*First and foremost, if you think you are struggling with deeper issues of negative thoughts, depression, anxiety, anger, or a sense of hopelessness, do not hesitate to reach out to a qualified therapist or counsellor.*
When I was eleven years old, I gave myself my first headache. I remember it clearly. I had come home for lunch and didn’t want to go back to school in the afternoon – not because I didn’t like school, but because I wanted to stay home with my Mom instead. My Mom was a business owner, a wife and a mother of 3. Needless to say, her time was limited, and I wanted some of her time to myself. But I didn’t want to lie and tell her I felt sick. So instead, I laid down on the couch and focused intently on giving myself a headache – because if I had a headache, then I could honestly tell her I didn’t feel well. After about 20 minutes, success was achieved – I had an ache in my temple! Not only did I get to stay home with my Mom, but I was also now enthralled with the idea that our minds could control our bodies.
At eleven years old, I certainly didn’t know that the brain truly does control our bodies. I didn’t know that when we’re thirsty, it’s because the brain realizes we need more water. I didn’t know that when we breathe, it’s because the brain tells us we have too little or too much oxygen or carbon dioxide every few seconds. What I did know, however, or what I proved to myself in my first unofficial headache research, was that my mind was more powerful than I could have ever imagined.
If my anecdotal story of an eleven-year-old doesn’t convince you of the power of the mind, here’s some other proof that our incredibly advanced brains can immediately impact the physiology in our bodies, and therefore our physical health.
One of the most common examples is White Coat Hypertension or the White Coat Effect. Hypertension is high blood pressure. High blood pressure is an automatic reaction in your body when you perceive that you’re under stress or something is threatening you. When you’re stressed and feel threatened (activating your Stress Response), your body needs more blood (containing oxygen, nutrients, glucose, and more) in your cells. Increased blood pressure will get more blood to more cells, faster. White Coat Hypertension is a ‘syndrome’ in which a person develops high blood pressure when they are around doctors, who often wear white coats. Although it can be a legitimate sign of chronic hypertension (which must be taken seriously), it can also be the result of a nervous patient who is mentally stressed about having their blood pressure taken or being at the doctor’s office.
Another example. Think about something that makes you nervous – maybe it’s speaking in front of a crowd, having a difficult conversation with a friend or family member, being assigned new responsibilities at work on a tight deadline or something else. If you pay attention to your body (or think back to a time this has happened), you’ll likely notice a slight increase in your heart rate. This is the most commonly felt reaction in the body as a result of your Stress Response (aka Fight or Flight response) being activated. You just sitting here thinking about something stressful is proof that what you think can have a physical impact on your body.
Personally, I think this is incredible – that the way we think can affect our health. And if you really think about (no pun intended), perception is everything. I mean, I may be worried about seeing a doctor or speaking in front of a crowd, while it may not faze you at all. In other words, if you don’t perceive those examples as stressful, then you may have no physical reaction at all. It all comes down to perception. It all comes down to mindset.
In simple terms, your mindset is your outlook or your attitude. It’s an accumulation of your thoughts and beliefs. It affects how you feel and how you think. In more technical terms, mindset can be categorized into Growth Mindset (you believe your skills and abilities can grow with time and experience) or Fixed Mindset (your qualities and skills are fixed and cannot change). As a Coach, I know people can change so I know which category I’m in.
But when you delve into each of these 2 mindsets, the common denominator comes down to this: you either have a tendency to be positive or a tendency to be negative. And if you tend to lean towards negative – and that could mean judging yourself, others or the world – it can also negatively impact your health.
This is partly because negativity is considered a psychological stressor (thus it’s included in my programs as one of The Top 10 Stress Management Habits you want to master). When this stress, or any type of stress for that matter, is chronic, it can force your body to work overtime, for some systems to be worked harder than others, and as a result, it can contribute to disease.
In the article, How do thoughts and emotions affect health, Dr. Karen Lawson of the University of Minnesota states that negativity (the emotion of anger in particular) is related to “a slew of life-altering health conditions”, a short list of which is below:
Dr. Lawson also notes that the key benefit of positive emotions is resilience in the face of hardships: “Resilient people are able to experience tough emotions like pain, sorrow, frustration, and grief without falling apart. Resilient people do not deny the pain or suffering they are experiencing; rather, they retain a sense of positivity that helps them overcome the negative effects of their situation. In fact, some people are able to look at challenging times with optimism and hope, knowing that their hardships will lead to personal growth and an expanded outlook on life.”
When it comes to mindset – whether you’re positive or negative – you don’t have to be a wise old man or woman to realize that it can make or break your day, your week, your year, your life.
But the empowering and freeing truth is that, just like with everything else in life, you have a choice. You can choose to drink more water or not, knowing that proper hydration is required by every cell in your body and brain, impacting your metabolism, sleep, energy, muscle tension and digestion, and more. (Yes, that’s my subtle attempt to convince you to drink more water!). You can choose to shut down electronics before bed or not, knowing that if you do, you increase your odds of a restful sleep. You can also choose to be positive or negative, to have a good day or a bad day, to be kind to yourself and others or not. Nelson Mandela is just one example of how an optimistic mindset can dictate your outcomes, despite spending almost 3 decades in prison.
I’m not saying it’s always easy to turn a bad mood into a good one, or see the bright side of everything and everyone, everyday. And we all know that doing so can require more work on some days than others. But habit change is possible. You just need to want it. And if you can learn the art of being positive, you will have mastered one of the most rewarding habits of all. As Thoreau said, “To affect the quality of the day, that is the greatest of arts.”
Tony Robbins says, “whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life.” We need to start by being mindfully aware of when negative thoughts start creeping into our brain. Hence, you need to establish a practice that helps you get ahead of thoughts that limit the quality of what could be a beautiful day. Below are 10 ways you can train your brain for a positive mindset:
We’re all human. We have good days and bad days. But we can choose how to view those days. We can choose how they impact us. And even if you’re someone who has been a negative thinker for years, you can change your habits. You can change the way you think. You just need to want to change. It simply comes down to mind over matter.
👩🏫 Want to know if Hidden Stress is keeping you from reaching your health and wellness goals? Take the What’s Your Hidden Stress Score Quiz to find out!
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