For most people, it’s easier to dwell on unpleasant experiences than to accentuate the good things that life offers. A certain amount of negativity is normal, but too much negative thinking can have a profound effect on physical health, manifesting in muscle aches and chronic pain and contributing to weakened immune situation, stroke, heart attacks and even some forms of cancer.
According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, chronic stress and emotions such as rage, anger, hostility and jealousy can actually affect aging and shorten the lifespan. Martin Seligman, PhD., a pioneer in research involving emotions and health, noted that when it comes to lifestyle choices, a positive outlook ranks equally with a healthy diet, regular exercise and a decision not to smoke cigarettes.
The brain and negative emotions
Researchers have known for decades that the body and the brain are closely connected and that the brain responds to thoughts and emotions by releasing hormones. Positive thoughts and good feelings trigger the release of chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, while stress and negative emotions result in the release of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. This elaborate chemical reaction generates a fight or flight response and powers a burst of energy that helped early humans survive dangerous situations that confronted them every day.
While this human response serves a powerful purpose, stress and poorly managed emotions are extremely harmful. Most experiences are not negative or positive. It’s our perception of the experience that dictates our responses and determines how events and situations affect our physical health.
It isn’t easy to alter deeply entrenched habits and ways of thinking, but with practice it’s very possible to develop a set of tools and strategies for coping with negative emotions. Consider the following suggestions:
- Accept that you’re human. Some negative emotions are normal and unavoidable. However, you can make a decision to choose a more optimistic state of mind.
- Don’t evade the emotions. Instead, acknowledge them and pay close attention to how you feel. In time, you will learn what events and situations trigger negative mental and physical responses.
- Step away from the situation. Take a deep breath or go for a walk, then think through the issue and determine the best way to respond. It’s difficult to make decisions if your mind is in turmoil.
- Learn relaxation techniques that work best for you. For example, learn mindfulness meditation or practice yoga or tai chi.
- Talk to somebody during difficult times. Depend on family members or friends or ask a counselor for help. Social connections are critical, and we all need a safe place to vent.
- Don’t automatically jump to conclusions or dwell on the worst possible scenario. Work on retraining your thinking to let go of negative thoughts and attitudes.
- Relinquish grudges and negative feelings towards other people. Practice patience and forgiveness.
- Don’t dwell on small things, as even minor issues can gradually become blown out of proportion and demand an inordinate amount of mental energy. As yourself if it’s really worth the trouble. Will it matter in six months? Six days?
- Cultivate gratitude, as an attitude of gratitude has a powerful impact on physical and mental wellbeing. Learn to focus on the good in your life.
- A recently published study claims to have found no relationship between life expectancy and life satisfaction, see for yourself and make up your critical mind: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-35052404