Positive Thinking for Healthy Living · Parkinson's Resource Organization

Positive Thinking for Healthy Living

Category: Newsworthy Notes

Having a positive attitude can improve your health and relationships. Find out how to shift from negative thoughts to a healthier way of thinking for healthy living. Taking an optimistic view of life can strengthen your relationships, improve your coping ability, and protect your health. Tackling negative thoughts can be challenging, but you can make the switch with simple strategies that show you how to spot and replace harmful thought patterns with positive thinking for healthy living. The Benefits of Being Positive: People who have a more positive, optimistic outlook also have lower levels of inflammation and heart disease risk, according to research in Psychosomatic Medicine. In addition to protecting your heart health, having a positive outlook can help improve relationships and self-esteem and lead to better decision-making and less stress throughout your day, says David Burns, MD, a psychologist and an adjunct clinical professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the author of The Feeling Good Handbook. About Negative Thinking: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) seeks to identify negative thoughts and find alternative approaches. Dr. Burns, a CBT pioneer, outlined 10 thought distortions that can lead to negative thinking and even depression:

1. Black and white thinking or thinking in terms of absolutes such as “always or never” or “all or nothing”;

2. Overgeneralizing one mistake or bad outcome into a lifelong pattern, also called “catastrophizing”;

3. Focusing on bad aspects instead of good aspects of events;

4. Ignoring the positives and giving negatives too much weight;

5. Making assumptions, both about people and the future;

6. Minimizing or magnifying issues;

7. Reasoning by emotion, such as saying, “I don’t feel good about that person, so she must be awful”;

8. “Should” statements, such as: “By now I should be rich”;

9. Negative self-labeling or name-calling, such as, “I’m an idiot”;

10. Blaming or personalizing and overlooking shared responsibility for situations or events. “These distortions cluster into two patterns: One would be the thought pattern of ‘I’m no good.’ That includes all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, and ‘should’ statements, where you’re beating up on yourself,” Dr. Burns says. “The second is the ‘you’re no good’ pattern, where you’re projecting the distortions onto someone else.” How to Be Positive: Be aware that switching from a negative to a positive outlook takes effort. Burns says that there are times when people don’t want to give up negative thoughts because that feels like giving in. Other people might find their negative thoughts rewarding in some way. “It’s easier for some people if they see these distortions and write down their thoughts,” he says. The hard part is taking the next step and choosing to become more positive or, at least, more realistic. “It’s not easy for people to change these patterns within themselves.” Research published in the March 2013 issue of the journal Psychology of Aging shows that older adults actually have a slightly greater chance of staying positive overall, in part because they have a longer life context in which to place negative events, while younger people see setbacks as more dramatic failures. Want a more positive outlook? Try these healthy-thinking strategies:

Create alternative thoughts. Write down a bothersome thought and assign it to one of the 10 distortions. For example, after a bad decision, you might think, “I’ve messed up my entire life.” Put this in the “magnification” category. Now write down a more positive thought, such as, “I haven’t made a mess of my whole life. I made one bad decision, but I can fix it. And I’ve made many other good decisions.” Practice gratitude. In addition to tackling specific thoughts, try focusing on what you’re grateful for each day. Write down two or three things that you’re thankful for in your life, no matter how big or small they may be. Hang out with kindred spirits. Certain people can lift you up and help you stay positive while others may tend to do the opposite. Reach out to and surround yourself with the uplifting ones or make an effort to find like-minded new friends. Limit your time with or avoid people who make life feel more negative and heavy to you. If you try these tips but negative thoughts continue to plague you, consider working with a therapist to help you identify and change the thought patterns that are holding you back.  

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Updated: August 16, 2017