How's your mental landscape? Are you a beacon of peace and inner tranquility - or are you feeling withdrawn and stressed? Our expert blogger for Health & Wellbeing Renée Leonard-Stainton shares her tips on thinking yourself healthy.
What if you had the ability to heal your body just by changing how you think and feel? There’s a growing body of evidence that the purely physical realm of illness—the part you can diagnose with laboratory tests—is only part of the equation. Yes, it's a big part, but there may be a lot more to it. It seems our habitual thoughts and emotions significantly determine our level of health and the quality of our lives.
You could be doing everything “right” for gaining good health - skolling back superfood smoothies, avoiding processed foods, religiously working out and sleeping your 8+ hours every night, yet you’re constantly getting struck down by viruses and are strung out with stress. Sound familiar? So why is it that so-called health nuts can be sicker than other people who over-indulge, rarely take supplements and consider a gentle stroll with the dog their exercise done for the day?
Research has found that savoring the moment and positive thinking can help to not only improve your current health, but can also prevent future health complications. In particular, the findings revealed positive thoughts to be especially beneficial to those already suffering from diseases like coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Placebos are fantastic evidence that the power of mind can help heal the body. A simple sugar pill can work wonders if the person taking the sugar pill believes it will work. Belief is a powerful mechanism.
The “nocebo effect” is the flip-side to the better-known placebo effect and also illustrates the power of the mind. While a placebo pill can make you feel better, warnings of fictional side-effects (nocebo) can make you feel those too. This is a common problem in pharmaceutical trials and a 1980s study found that heart patients were far more likely to suffer side-effects from their blood-thinning medication if they had first been warned of the medication’s side-effects.
So, what can we do to ‘think ourselves to good health’?
Become an Optimist
Studies have shown that optimists are healthier and happier, and enjoy life at a much higher level than pessimists. Learning to be optimistic means getting in the habit of thinking with a positive attitude. Our attitude is just like our physical body, in that it requires constant conditioning to stay fit. Just as you won’t find yourself in peak physical condition after sporadic exercise sessions, positive thinking will take training and persistence.
Practise Positive Affirmations
We all have beliefs about ourselves and life in general – like being prone to ill health or that life is stressful and hard. Become mindful to your inner thoughts, maybe write them down and re-phrase them into positive, uplifting ones. For example, if your belief about yourself is “I always get every bug going around”, you could start telling yourself “My immune system is totally capable to fight off germs for me” instead.
When your old belief arises, calmly recognise it and tell yourself it’s not necessary. Then repeat your new, positive phrase a couple of times. Positive affirmations can make changes on the subconscious mind to create a healthy, positive self-image and existence. By consistently repeating positive affirmations to yourself, you can embed these positive thoughts into your subconscious. These new, productive thoughts will replay automatically throughout your life and each time they replay, they’ll reinforce the new positive inner-image you have of yourself and your life in general. By replacing old, negative thinking with positive subconscious thoughts, you’ll be able to create a new, healthy reality for yourself.
Practise Mindful Meditation
A study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that meditating daily for just half-an-hour can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. The study, which looked at 47 clinical trials including over 3,500 patients, showed meditating could also help reduce pain and lower stress levels.
Many people don’t know where to start with meditation.Taking up yoga may be one idea, as this incorporates meditation, breathing and stretching exercises and will help to focus the mind. However, it’s also possible to start meditating at home.
5 Simple Steps for Successful Meditation
#1: Chose a room where you don’t work, exercise or sleep.
#2: Sit or lie comfortably and try different positions until you find a relaxing pose.
#3: Breathe slowly and deeply to slow the heart rate. Focus entirely on your breathing to clear your mind.
#4: Notice your body by focusing all your attention on your feet, then move up through the body, visualising each body part relaxing.
#5: Every time your mind wanders, return to focusing on your breath.
Meditation is a practised discipline. Chances are that losing the ability to focus on meditation is parallel with your inability to focus in other areas of your life!
Engage in Enjoyable Health Habits
Healthy eating and exercise shouldn’t be something you resent or dread. It can be easier and more sustainable to look for an eating regime and some kind of movement that you truly enjoy. You don’t enjoy drinking whizzed up kale? No worries, incorporate your greens into more traditional stir frys! Running on a treadmill in a sweaty gym doesn’t appeal? Try hiking mountains, dancing around your living room, swimming in the ocean or some tennis in the sun. There are alternatives!
Enjoying the process will make you crave healthy living and consequently decrease your stress levels. It should feel like you are working with yourself, instead of against. Don’t buy into the ‘no pain no gain’ attitude towards gaining good health!
Increase Daily Laughter
By laughing frequently and taking a lighter view of life, you’ll find that life is much more enjoyable.
Medical research confirms that laughter;
• Improves the immune system
• Enhances blood flow and improves cardiovascular function
• Releases natural mood-elevating and pain-killing chemicals
• Improves the transfer of oxygen and nutrients to internal organs
Surround yourself with people who make you happy, comfortable, and confident. They’ll be the ones you have the best laughs with. When we’re comfortable, we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously, and can often open up to even have a laugh at ourselves.
While the reality is that life isn’t always one big laugh, we should strive to remember that it’s not what happens in our lives that determines our well-being; it’s our response to the challenges that shapes the quality of our life. Hardship, heartbreak, ill-health, and failures are often the fuel for happiness, compassion, good health and success. And remember, happiness exists right now and not just when you’ll have achieved all of your health goals!