The thoughts we think shape us as people: everything from what we believe about the world and about ourselves, to the way we respond to situations in our lives. But for whatever reason, there is one type of thought that we are just bent on as human beings. That is the cycle of negative thinking. Have you ever noticed that it takes very little effort to get angry at a driver who cuts you off, or to become impatient with your significant other when they’ve done something that didn’t meet your expectation? (oh yes, been there, done that.)
There’s one very big problem with this negative thought pattern – the way it amplifies and creates stress within us. We feel miserable when our thoughts become miserable. And this extends beyond just our mental & emotional health. Stress has very real physical effects on our bodies. Though this bit of wisdom has been known for centuries, modern research is finding more and more just how (and how much) our mental & emotional stress directly impacts our physical health. These effects include decreased immune response (see what the American Psychological Association has to say about this), digestive upset, headache, muscular tension, and more—and, in the long term, can include high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes (source: Mayo Clinic).
Stress can affect just about every area of our physical health – so it’s no wonder managing stress is a key foundation to health & wellness! There are a multitude of strategies we can put into practice to help with managing stress, but a simple thing you can start doing today is to practice positive thinking. Okay, I know what you’re probably thinking – this all sounds like some really fluffy, rainbows-and-unicorns denial of reality. That’s not what I’m talking about at all – the positive thinking I’m referring to is a shift in perspective.
Here are 5 perspective-shifters you can start practicing today:
1. embrace gratitude. Setting your focus on the things you are thankful for is an instant way to break out of the cycle of discontentment. We can become so fixed on everything that is wrong in our worlds that we forget everything that is so good. An interesting exercise is to spend two minutes each day thinking about all the things you have to be thankful for. This will train your brain to think from a thankful perspective, instead of a discontented, never-satisfied mindset. Even now, I’m sure you can bring to mind at least ten things you have to be thankful for. Practicing thankfulness is a life-changing habit!
2. look for the silver lining. Surely, on any given day, there are a bajillion terrible things that may happen. I fully sympathize with each of them! Looking for the “silver lining,” though, is a guaranteed way to change your perspective in the midst of adversity. This can be in simple things – I couldn’t find my keys this morning, but I am so glad I have keys to go missing. You’re stuck in traffic – take that opportunity to put on some great music and enjoy a moment to yourself. And in more significant ordeals, though grief and stress may be inevitable, having the perspective that there is something to be gained through adversity is invaluable and makes getting through it just a little bit easier.
4. smile. Ever hear the phrase, “fake it ’til you make it”? This is actually very true of our emotions & thought life! Genuinely smiling – even when you don’t feel like it – triggers positive feelings in our brains. Try smiling as you read the rest of this article & let me know how you feel at the end of it! This effect is contagious: when you smile at others, you are guaranteed to get smiles back – it’s a natural human response.
5. notice the little things. I don’t think there’s anything more productive to a positive mindset than to be observant and to notice the little things around you – after all, they’re everywhere. Find and take notice of the everyday joys in life – a beautiful sky, your favorite dessert, a small piece of good news. Laugh often, and look for the humor in every situation. You could say I’m rather easily amused – but I have no shame at taking joy in the tiniest things! Laughter does so much to influence emotional & physical health for the better, to reduce stress levels, and to increase healthy immune response. So search for the simple things. As a challenge, find something each day to photograph and document your #simplejoys. Focusing on the good things raises our hope and expectation for good in others and in ourselves.
#simplejoys instagram photo challengeupload a photo a day for the next 50 days of something simple that brings you joy, using the hashtag #simplejoyschallenge