Can we teach ourselves to have a more positive outlook?
Headlines last week gave us another possible clue into a risk factor for developing dementia.
Research in recent years has shown that lifestyle factors such as exercise, what we eat, our quality of sleep and how we manage stress over our lifetime are important to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimers dementia. Now we have some evidence looking at a possible psychological risk factor.
New research, from a small study in London of 360 participants over the age of 55 have found that ‘repetitive negative thinking’ was linked to cognitive decline and poorer memory***
What does that mean?
We naturally will have a more positive or negative outlook on things based on our genes, personality and circumstances. Thinking negatively and re living negative experiences or thoughts can be feature of some mental health disorders including depression depending on how much these symptoms recur and have an effect on your day to day life. In a negative thinking vicious cycle, this way of thinking can make your more likely to suffer with depression and can also be a symptom of this condition
This study linked these types of negative thought patterns to worsening memory over a 4 year period as well as cognitive decline. Imaging of the participants brains also showed a larger build up of 2 substances linked to an increased risk of Alzheimers dementia - 2 proteins know as Amyloid and Tau.
Can we change how we think just like that? If we decide we want to see the silver lining in something can we find it?
Research suggests yes, but it might take practice - whilst we will all have our own tendencies to seeing the glass half full or half empty we can make the conscious decision to look at things differently. The more we practice seeing things this way, the easier we find it to identify the positive way of viewing a situation
Your health benefits from a positive attitude.
A positive outlook has been linked to improved cardiovascular health, an improved immune system, a better diet and even improved lung function**. Why? Amongst other theories are that people with an optimistic view point on life are more likely to adopt healthier behaviours such as exercise, a better diet and stop or avoid smoking.
The mental health benefits are clear - optimists are more likely to cope with difficult situations and see their way through problems therefore reducing their risk of depression.
How to develop a positive outlook
- Meditate- 30 minutes a day has been shown to have positive effects in just 2 weeks*
- Express thanks- keeping a gratitude journal, noting down 3 things a day we are grateful for, can help us develop a positive outlook
- Speak up about mental health- if you are finding it really hard to see the positive, maybe you feel that when someone is talking positively about things it feels like they are talking a different language, it’s important to talk to someone about how you are feeling. Talking therapies can help with symptoms of depression, anxiety and help you understand your thought patterns.
Dr Clara Russell