Question: I really don’t believe that the way I think affects my health.  I’ve heard you say that affirmations and positive emotions can improve my health.  I don’t believe that’s true for me.

Answer: Thank you for your question.  I can understand why you doubt that your thinking has any affect on your health. But it’s not just your thoughts.  Your emotions and feelings play a big part, too.  And for most, we experience life in a reactive way, instead of proactively taking charge of our thoughts, feelings and emotions.

It is an ancient truth and belief that has been confirmed in many ways, especially during the last half of the twentieth century.  The stress response, is triggered by the perception of danger, not danger itself.  You must perceive the situation as dangerous.  Otherwise your body will not prepare you to run or fight.

That stress response is present in all animals, not just people. Your entire body, every organ, and cell, is affected by how you think and feel.  Most people aren’t aware that your thoughts trigger the release of powerful hormones that communicate with your cells to match how you are feeling.

I believe our reaction to stress is one of the greatest determining factors of our health status that we have control over.  Not access to health care, not our genes, not medication, but the way we perceive and thus respond to stress on a daily basis.

It is not the situation that is the most important factor, but our response to it that determines how our body is impacted by the experience.

The US Department of Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) estimated 85-90% of all doctor visits are stress related.  And during the vast majority of these visits, stress is not appropriately addressed.

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. There’s a lot of research that now shows how one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions can impact their health in either a positive or harmful way.  Simply positive emotions are healthy, while negative ones such as fear, anger, hostility, etc., on a long term basis can be harmful.

There’s too much to discuss regarding this particular topic.  Here’s a link to a page on the positive psychology website that has a link to numerous video including several TED talks given by positive psychology scholars and researchers.

Positive psychology—positive emotions make a difference.

I cannot convince you of anything.  I would suggest that you explore with an open mind.  My mission is  to share.

Self-affirmation–thinking positively about oneself has been long believed to be beneficial.  I know I feel better when I focus on anything positive–especially those aspects of myself.

A recent study published in the Healthy Psychology journal substantiates this age old practice and belief.

Daily stresses can be erosive to our self-image.  The self-affirmation theory believes the impact of daily stress can be minimized if a person makes a positive affirmation regarding his or her internal and psychological resources.

This study investigated if self-affirmation would reduce the cumulative stress responses to an ongoing stressor among college students.  The students were randomly assigned to the self-affirmation group.  Over the two week period, prior to the exam, they wrote two essays on important values.  The students assigned to the control group did not.

The samples were analyzed for stress hormones.  The participants provided urine samples on the morning of their most stressful examination, which was compared to a baseline sample taken 14 days before the examination.

Participants in the control condition increased in cumulative epinephrine levels from baseline to examination, while the participants in the self-affirmation condition did not differ from baseline to examination. The protective effect of self-affirmation was strongest among the students who were most worried about a negative evaluation, i.e., those who were the most vulnerable psychologically.

The findings suggest the sympathetic nervous system responses stress can be significantly reduced by self-affirmation.  It confirms there are psychological pathways by which self-affirmation can reduce stress and potentially impact the state of health among people with chronic stress.

To your good health!

Dr. Elaine