Mental Health Moment | Positivity
May 25, 2022
Did you know that regularly thinking negative thoughts changes your brain chemistry and you begin to automatically think negatively more often? On the flip side, when you regularly think positive thoughts, your brain chemistry also changes so that your default thoughts are more positive. I think it’s fascinating that you can essentially train your brain to become more positive-thinking, through regular “exercise,” just like you can do with the rest of your body.
Saturating yourself with positives – reading positive things like good news and affirmation messages, watching positive things like happy movies and comedy, listening to positive music, and surrounding yourself with people who think optimistically – can begin to change the chemicals in your brain in the same way that an anti-depressant would do. This takes consistent and continuous effort, but even after only a month or so of purposefully taking in positives, you will notice a change in yourself and your thoughts, your approach to daily life, and your mood. Being continuous and purposeful about taking in positives can have an ongoing positive effect on you.
When a person struggles with depression, a simple explanation is that it is an imbalance of chemistry in the brain, affecting the brain’s communicators (transmitters). Anti-depressants work to balance these. Connectors in the brain stop connecting properly, blocking the flow of the positive chemicals, and the negative chemicals begin to be released more regularly, causing this imbalance. The positive chemicals are Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, Norepinephrine, and Oxytocin, each of which affect you differently. When you’re stressed or angry your brain releases a chemical called Cortisol, and too much of this can cause prolonged negative effects.
I do want to point out, though, that if you know someone who is experiencing depression you can’t expect them to just start thinking positively, and you shouldn’t tell them to just snap out of it. To tell them that they need to just start being different, acting differently, or feeling differently is just like telling someone who doesn’t have physical strength to just “be stronger.” Depression is very much about brain chemistry, and anyone experiencing the effects of it is not going to be able to just decide to be different. The chemistry needs to be changed, and then the outcome, or the effects, will change.
As you go through your week, start growing your awareness of how much negativity you’re taking in compared to the amount of positivity. If you find that you’re reading and watching all the bad news in the media, but no good news, try balancing that out. If you find that most of your comments or responses are pessimistic, try a therapy technique called “reframing,” where you change elements of a story to take out the blame, the negative emotion, and resentment, and reframe it so that it becomes strictly factual and with a “silver lining.”
I work primarily with First Responders, and they regularly see the negative side of things, since people don’t call them when things are going great. They see abuse, accidents, anger, violence, and they are often on the receiving end of everything someone is going through on their worst day. They are saturated with the negatives in the world, and they see the less pleasant side of humanity. All of this has a negative effect, in addition to the trauma they experience, by changing their brain chemistry and leading them to expect the worst. Someone who’s never experienced any of this may drive up on a car accident and feel frightened, but hopeful and optimistic that everyone is okay. A First Responder arrives on that same scene and will immediately expect to see very difficult things and will immediately replay all of the previous and similar experiences they’ve had, which have taught them how the accident probably happened, as well as what they will find when they get a closer look. When we have been lied to regularly, we expect people to lie to us. When we respond to violence regularly, we begin to expect someone to be violent. That’s just how the brain chemistry works, and how we are affected by the things we see, hear, and experience regularly.
How can you add positivity to your world, and begin to change your own automatic thoughts and emotions? I encourage you, this week, to start trying to be more aware of what you’re taking in and start to trade out the negatives with positives. Keep doing it, purposefully and continuously, and watch how you may start to feel differently about life.