Can positive thinking really improve your health? Our Activities Department and many researchers say that it absolutely can.

Taking an optimistic view of life can strengthen your relationships, improve your coping ability and keep you in good health. Getting the brain to stop focusing on negative thoughts can be challenging, but it’s absolutely possible. The first step is learning how to spot your negative thought patterns and replace them with positive thoughts.

According to research, having a positive, optimistic outlook can lower levels of inflammation and heart disease risk. Having a positive outlook about aging can also reduce the risk of dementia in older adults according to a study done at Yale. Training your brain to focus on the positive causes less stress throughout your day, according to David Burns, MD, a psychologist and an adjunct clinical professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the author of The Feeling Good Handbook.

Spotting Negative Thoughts
According to Dr. Burns, Cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to identify thoughts and find alternative (positive) approaches. Ten thought distortions that may lead to negative thinking and depression:

1. Black and white thinking or thinking in terms of absolutes such as “always or never” or “all or nothing”
2. Overgeneralizing one mistake or bad outcome into a lifelong pattern, also called “catastrophizing”
3. Focusing on bad aspects instead of good aspects of events
4. Ignoring the positives and giving negatives too much weight
5. Making assumptions, both about people and the future
6. Minimizing or magnifying issues
7. Reasoning by emotion, such as saying, “I don’t feel good about that person, so she must be awful.”
8. “Should” statements, such as: “By now I should be rich.”
9. Negative self-labeling or name-calling, such as, “I’m an idiot.”
10. Blaming or personalizing and overlooking shared responsibility for situations or events
Ways to get your brain on the right track
The only way to really expand any skill is to practice and build habits that reinforce that behavior. In order to become more positive, you should focus on doing activities that can help focus on these emotions. Meditation, journaling, practicing daily gratitude, and surrounding yourself with positive people are all ways to actively change your thinking.

Positive Thinking Group at JGJ (Hilltop Campus) was started by the Activities Department as a way to keep residents in high spirits and focus on the joys of life. The group meets regularly to complete a variety of activities that keep them focused on having a positive attitude about aging and their day-to-day lives. So far, a group favorite is “The Dr. Emoto Rice & Water” experiment (link below). At every group meeting, they share their daily gratitudes, big and small, as well as watch videos about how positive thinking and showing gratitude can have an impact on our lives. Gale, a current group member, has been working hard on trying to be more positive and acceptant in her daily life. She said that the group really helps her stay focused on that personal goal of hers. She admitted that some days are harder than others to get herself thinking positively, but when she goes to the group, it helps her mind get back on the right track. Gale explained that she’s always been a worrier, but she knows that the old saying is true… “Worrying is like a rocking chair–you can move all day but you don’t get anywhere.”

The group of residents realized that they’re not alone in the daily battle to stay positive. They discussed the fact that caregivers and other employees at UMH are taking care of residents, helping them, and solving their problems all day on top of what might be going on in their personal lives. The group decided that they needed to do something about it, which is whey they’re now making an effort to spread the good vibes throughout the campus. The residents started writing “Thank You” notes and making bulletin board posts with positive quotes for anyone to take who need a little pick-me-up. The most recent project that the group is working on is creating t-shirts to help spread good vibes and smiles around the campus.

30 days of love, hate and indifference: Rice and water experiment #1