Creating a Positive Mindset

As I consider stress and it’s correlation to health and disease, I find myself viewing this relationship much like the “chicken or the egg” scenario. While studies undeniably show that chronic stress has been shown to impair the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems 1, I think its important to remember that this health/stress relationship goes both ways. Oftentimes, it is the impairment of one’s health that actually causes stress; ultimately beginning that vicious cycle of increased stress, decreased health, added stress, further declining health… and so on. However, while health-related factors are certainly one of the most common sources of stress today other causes include relationships, money, work and simple life changes (marriage, pregnancy, divorce and death).

When it comes to stress, and mindset in general, I’ve found that there tend to be two very different kinds of people in the world- those who continually search for and find the sunny side of life and those who continually struggle with feelings of doubt, discontent, dislike, anxiety and general unhappiness. While I think people by nature tend to “wired” to be either more optimistic or pessimistic by nature, I also know that there are daily activities that we can all partake in to not only decrease stress, but also improve health and our overall quality of life.

Positive Mindset- When it comes to stress, work, health, money, death, relationships and pretty much all things in life, the mindset that we maintain drastically influences perception and ultimately our reality. On a daily basis we can choose to see the good in our world, or opt to focus on the negative. We can choose to be thankful for the money we have or continually obsess about how much more we “need”. We can love our spouse, friends and peers for their good traits or dwell on their negative qualities. We can be thankful for the simple amenities we take for granted daily or continually envy those luxuries we wish we had. We have the option to be thankful for the parts of our bodies that are healthy and vital or continue to obsess losing last 10 pounds. I’m not saying this is an easy process, however I know with certainty that we all have the option to choose the way that we will perceive the world around us.

Acts of Joy

One of the best ways to improve mindset is to include regular acts of joy into one’s life. Laughter has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, improve adrenal fatigue, strengthen the immune system and combats depression and anxiety. Laughter and other acts of joy have also been shown to release endorphins, chemicals released by the brain are a natural painkiller, mood enhancer, and even give your body an energy boost! (2)

In fact, hospitals and some clinics have even implemented laughter therapy to complement traditional treatments for those with serious injuries and even cancer. Over 100 hospitals in the U.S. now have “humor rooms” which will likely feel more upbeat, warm, and have a variety of games, comedy movies, creative hobbies such as art, music, and even a regular visiting four-legged friend. According to more studies, laughter therapy has also been shown to support healing by improving circulatory function, enhancing oxygen uptake, and improving digestion. (3)

Surrounding ourselves with fun, positive people on a regular basis can sure help with this area. Watching a funny movie, spending time with fun, loving people, having a pet (or children in some cases), calling up an old friend, or pulling up comical YouTube videos are all ways to attract laughter and joy.

Friends, Family, Peers

When it comes to maintaining a positive mindset, the people we surround ourselves with have a direct effect on our thoughts, perceptions, attitude and mood. While I certainly can’t advise you to cut all of the negative people out of your life for good, I do recommend making it a point to surround yourself with upbeat, positive, happy people every chance you get.

Sense of Purpose

There’s a little person in my life who never fails to make me laugh, bring me joy and fill me with gratitude (and at times she also makes me want to pull my hair out). In addition to being my comic relief, my beautiful daughter (and my wife), also happen to be my ultimate “why”, providing a sense of purpose in my life. Of course, my readers, followers, patients, peers and family are also a huge part of why I get up every morning and do what I do. Did you know that having a strong “sense of purpose” in life has been linked to a reduced risk for mortality and cardiovascular disease, as well as overall better health and longevity?4 A sense of purpose is the force that drives and motivates us to continually strive for improvement. I believe having a sense of purpose means simply making a difference in this world, no matter how big or small. This can be done with good deeds, creating something new, educating, volunteering, being a good parent or role model, motivating, spending time with others or simply being a good person.

Spirituality

Spirituality provides meaning, hope, comfort, peace and oftentimes even a sense of purpose to ones life. For many, this can be in the form of religion; for others it’s simply a matter of believing in something greater than oneself. Regardless of one’s religion or form of spirituality, I strongly believe that daily practices in the form of prayer or meditation are all too often overlooked when it comes to our psychological health. Recent studies assessing cancer patients show that those with religion or spirituality report better physical health, greater ability to perform their usual tasks and fewer physical symptoms of cancer and treatment. In addition, spiritual well-being was linked to less anxiety, depression, and distress among cancer patients.

Possibly even more interesting is another study showing that 79% of US adults believe that spiritual faith can help people recover from illness, injury, or disease.6 Honestly, I’m a firm believer that there are times when we can turn our health around by simply believing and visualizing our bodies growing healthier (as opposed to deteriorating). This may be far-fetched for some, however I believe that our thoughts become our reality and if we think we are sick, depressed, anxious or unwell in some way…. then we’ve already lost the battle.

Meditation

Regardless of ones religious or spiritual stance on life, we can all benefit from daily meditative practices to reduce stress, improve mindset and promote positive awareness of our surroundings. And, the best thing about meditation is that it can be done anywhere, anytime, in countless forms, in a matter of minutes. A 2014 study at John Hopkins showed “moderate” beneficial effects with mindfulness meditation and symptom reduction of depression, anxiety and pain. Results showed meditation to be equally effective for antidepressants! (7)

Some (including myself) will struggle with this simple act of “taking a time out” to wipe the brain clear of stressors, responsibilities, regrets and that never-ending to do list. Keep in mind, that even meditating for a few minutes each day has been shown to be effective for reducing stress and rejuvenating the brain and body; ultimately making your more productive in the long run!

Other daily practices

There are many other daily practices that have been shown to help maintain mental health and positive mindset; really anything that promotes peace, relaxation, joy or clears the brain is beneficial. Habits such as daily exercise or movement, yoga, keeping a gratification journal (or simply mentally listing the things you are grateful for), practicing art, music or dance, or simply regularly partaking in any enjoyable hobby; are all helpful for maintaining a healthy mindset.

References
References
Anderson, N.B. (1998). “Levels of Analysis in Health Science: A Framework for Integrating Sociobehavioral and Biomedical Research,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 840, pp. 563-576.

 

Berk, Ron et al.; Neuroendrocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter; American Journal of the Medical Sciences. Vol. 298, no 6, page 390-396.1989. (May 1, 2009).

 

Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “What is Laughter Therapy?” (May 1, 2009). http://www.cancercenter.com/complementary-alternative-medicine/laughter-therapy.cfm

 

Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. “Sense of purpose in life linked to lower mortality and cardiovascular risk.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 December 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151203112844.htm>.

 

Jim, H. S. L., Pustejovsky, J. E., Park, C. L., Danhauer, S. C., Sherman, A. C., Fitchett, G., Merluzzi, T. V., Munoz, A. R., George, L., Snyder, M. A. and Salsman, J. M. (2015), Religion, spirituality, and physical health in cancer patients: A meta-analysis. Cancer, 121: 3760–3768. doi:10.1002/cncr.29353

 

https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2007/186/10/spirituality-religion-and-health-evidence-and-research-directions

 

McNicol T. Where religion and medicine meet: the new faith in medicine. USA Weekend 1996; 7 April: 4-

 

Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “What is Laughter Therapy?” (May 1, 2009). http://www.cancercenter.com/complementary-alternative-medicine/laughter-therapy.cfm
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