It’s possible that what you think can affect your health to a greater degree than you might realize. If you get down on yourself about your weight, for example, it might have a ripple effect that boosts serious health risks.
In a recent study, researchers found that when participants were negative about how much they weighed — often as a result of hearing body-shaming messages from celebrities and on social media — they showed a greater chance of developing metabolic syndrome, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity-related health problems.
“Negativity can actually change your brain chemistry as well,” says Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, author of “Habits of a Happy Brain.” She notes that people often default to negative thinking, which increases levels of cortisol — the hormone responsible for stress response. When cortisol spikes, it lowers hormones related to calmness and joy, like dopamine and serotonin. Increased stress brings its own health problems, including weight gain, insomnia, anxiety and systemic inflammation.
Fortunately, there are ways to tame toxic thinking, especially when it comes to your fitness goals. Here are some tips:
1. GET OBJECTIVE
Sometimes, it helps simply to notice the kinds of thoughts that are firing through your brain, suggests Breuning. The mind gets into patterns and habits, and it takes some effort to shift those, but the first step is to hear yourself. Write down the kind of stinky thinking you tell yourself — you may be surprised by some of the things you “say” inside your head.
2. FOLLOW INSPIRING PEOPLE
Whether you’re a frazzled parent looking for wisdom about work-life balance, or an athlete who worries about overtraining, it’s likely there’s a group of people online facing those exact issues. Connect with them, but also find the ones who feel like they lift you up with what they say and how they live. This shouldn’t produce envy, but instead give you a sense of inspiration and motivation. Check out Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter and find your squad.
3. BE SPECIFIC
“Telling yourself to be more positive is nice, but it’s too vague to be useful,” says Jen Sincero, author of “You Are a Badass.” “Specifics will set you free,” she says. “What do you want to be saying to yourself? What do you hope to accomplish? The more specific you can be, the more you’ll be delivering instructions to your brain.” For example, instead of telling yourself that you “never” do enough at the gym, you might say, “I’m really proud of myself for making time to the get to the gym, and I just killed that last HIIT session.”
4. GET REFLECTIVE
You likely look at your reflection in a mirror at least a dozen times a day — some surveys put the number at closer to 60 — so make the most of it. Choose an action that makes you feel happier, like winking at yourself or sticking your tongue out. You might say a single, calming thought like, “I’m crushing it today,” or “I have time for everything I need to do.”
5. MAKE A MANTRA
Originally used as a word or a sound designed to deepen a meditation practice, a mantra has evolved to mean a statement or motto that’s repeated frequently. Breuning notes that this kind of repetition actually creates new pathways in the brain, rewiring you for more positive thinking. Your mantra could be anything from, “I am amazing and I look amazing,” to a quick, “Go, team me!” Play around with phrasing and notice what gets you to an empowered place the fastest.