How powerful is positive thinking?

Sierra Ball

Can positive thinking really change your circumstances?

We have all heard the adage, “Just think positively,” as if that will actually do anything in terms of dealing with a stressful event.

I prefer to think realistically. I face life with a “face the facts” type of mentality. If there is bad news, just give it to me straight.

I don’t appreciate mincing words or omitting truths to spare my feelings. I want the full truth and nothing but the truth. Even if it’s painful.

However, this type of stance has inadvertently created a pessimistic attitude because I anticipate bad news.

I may need to take a step back and reevaluate this no holds-barred attitude. There is a growing field in Psychology, called Positive Psychology, which asserts that the habit of thinking positively can change our body’s physiological response to stress.

Consider, for example, you are experiencing a problem in your relationship. Every time you think about it your palms begin to sweat and your face becomes hot and flushed. The narrative in your mind is dominated by all the things your partner did that upset you.

Now imagine your best friend calls, to whom you are able to immediately express your feelings on this matter. However, as you are trash talking your partner, you become aware of the damage this talk is doing to their reputation in your best friend’s mind, so you begin to present their side of the argument — possibly the first time you have taken a second to do so.

I present the notion that even if thinking positively can’t actually do anything to affect the facts of a stressful situation, keeping a positive attitude can do something real in affecting our body’s physiological response to the stress.”

— Sierra Ball

Maybe you consider that your partner had no intention of hurting your feelings in the situation and, for the first time, afford them the benefit of the doubt. Suddenly, your mood softens toward the situation and you are better able to consider both sides.

With your emotions settled, you resolve the conflict with your partner.

If only you had taken the time to think positively about the situation from the get-go you would have saved yourself a great deal of stress and your partner’s reputation with your best friend.

This is one example of how thinking positively may have affected a stressful situation. But, there are many stressful things in our everyday life that could be influenced by positive thinking.

I present the notion that even if thinking positively can’t actually do anything to affect the facts of a stressful situation, keeping a positive attitude can do something real in affecting our body’s physiological response to the stress.

When we are presented with a stressful situation our sympathetic nervous system is activated. Our body physically responds by releasing the hormone cortisol, which was evolutionarily selected for in the event of life-threatening situations. Did you know this hormone acts as a poisonous agent in our bloodstream? The only way this hormone is released is through “fight or flight.”

In our modern world, the fight or flight response to stress is extremely rare, but the release of cortisol into our bloodstream is not. When we face a stressful situation and our bloodstream floods with cortisol, venting to our best friend about the problem will not release this deadly toxin from our body.

Let this serve as a motivator for reframing our thinking to find ways to think positively, and save our health – not only mental, but physical.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Give yourself the chance to be optimistic. Let yourself anticipate good things. Smile. Laugh. It is literally good for your health.