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Think Yourself Healthy

By JEFFARAH GIBSON

Tribune Features Writer

jgibson@tribunemedia.net

All of your efforts to stick to a well-balanced diet and engage in regular physical activity could come to nothing if your negative thoughts are left unchecked.

Science has shown the impact thoughts, both good and bad, can have on one's health. In short, positive thinking equates to good health, and the opposite is true as well - negative thinking is can lead to poor health, according to Bahamian psychologist Kirkland Pratt.

"Human beings have evolved with a remarkable brain and nervous system that enables us to calculate thoughts and respond swiftly to threatening situations. We are wired to optimise every opportunity to survive and to stay alive," Mr Pratt told Tribune Health.

When people engage in stressful, negative thinking, the brain is tricked into thinking there is an immediate threat that must be eliminated. Stress hormones then flood the bloodstream, prompting quick action by the body.

"This is referred to as flight-or-fright. Conversely, when we think positively, our brain assumes that everything is under control and no action is needed. In this way, all of the adverse physiological problems associated with chronic and/or unchecked stress such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes pose significantly less probability of manifesting in the body," he said.

Factors that lead to negative thinking

A plethora of things can influence negative thoughts - from the music you listen to, to the online content you consume on a daily basis, to the shows/movies you watch. But three factors that many people are sometimes unaware of that impact their thought life are cyclical regret, anxiety about the now, and fear of the future, Mr Pratt said.

Many older people go through cyclical regret - dwelling on the highs and lows of their lives and what they have not been able to accomplish.

"Occasionally, situations in life prompt the triggers that pull us back into that place of shame and/or darkness. It is important during these episodes to always remember the fallible nature of human beings and, of course, the art of self-forgiveness. Certainly, stacking one's achievements against the perceived failures creates a balance necessary to put one's life into perspective from an introspective point of view. Notwithstanding that, nobody is perfect," he said.

Then there are those who experience negative effects due to their fear of the future and worries about will happen to them.

"We seek clues in all that is observable around us to determine what we might expect down the road. Will the future bring abundance and fortune, or will it bring heartbreak? All too often we act prematurely when anxious about potential outcomes," said Mr Pratt.

"Some not only fear the future, but are anxious and worry about the present. We are worry warts when we are good and ready: 'Did I leave the stove on?', 'Is this outfit OK for work?', 'Will I be OK for retirement?', 'What if this headache is the onset of an aneurysm?', 'Will I ever find love?', 'Why don't I look the way I did 20 years ago?', 'Why does the boss not seem to like me?', et cetera. Worry in and of itself is part and parcel of fear - fear that we are missing something significant. Considering all of the competing priorities in our lives, we can easily become inundated with it all. This obsession of sorts may - in nonstarter fashion - cause us to forget the really important things, thus causing major confusion and even giving us the appearance of appearing scatter-brained at work or in an environment that is dependent on our input."

However, Mr Pratt said these fears and anxieties are an relatively easy fix.

"While we must maintain a high level of accountability for ourselves, it is important that we learn not to take ourselves too seriously, that we see conflict as an agitator to get it done and done well," he told Tribune Health.

Why you shouldn't be a 'negative Nancy' or 'negative Nick'

"It's simple - positive thinking can increase a person's life span. And the thought alone of living longer and having a much more fulfilling life is something to smile about and get the ball rolling," said Mr Pratt

"Professor of Psychology Suzanne Segerstrom once posited: 'People who are optimistic are more committed to their goals, are more successful in achieving their goals, are more satisfied with their lives, and have better mental and physical health when compared to more pessimistic people'."

A Dutch study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that those of a pessimistic disposition were 55 per cent more likely to die during the nine-year follow-up period. The effect was particularly strong in men.

"A longer life is certainly something to smile about," said Mr Pratt.

In addition to that, he said, thinking positively can contribute to having a robust immune system, reduce risk of death from cardiovascular disease, slow down the aging process and much more.

"Socially, when you think about it, who wants to be around a sourpuss? Negative thinking may actually turn away potentially great friendships; all because people can quickly become weary of a negative presence," he said.

Put it into practice

Monitoring your thoughts and keeping yourself from negative reflection takes practice, especially for those who are generally pessimistic.

Mr Pratt suggests making a concerted effort to always look on the bright side of any situation, and in the cases of no bright side, immediately consider the lessons that this situation of distress can teach you.

"Good, soothing music can turn anxiety into smooth, sweet thoughts much in the way that a good workout can. Maintaining a healthy diet can also heal the body into a more positive, overall healthy disposition. Surrounding yourself with positive people and environments creates a comfort level and a personal culture of fulfilment. It is always advisable to keep your good networking working. Also, acquiring a pet and/or plants provide a feeling of nurturing and responsibility," said Mr Pratt.

"There is great support and much reference to positive thinking across faith-based belief systems. Buddha says, 'Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment'. The Bible - Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) 7 says, 'For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.' And a common school of thought offers that we are what we constantly think about. Overall, a personal resolve to focus on all that is good about life and any little situation becomes a way of life for those intent on finding happiness."

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