As a physician who treats patients in acute and chronic pain, I have had the opportunity to apply what I coach my patients: a positive attitude is powerful in healing the mind and body.
In January of 2011, I was involved in a head-on collision which, I gratefully survived, and did not have a severe head injury. Yet it still took five years to fully recover. Before the accident, I was working, traveling with my husband, and doing interval and weight exercise training. After the accident, even breathing hurt and I could barely lift a glass of water.
Using a positive attitude to focus on the now
With my medical knowledge, I understood the extent of my injuries, and knew it was questionable as to how much I could recover. So I decided to hold the vision of my full recovery. I found it invaluable not to “drive down the road looking in the rearview mirror,” lamenting what I was able to do before the accident, but instead focus on what I could do in this moment. I found the more I celebrated each incremental step in the healing process, the more I healed. Having gratitude for being alive and keeping a positive attitude helped support my body’s recovery and my healing journey.
A positive attitude is a state of being or viewpoint that promotes positive thinking. It is the foundation for an optimistic outlook and leads to constructive, affirmative thinking. Both have multiple health benefits, enhancing a state of wellbeing.
How the brain responds to positive thinking
The brain’s ability to change with repetition, called neuroplasticity, gives it the capacity to change over time. Neuroscience studies have shown that repetitive movement or behaviors grow brain matter, regardless of age. This also involves positive thinking: the more consistent positive thoughts, the more brain neurons change chemical signals, altering the structure and function of the brain associated with positive behavioral changes and healing. These changes can also be positive or negative depending on the consistency of behaviors, such as exercising daily or drug addiction, for example. The brain changes can go either way.
Health benefits of positive attitude
Research shows that a positive attitude can heal the mind and body.
Having a positive attitude:
Helps reduce the effects of stress, so that you can manage stress instead of stress managing you.
Can boost the immune system, which helps fight viruses, improves cardiovascular health, and helps you make better life choices.
Brightens the moment or situation.
Creates an opportunity to see a greater purpose in the experience and gain wisdom.
Sends positive messages to the body, promoting healing.
A positive attitude is like a tree trunk grounded into the earth and positive thoughts are the branches that stem from the trunk. Positive thoughts reinforce a positive attitude. As a positive attitude grows, so do positive thoughts that change and alter the brain through neuroplasticity, bringing healthy change to the mind and body.
Further reading on a positive attitude
Here are articles on a positive attitude, positive thinking, healing and living longer:
1) Harvard Health Publishing: How to achieve a positive attitude, Learning to think positively may extend your life
2) Johns Hopkins Medicine: The Power of Positive Thinking
3) Mayo Clinic: Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress
4) Positive Psychology today: What is Neuroplasticity? Definition + 14 Brain Plasticity Exercises