“I haven’t written anything on my gratitude page for almost a week” I said to my hubby. “That’s because you’ve been too busy putting quarters in the jar.”
Okay, let me explain…. For Lent this year, I decided that I was going to give up negative speech – fussing at the TV, complaining about someone else’s actions, speaking negatively to myself….. anything that wasn’t constructive or had the potential to put me in a negative frame of mind.
In order to give myself a physical reminder, every time I catch myself being negative, I put a quarter in a little jelly jar I put front and center on our coffee table. I was doing pretty good for a little while, but now, it’s March 18th and I’ve already put in $10.00. Yikes!
Words are powerful, and the thoughts that precede those words can be even more powerful. For this Wellness Wednesday, I’d like to talk a little about our thoughts and how they affect our overall wellness.
According to Ron Breazeale Ph.D. in his article, Thoughts, Neurotransmitters, Body-Mind Connection in Psychology Today,
“the mind is capable of immense effects on the body. The literature has demonstrated again and again that thoughts affect neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that allow the brain to communicate with different parts of itself and the nervous system. Neurotransmitters control virtually all of the body’s functions, from feeling happy to modulating hormones to dealing with stress. Therefore, our thoughts influence our bodies directly because the body interprets the messages coming from the brain to prepare us for whatever is expected.”
Since our thoughts can have such profound effects on our overall wellness, it’s important that we not just let our thoughts run willy-nilly through our brains. In her book How to Switch On Your Brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf says, “Purposefully catching your thoughts can control the brain’s sensory processing, the brain’s rewiring, the neurotransmitters, the genetic expression, and cellular activity in a positive or negative direction. You choose.” We can actively choose which thoughts to entertain.
According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking and optimism may provide benefits such as
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
With all these potential benefits, wouldn’t it be worth the effort to move toward a more positive mindset?
As we talked about in Are We Sabotaging Our Wellness Efforts, in order to do that, we might have to get rid of some ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts. This term was coined by Dr. Daniel Amen, founder of the Amen Clinic and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. These ANTs are the thoughts that pop up and make their way into our brains (and into our bodies via chemical changes) before we even realize we’re having them. As we’ve discussed before, our automatic thoughts can’t always be trusted. They don’t always tell the truth.
An important disclaimer here though: I am NOT talking about just ignoring any negative thoughts or feelings we may have. It’s important to recognize and process thoughts or feelings that are causing concern.
Especially during this time when we’re seeing such scary reports everywhere we look, it can be easy to allow our thoughts to lead us down a path of anxiety or fear, but if we examine them rather than giving them free reign, we may be able to prevent some of the stress associated with them.
We can ask ourselves a few questions:
- Is this thought based on fact or fear?
- Could this thought be reframed? If so, how can I frame it in a more positive light?
- Is there anything I can do to impact whatever situation I’m concerned about?
I’m going to be honest with you – right now, I’m having those occasional moments of anxiety about what’s going on. When that happens, I take those thoughts captive and examine them. I’ve also found a couple of other strategies that help me deal with the fear around this situation:
- Limit the amount of time spent watching the news updates on Covid 19. I’ve started limiting myself to an update in the morning and one in the evening.
- Refrain from scrolling through the endless social media posts, etc. about this. For me, following the CDC guidance to keep my family safe is enough. I don’t need to hear what everyone else has to say about it. That just stresses me out.
- Look for the ‘good news’ stories that are being reported. I told my husband this morning that we’re seeing the worst and the best of humanity because of this. At the beginning of this, we saw the worst of humanity as people have been hoarding supplies to the point those who desperately need them can’t get them. Now though, we’re seeing the best of humanity as people actively look for ways they can help. As Mister Rogers’ mother told him about scary situations, “Look for the helpers.”
- Stay busy. This can give us something to concentrate on other than the scary things going on around us.
- Exercise. Even if we can’t do purposeful exercise, moving around can help us feel better.
Finding constructive ways to deal with those times fear and anxiety try to take over can put us in a position to better examine our thoughts and ensure they’re serving us well.
Our thoughts have the power to impact our overall wellness either positively or negatively. Since they have so much power over our health, it’s vital that we learn to use them to our advantage.
Have you ever found yourself sliding into thoughts or behaviors that negatively impact your wellness? How did you deal with it? Please share!
Change Your Brain Change Your Life, Daniel G. Amen, M.D., 1998, Penguin Random House, New York
Switch On Your Brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf, 2013, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI