This article is written by Roy Emmerson. Approximately 12.2% of people suffer from an anxiety disorder in any given year, making these problems much more common than mood disorders, schizophrenia and eating disorders. Anxiety disorders contribute to personal suffering, disability, economic loss and cost to health care systems. In fact, one of the most common anxiety … Read more >
When’s the last time someone told you to “just be positive” after sharing your struggles?
There’s a tricky relationship between positive thinking, health and happiness. Over the past decade, experts have promoted positivity as a simple but highly effective tool to lead a happier and healthier life.
And rightfully so. Positivity has been linked to lower levels of stress, stronger immunity, better cardiovascular health, increased feelings of physical and emotional wellbeing, and even a longer lifespan. Cultivating positive feelings like joy, hope and inspiration also builds good mental habits such as attention, resilience and optimism, which in turn buffer the potential negative effects of stressful times.
But anyone’s who’s ever been seriously sick knows there’s another side to positive thinking and health.
Have you ever stopped to think how the information you absorb all day long influences you? How does following the news, reading books, listening to podcasts, browsing the net and playing video games make you feel? And how does this mental input impact your thought patterns, brain chemistry and following physiological reactions?
In the previous post, we talked about the importance of minding your mental diet. We also covered 5 essential questions to ask yourself about how much and which kind of input you want to consume. Now it’s time for the next step: how can you crowd out the ‘mental junk food’ and add more ‘virtual vitamins’ to your mental diet?
Have a look at these 28 tips to nourish your mind in a healthy way.
Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
— Chinese proverb
In recent years, we’ve learned to be selective about what we put into our bodies. After all, “we are what we eat”, and the food we consume forms the building blocks of our bodies and health. But how many of us ever stop to think about what we put into our minds every day?
Like the Chinese proverb above explains, we are shaped by our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. When you’re scared, angry, excited or in love, those thoughts and emotions trigger the release of specific neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers tell your body how to respond to the situation at hand – freeze, fight, flight, make love.
Much of the time, your thoughts cause temporary physiological changes, like that rush of dopamine you feel when you score a goal. But when something becomes a mental habit – like constant worrying or practicing gratitude every day – the patterns of neural activity sculpt your brain in more permanent ways. Busy regions in your brain will form new connections, which makes those neurological pathways stronger and more receptive to that specific mix of neurochemicals.
What’s more, what you repeatedly think shapes your deepest beliefs about yourself and the world. Your beliefs steer your actions, and regular actions become the habits that mold your daily life and (in part) your health.
That’s why a thought isn’t just a thought – it has the power to transform your life.
But your thoughts usually don’t appear out of nowhere. They don’t exist in a vacuum either. Your ideas, intentions, opinions, feelings and worries are sparked by the available input around you. The magazines you’re reading, the articles you’re browsing online and the TV shows you watch every week – they all have an impact on your thought patterns, mood, brain chemistry and corresponding physiological reactions.
And now that we’re bombarded with more information than ever before in history, it’s become even more important to mind your mental diet. But in a world filled with both chocolate bars and brain candy, what does a healthy mental diet look like? How can you nourish your mind with ‘nutrient-rich input’ and consume less ‘empty mental calories’?
When you’ve endured deep pain and hardship, your heart seems to crack wide open for other people’s suffering too. You wouldn’t want anyone else to go through the same despair, loneliness and aching you’ve experienced. That’s why I believe in the famous words of mother Theresa:
“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
Being a caring person doesn’t just do good, it also feels good. Scientific research suggests that compassion and altruism aren’t just positive for the world, they’re great for your own health too. According to brain-imaging studies, giving to others is as rewarding as receiving. It promotes happiness, social connections and even longevity. What’s more, researchers found that people who were happy because they lived a purposeful life rich in compassion and altruism, had low inflammation levels, which is associated with a reduced risk of illness.
And best of all, generosity and kindness seem to be contagious, spreading to others like a chain reaction. All the more reason to spread a little love with random acts of kindness!
On a side note: I understand that the phrase ‘random acts of kindness’ refers to the inconsistency of the small kind gestures, compared to doing weekly volunteer work or serving your country through your daily work. But when you purposely try to do good on a somewhat regular basis, it’s not that random, right?
Now volunteering in a soup kitchen, participating in a beach clean-up or joining a Big Brother, Big Sister program are all noble causes. But when you’re chronically ill, in financial troubles or overwhelmed from juggling work and home life, you may have the heart of a philanthropist, but not the matching bank account or physical resources. That’s why I made a list of ‘not-so random’ acts of kindness that anyone can do’, even if you’re sick, sad or without money to donate.
Have a look at these 44 acts of kindness to support loved ones, strengthen your community and make the world a nicer place (while boosting your own health too!).
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