely to succeed in their careers, relationships, and overall wellness. But how do you develop a positive attitude? Here are four easy steps to give you a running start:

1) Identify Negative Thoughts: First, start by identifying the negative thoughts that contribute to your pessimism. Once you know your negative thought patterns, you can begin to challenge and reframe them. Instead of thinking, "I can't do this," try telling yourself, "I can figure this out." Instead of beating yourself up for making a mistake, try thinking, "I learn from my mistakes."

2) Keep Good Company: Second, make an effort to surround yourself with positive people. Spending time with loved ones and participating in activities you enjoy will help to keep your spirits high. Spending time with individuals who have an optimistic outlook can rub off on you.

3) Practice Gratitude: Step number three is to practice gratitude. Each day, take a few moments to reflect on what you're thankful for. Focusing on what is good in your life will help you to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. A positive attitude takes practice, but it is well worth the effort.

4) Smile More! Yes, this is often a terrible thing to say to someone, and it can be frustrating advice to hear. But making an effort to project a positive attitude can play some role in boosting your outlook. Studies have shown that adopting an open and friendly posture can lead to more positive emotions.

Mental Health and Positivity

Not everyone can just smile or self-talk their way to a positive attitude. Gratitude journals, healthier lifestyles, and willpower will do the trick for some. But for others, positive outlooks can be more challenging. The most important thing to remember if you find yourself in a situation like this is that it’s always a good idea to reach out for help.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Talk to your doctor. Your primary care physician is an excellent way to find reliable mental health resources. They can provide you with referrals to therapists, counselors, and other specialists.
  • Reach out to friends and family. Sometimes, friends and family are the best sources of support. Talk to your loved ones about your mental health and let them know what kind of help you need.
  • Look online. The internet is a wealth of information. If you're unsure where to start, try looking for online support groups or forums. You can also find helpful articles and blog posts about mental health topics.
  • Look to reliable resources. SAMHSA’s National Helpline, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and The Trevor Project are great resources to utilize if you're struggling with your mental health.

Stress Management and Positivity

Anyone who has ever experienced it knows that stress can be incredibly debilitating. It can interfere with work, damage personal relationships, increase your risk of conditions like prediabetes and diabetes, and affect your mental health. And since stress management is such a big part of positive outlooks, it’s a good idea to focus more on that.

There are many different stress management techniques that you can use to reduce stress levels, so find the ones that work best for you and make them a part of your daily routine. Here are some ideas:

  • Identify the things that are causing you stress. Once you know your triggers, you can develop a plan to avoid or eliminate them and have coping skills for when a stressor comes into your life.
  • Make time for yourself every day to relax and rejuvenate. This might include taking a long bath, reading your favorite book, or walking outdoors.
  • Remember to take care of your physical health. Exercise releases endorphins that can help improve mood. Eating a balanced diet gives your body nutrients to function correctly.

Physical Activity and Positivity

a couple of people jogging

As we just mentioned, physical activity releases endorphins that can help improve your mood. So, focus on exercise to boost positivity.

Exercise helps reduce stress levels and improve sleep quality, both of which also contribute to a more positive outlook. So if you’re looking for ways to boost your mood, consider adding some physical activity to your daily routine. It can be anything from a cardio routine to a brisk walk around the block.

No one said it was easy for everyone to stay positive all the time. But as you’ve learned so far, there are many benefits to attempting to look on the brighter side when you can. When you approach life with a sense of hope and happiness, you're more likely to experience emotions like joy and live a happy, healthier life.

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Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Reviewed by: Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Amanda is a Nutrition Manager and Registered Dietitian at Nutrisense, with a Masters in Dietetics from Stephen F. Austin State University. Originally from south GA, she got her undergrad degree from Texas Tech University. Before joining Nutrisense, she worked at a hospital in Fort Worth, TX, for 4 years as a dietitian, counseling those living with HIV.

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