When you have negative thoughts your body is automatically put into a “fight or flight” type response. By having a pessimistic attitude, you are constantly bracing yourself for the worst possible outcome, which puts your body in a constant state of stress. This causes your sympathetic nervous system to create a cascade of events that result in the release norepinephrine and epinephrine. These hormones cause immediate physical reactions to improve your chances of winning the fight or outrunning your attacker. These reactions include acceleration of your heart and lung function, slowing down of your digestive system, dilation of your pupils, constriction and relaxation of your blood vessels, and releasing fat and sugar for muscle energy. When your body is always primed for action like this, it gets tired. This can lead to mood swings between agitation, anxiety, and depression. You may also experience decreased memory and attentiveness. Not only is our mental health affected, but our physical health is too. When we are constantly on edge, we feel fatigue and low energy and are at an increased risk for depression. It also weakness our immune system which means our bodies can not fight off bacteria and illness, putting us at an increased risk for getting sick.
In order to change your mindset from being negative to positive, you must identify your negative thinking in real time. There are many ways in which we “speak” to ourselves in a negative way including filtering, personalizing, catastrophizing, and polarizing. Filtering is when we magnify the negative aspects of a story and minimize (or filter) out the positive aspects. Personalizing involves blaming ourselves automatically when something bad occurs. Catastrophizing is just what it sounds like… anticipating the absolute worst thing to happen in a situation or turning something small that happened into a big event that leads to your whole day being ruined. Polarizing means you are seeing the situation as completely bad or completely good, no in between. With all of these types of self-talk, and when we have a negative attitude in general, not only are we expecting the worst but we are also taking an active part in making the worst happen. Just like positive thoughts lead to more positive thoughts, the same is true for negative thoughts. By recognizing when we are having these negative thoughts initially, we can put a stop to them and prevent them from taking over the rest of our day.
So what can you do to change your mindset ? First is to identify the areas in need of change. Think about the areas of your life, or time of day, where you tend to think more negatively. Once you identify these areas, starting checking yourself. When you notice yourself thinking negatively, or periodically throughout your day, stop and focus on the way you are thinking. If you notice yourself in a negative thought pattern, think about the positive aspects of that situation to flip the switch in your brain. Other tips for staying positive include staying open to humor, leading a healthy lifestyle, and surrounding yourself with other positive people.
In my opinion the most important step to changing your mindset it to start practicing positive self-talk. When I hear someone speaking negatively about him or herself, I always say to them “You should talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend”. A lot of the things we think about ourselves, we probably wouldn’t dare say to one of our closest friends, especially when we are thinking of ourselves critically. One example of changing the way you talk to yourself would be to say, “I love to take on a challenge” instead of thinking “this is too hard”. As soon as a negative thought enters your mind, find the positive in the situation and repeat that to yourself a few times instead.
Remember that this is a process, just like anything else and it will take time to make these changes. Be encouraging and gentle with yourself. By practicing your positive mind set daily, your self-talk will eventually become less self-critical and you will feel more self-acceptance. By allowing yourself to make one small change, you could be taking the first step into improving many aspects of your life!