by Dr. Will Cole
The average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts every day, and although that seems like a lot, Stanford researcher Dr. Fred Luskin has found that a staggering 90% of those thoughts are repetitive. Think about that: 9 out of 10 of your thoughts are ones you have over and over again. How unoriginal! What’s worse, for many people, these thoughts are not only repetitive, but negative.
Repetitive, incessant, negative thoughts are stressful, no doubt about it, and over time they can trigger a prolonged cycle of chronic stress that can be seriously damaging to overall health. One study found that psychological stress actually suppresses immunity and increases inflammation. Stress can also be a trigger for autoimmune problems. Research from 2001 revealed that patients with Graves’ disease had more stressful life events before their diagnosis compared to control groups.
Short version: Stress is bad for you! But for most of us, so much of our day is wrapped up in the sublime storm of unconscious, repetitive thought that we don’t even notice how actively we are keeping our own stress alive and thriving.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I see on a daily basis the power of thought and its impact on health. Whatever your health goal is, whether it’s to lose weight, overcome a health condition, or just to feel like yourself again, your thoughts will be the seed of your success or failure.
Here are my suggestions to start moving beyond repetitive negative thoughts to maximize your physical (and mental) health:
1. Practice in-the-moment awareness.
Awareness is like a muscle – if you don’t use it, it gets weak, but if you use it regularly, it gets strong. Tools like mindfulness meditation will help you grow in awareness so you can come to see that you’re not your thoughts, but the observer of them. That can break the repetitive mind chatter and bring you into each present moment.
2. Be kind and loving to yourself.
You can’t heal a body you hate. Years of mentally putting yourself down will hold you back from reclaiming your health and life, even if it is often subconscious. To improve your self-concept, you have to work on it actively and remind yourself each day that your worth is not measured by the scale, the mirror, your bank account, your symptoms, your job, or who your friends are. You are not your diagnosis, but you are who you decide to be. Love yourself enough to nourish the gift of your life and relish all that is good about you.
3. Face down your fears.
Fear and dread can be debilitating to your health, not to mention your happiness and success. From fear of failure to fear of responsibility to fear of success (it’s a thing!), I see my patients struggling with common fears all the time. But you can’t face down a fear that you don’t acknowledge, so practice taking on your fears, bit by bit, and taking them apart so you understand them and can move past them into a better life.
4. Do a tech detox.
The internet has gifted us with quality, useful information at our fingertips, but its dark side is the constant barrage of mindless information, much of it false or misleading or even confidence-killing, that leads to mind-numbing time wasting and negative thoughts. Tech addiction is a highly effective method for avoiding the present moment, and it certainly encourages repetitive thought. Turn down the chatter and unplug with some of my favorite tech detox ideas.
5. Give tai-chi or yoga a try.
After you turn down the mental and social media chatter, fill the time gaps with exercises of silence. Tai-chi and yoga are two great ways to grow in inner stillness as well as gentle outer fitness.
6. Go positive.
You can reverse negative and stressful thoughts just by reading, watching, or listening to positive things. For example, classical or meditation music, a happy podcast, a self-help book, or a funny or uplifting movie can all be effective paths to quieting the mind. Research confirms that we can rewire our brains through practice. In other words, the more we do something, the more we actually change our brains to be more in line with that thing. Make positivity a habit and your brain will adapt.
7. Hang with positive people.
The people you spend most of your time with will either build you up or feed into negative thoughts. That doesn’t mean you have to ditch your childhood buddy who just happens to be a Debbie Downer. Instead, think of it like this: You have three groups of friends 1) Your inner circle of positive friends who mutually support each other and life each other up. 2) The people you know you can have a positive influence on. They may not be great influences on you, but you know your influence on them is stronger and worth doing. 3) Your outer circle can be reserved for those who you know have a negative influence on you. Keep your distance from these “energy vampires,” who are constantly negative or make every conversation about themselves and drain you of your positivity. Love them from a healthy distance.
8. Don’t be so easily offended.
I’ve met many patients who have spent years of their lives being offended by the actions of others, and it has covered them in a blanket of pain and negativity to the extent that it actually affects their health. Replaying a negative event repeatedly in your mind can negatively impact your body and even make the event seem more important and worse than it really was.
No matter how justified you may be, consider that forgiveness may be part of your healing. Realize whatever was done to you was not personal but was the unconsciousness or negative issues within the other person. This is easier said than done, I understand, but it is also a habit to cultivate. Once you recognize how liberating it is to stop taking things personally,you won’t ever want to go back to your easily-offended ways.
9. Sleep it off.
Compulsive negative thinking can keep you up at night. While the above suggestions can help you fall asleep faster, you can also do more to promote a more restful sleep. Turning off the TV and cell phones before bed and reading a book instead is one simple way to promote quality sleep.
10. Feed your brain.
Everything you eat will either feed stress or feed health. Replenish your brain with the nutrients it needs for optimal function, like eggs, grass-fed meat, and some of my other favorite brain foods.
11. Give functional medicine a try.
While I’ve discussed how negative thoughts impact health, the opposite is also true – our health can trigger negative thoughts. Underlying problems, such as leaky gut syndrome, candida overgrowth, microbiome imbalances, brain inflammation, and adrenal fatigue can affect how your brain works, but functional medicine can help you tackle that angle. It’s evidence-based, natural approach to health care takes into consideration the physical as well as mental-emotional components to healing. Take advantage of a free webcam or phone evaluation to see if functional medicine is right for you.
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