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Looking on the bright side: the health benefits of positive thinking

From boosting your immune system to helping fight stress, here’s how positive thinking can improve your health.

Optimism is the practice of trying to look on the bright side when life gets dark. It’s having faith that a positive outcome is just around the corner, and that there’s no challenge in life too big for your strength.

Although it’s not always easy, consciously practicing optimism has proven to improve a person’s quality of life in more ways than one.

Optimism can help your health by giving you the following:

  • Improved coping abilities: When faced with challenges, optimism can help you move past challenges without seeing them as a fault of your own. Instead, you can approach challenges as changeable, external to yourself, and not self-defining.
  • Stronger immune system: Positivity can help fight disease and boost your immune system. In fact, optimism was found to be linked with a:
    • 52% lower risk of dying from infection
    • 16% lower risk of dying from cancer
    • 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease
    • 39% lower risk of dying from stroke
    • 38% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease
  • Better relationships: Studies reveal that when you’re friends with an optimist, you can be impacted in a positive way. Simply put, happiness is contagious!

But positive thinking doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Luckily, studies show optimism can be learned.  

Read on for all the tools you need to incorporate optimism into your daily routine so you can live a healthier, happier life.

How positive thinking can improve your health

Stress has long been associated with an increase in negative health effects, especially heart disease. And you can’t have stress without negative thinking.

On the flip side, a positive outlook could do wonders for your quality of life, and even help add years to it!

According to the Mayo Health Clinic, the health benefits of positive thinking could
include the following:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of stress
  • Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
  • Higher resistance to the cold

It’s not clear whether being optimistic could encourage you to live healthier lifestyles (like staying active, eating healthy and limiting alcohol use and smoking), or if those who choose healthier lifestyles have an easier time practicing optimism.

Either way, optimism and overall greater emotional and physical health has shown to go hand-in-hand. 

Self-talk and positive thinking

So what’s the first step to start seeing your cup as half-full when you usually see it as half-empty? It all starts with positive self-talk.

Self-talk is the stream of thoughts that start running through your head the moment you wake up. These automatic thoughts can be fueled by gratitude and positivity, or they can be rooted in criticism and negativity.

Some examples of negative self-talk could be:

  • Filtering: Focusing on the negative aspects of a situation and filtering out the positive ones. 
  • Personalizing: If something bad happens, you tend to blame yourself for the outcome. 
  • Catastrophizing: Automatically assuming the worst will happen. For example, if you get rained on during your morning walk, you automatically think the rest of your day will be awful
  • Polarizing: You see things only as either good or bad with no middle ground. Polarizing can make you feel like you’re a failure if you don’t do something perfectly.

Becoming aware of the subconscious self-talk is the first step in recognizing negative thinking when it happens, and choosing positivity instead.

You are what you think — so negative thoughts will lead to a pessimistic outlook. On the other hand, being aware of your self-talk and consciously choosing positivity can keep you on the path of optimism. 

Practicing positive self-talk

Positive thinking takes practice. A place to start could be identifying an area of your life that you usually talk negatively about – your job, your relationship with a friend or family member, your health routine, and take steps to think about these things in a positive light.

Other ways to practice bringing more positivity into your life could include:

  • Checking in with yourself: Throughout the day, notice when a negative thought starts running through your head. Just noticing where your negativity tends to focus itself can help you identify opportunities for positivity.
  • Staying Active: Regular physical activity helps reduce stress and anxiety, making it easier for you to see the bright side of any challenge. Try to get 30 minutes of exercise every day, and focus on a healthy diet that nourishes your mind and body.
  • Meditation: Even just 10 minutes of meditation every day can help you control stress, decrease anxiety, improve your heart health, and opt for more positive self-talk.
  • Surrounding yourself with positive people: If you’ve got a close friend, coworker or family member who tends to spread negativity, their pessimism could become contagious and raise your stress. Try to surround yourself with people who are positive and supportive, and who you can trust to give helpful advice and feedback.
  • Practice gratitude: Gratitude can help reduce stress, improve heart health and give you a better night’s sleep. Not to mention that wonderful sense of appreciation for the things and people that make your life great!

Sometimes life throws you curveballs that aren’t easy to get through with a smile. Even though practicing positivity may not always be easy, it’s worth the effort for your health and longevity. 

The power of physical activity can’t be overlooked when it comes to supporting your health and wellness. In fact, it’s even linked to lowering your risk of over 13 different kinds of cancer!

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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