On the heels of the nastiest storm we’ve seen in quite a while, we may be bracing ourselves for a pretty harsh winter. To minimize our chances of getting sick, we know that we should wash our hands often, try to avoid people who are sick, and take our vitamins (because no matter how much we TRY to eat well, it’s likely we’re still missing something). We might supplement with vitamin D and a few others, or try to boost our immune systems with Echinacea and zinc.
But how much does our attitude affect our health? This article on the Mayo Clinic site discusses how positive thinking can have a dramatic effect on your health.
How do you react when you first start feeling like you’re coming down with something? Do you try to stay positive that you might have caught it before it got too bad? Or do you bemoan how terrible you feel, and how certain you are that it’s only going to get worse?
I’m not trying to say that positive thinking can keep you from ever getting sick. A virus is a virus, and sometimes they just get us. That’s what they’re designed to do, of course. But keeping a generally positive attitude can do several things for you. First, it gives a boost to your immune system, thus making it harder for the invader to get a foothold in the first place. Second, it allows that heightened immune system to fight the invader more effectively and evict it sooner if it actually does manage to get through your defenses. Third, it makes the recovery time more pleasant for you and those around you.
Positive people also generally tend to be kinder to themselves and take better care of themselves. They eat better, get up off the couch and get moving more (but NOT obsessively exercise), and make healthier life choices (such as not smoking). All of those things are certainly going to have a positive impact on your overall health.
“But I’m just not naturally a positive person! I can’t be Pollyannna all the time!” I call bull. While some people do seem to have a naturally positive attitude, and some seem to be Eeyore, when it comes right down to it, most of your attitude is a conditioned, trained response. Which means that if you WANT to, you CAN un-learn your bad habits. Again, this may come easier to some people than to others. But I truly believe that everyone can improve their outlook if they are willing to give it some work.
It all begins with self-talk. We internalize everything that happens to us. Those things that pop into our heads, unbidden, are often not very positive. The stuff we say to ourselves has far more impact on us than anything that comes from outside. True, we may be hearing bad stuff about ourselves from the outside, but it’s not until we believe those things to be true about ourselves and beat ourselves up about them that they really begin to harm us.
We may not have much control over the fleeting negative thoughts that pop into our minds without invitation, but we certainly CAN control how much we dwell on them. We can decide whether we kick them to the curb immediately or allow them to take up permanent residence in our thoughts.
When faced with the thought “I am a horrible person because of X”, we can choose whether we agree with that mental negative and berate ourselves for every wrong thing we’ve ever done, or we can choose to contradict that thought with this: “Yes, I may have made x mistake, but I have also done x, y, z, etc positive things”. Counter the “Oh, I’m so miserable because I have this disease or that illness, or I’m just sick all the time, or I have no motivation or willpower or blah, blah, blah” with “no, I don’t like where I am right now, but I don’t have to stay here forever”. Temporary illness will pass, and lifelong illness can be dealt with. Sometimes life sucks. It is what it is. But there are also plenty of things that don’t suck. You can choose to constantly complain about all the suckiness, or make the best you can of a bad situation.
As for the motivation and willpower thing, ask yourself if you really don’t like that aspect of your character. If it’s not something that really bothers you, then quit bemoaning it. If it IS something that you don’t like about yourself, then CHANGE IT. Don’t keep talking about how much you don’t like it.
It’s not going to happen overnight. It will not be easy to overcome years of conditioning. We may have fallen into the negative self-talk habit so often that we aren’t really aware of it any more. But we can retrain ourselves out of even the most ingrained of bad habits. Is it going to take a lot of work? Probably. But it’s so worth it. Your health and well-being depend on it.