Is Your Attitude Hurting Your Health?
4 ways to train yourself to become more optimistic
Listen up, pessimists! That “glass is half empty” attitude could be harming your health. Same goes for those angry outbursts and feelings of resentment.
Negative attitudes and emotions “cause your blood pressure and heart rate to increase, and trigger the brain to release stress hormones,” says Jane Pernotto Ehrman, M.Ed, behavioral health specialist and mind/body coach at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute and founder of Images of Wellness.
Stress hormones create inflammation in the body and cause you to pack on belly fat. Belly fat puts you at increased risk of stroke and heart disease. All that stress from being stuck in negative emotions can also suppress your immune system.
And that’s not all: This toxic soup of negativity can also affect good decision-making and lead to unhealthy behaviors. These behaviors include overeating and smoking, as well as substance abuse with alcohol, over-the-counter sleep aids and pain relievers.
Meanwhile, the volumes of research citing the health benefits of maintaining a positive attitude is impressive. People with positive attitudes show stronger immune systems and lower heart disease risk. They may even live longer, according to new research from the University of Queensland.
4 ways to break the cycle of negativity
Ready to improve your attitude? Here are four tips to help re-wire your brain for optimism.
1. Figure out what sets you off. “If you’re aware of the buttons a co-worker or family member pushes in you, you have a better chance of making a conscious decision to respond appropriately and avoid taking it personally,” says Ehrman. “Being prepared ahead of time with appropriate responses, or rehearsing how you will respond positively, can give a sense of control and help you avoid regretful actions.”
2. Practice reframing your responses. According to research from Rick Hanson, PhD, a neuropsychologist who has authored several books on personal well-being, if you find yourself reacting negatively in a certain situation, reframing your response right away can rewire your brain for positivity. Immediately looking for the positive can help you avoid reliving the negative experience and its damaging side effects. For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic and you swerve your car to avoid an accident, you might react with anger. But instead of losing your cool, think of the positives. You weren’t in an accident and there’s no damage to your car, yourself or others. “Focus on the ‘relief’ and allow yourself to revel in the physical sensations of calmness for at least thirty seconds,” says Ehrman. “Over time, you’ll reach a tipping point for positive responsiveness rather than reactivity."
3. Develop a meditation habit. “The brain can be re-wired for positive responsiveness with a daily 20-minute meditation practice for at least three weeks,” says Ehrman. Explore different types of meditation — breath practice, guided imagery, yoga, etc. — to see which ones feel comfortable for you.
4. Create positive affirmations. You can actually “fake” optimism until it becomes real through affirmations. These statements are present tense, positive and short. They help you re-frame negative situations or beliefs, says Ehrman. (Initially, affirmations aren’t “true,” but repeating them often over time can help you make them true.) For example: “I look for the good in situations” or “I think before taking things personally.” Basically, what you think, you become. And what you say to yourself becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “You get what you expect,” says Ehrman. “Set daily positive intentions for how you will move through your day, such as looking for the good, responding from the best in you and giving people the benefit of the doubt.”