“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, ” Charles R. Swindoll, author.
As we are living in unprecedented times with a global pandemic going on, it is very easy to get caught up in negative situations, increasingly concerning news and depressing thoughts. According to Michigan State University Extension’s Stress Less with Mindfulness Program, a person has 80,000 thoughts a day! Of these thoughts, 90 percent are ones we have had before, with 80 percent of these repeated thoughts being negative. Due to our current COVID-19 situation, these numbers most likely even higher.
That only leaves space for 10 percent of daily thoughts to be focused on the positive! It’s no wonder so many Americans struggle with debilitating stress and anxiety. High stress and anxiety levels decrease our immune levels, making us more susceptible to illnesses, including COVID-19. However, this is not the end of the story. The great news is that we have the ability to recognize, refocus and therefore change those negative thoughts towards more positive thinking.
There was a study that initially started in 1976 surveying 70,000 registered nurses, age range 30-55, about their physical and mental health as well as their habits related to things like diet, exercise, smoking and drinking. In 2004, the study began adding questionnaires about optimism, following the subjects for 8 more years, until 2012.
The researchers looked at participants’ levels of optimism and other factors that might play a role in how optimism may affect mortality risk. Other factors were also tracked, such as race, high blood pressure, diet, and physical activity. The study concluded that the women who had the highest optimism scores had a 16 percent lower risk of dying from cancer, a 38 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease, a 39 percent lower risk of dying from stroke, a 38 percent lower risk of dying from respiratory disease and 52 percent lower risk of dying from infection.
In the past, the research has shown that optimism is associated with increased physical activity and higher-quality sleep. Optimism has also been correlated to people practicing gratitude and positive self talk, abstention from cigarette smoking and consumption of healthier diets.
Additionally, optimism has been associated with controlling one’s mindset. Psychologist Dr. Susan Albers suggests that some helpful ways to control your own mindset: “work with a counselor, join with a friend, hang up optimistic messages, watch films and movies with a hopeful, positive message, find the silver lining in the situation.”
Other stress relieving tips? There are many choices: plant a garden, draw a picture, play with clay, invest in a stress ball or thinking putty and more. Choose one that appeals to you; take up an old hobby or learn a new one. Tapping into our right brain, creative side and using our hands, helps get us out of our negative thoughts and into looking at situations from a fresh, different perspective; working through our mental blocks and formulating our new ideas more clearly.
Eric S. Kim, Kaitlin A. Hagan, Francine Grodstein, tuatioDawn L. DeMeo, Immaculata De Vivo, Laura D. Kubzansky. “Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study”, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 185, Issue 1, 1 January 2017, Pages 21–29, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kww182
Feldscher, Karen. “How Power of Positive Thinking Works.” News.harvard.edu , The Harvard Gazette , 7 Dec. 2016, news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/12/optistic-women-live-longer-are-healthier/.
Millett, Maria. “Challenge Your Negative Thoughts.” Www.canr.msu.edu, Michigan State University , 31 Mar. 2017, www.canr.msu.edu/news/challenge_your_negative_thoughtswww.canr.msu.edu.