How Negative Thoughts Affect Our Mental And Physical Health
Isn’t it surprising that less than 5% of people worldwide are healthy, means are they not suffering from any health-related illness? Merely one in 20 persons had no health problem, with a third of the world’s population experiencing more than 5 illnesses, as per the Global Burden of Disease Study of 2013. Sicknesses are becoming widespread.
Now in present day world, more people die from non-communicable diseases like diabetes, heart diseases, cancer etc. Comparatively, very few people now die from infectious diseases, due to bacteria, viral and fungal infections.
Nearly one hundred years back, the top 3 causes of death were infectious diseases, that is pneumonia and flu, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal infections. Now the leading causes of death in modern age are cardiovascular disease, lung and respiratory diseases, cancer, diabetes and obesity. These are called life style diseases, which are affecting around 75% of the population. The way we live is largely dependent on our mental state. Mind is at the centre stage of our life. Outer reality is nothing but a refection of our inner world, that is mind.
Most of us have given thought to the popular truism that “Our thoughts create our reality.” Though this may sound odd to some, it’s a scientifically proven fact. The tenor of thoughts that flow through our mind has profound bearing on our mental and physical health and well-being.
Suppose we are stuck in heavy traffic and we have to attend a very important meeting with some senior government official; stressful thoughts of getting delayed and its likely implications generate immediate feelings in the body. If mental stress persists for an extended period, it becomes chronic in nature. Chronic stress sooner or later creates many physical problems such as headache, weight gain/obesity and diabetes.
How exactly do thoughts affect the body? How could our thoughts make us sick or happy?
These are some of the recurring questions that many people struggle with. When we suffer from chronic stress, cortisol hormone is secreted in greater quantity. It’s released by adrenal glands, which are situated above both kidneys. Under normal circumstances, cortisol is essential as it helps our body to deal with stressful conditions. However, when cortisol levels become high over a longer period of time, it starts becoming harmful.
If we engage negative and stressful thoughts for a long time, many health-related issues may arise because of decreased immunity. There is a direct link between chronic stress and impaired immune function. “Stress hormone” cortisol suppresses our body’s immune system. Once immunity is low, we become susceptible to infectious and other diseases.
People who exhibit more negativity in their behaviour and thinking tend to fall sick more often compared to optimist people. Negativity is often a product of their life’s conditions, events, personality and behaviour problem, and health issues. Under such situations, people get trapped in their negative thoughts and emotions. Prolonged negativity is also making people more likely to turn to smoking or substance abuse as a way of coping.
It has been confirmed through innumerable studies that negative and toxic thoughts lead to mental stress and related mental diseases, such as depression and anxiety.
It’s a well-established fact that the mind is biased towards negativity. While it’s often restless, “satisfactoriness” is the mind’s default setting. We also tend to overthink, either worrying about something or ruminating about some past event. This too makes us highly susceptible to negative and distressing thoughts.
Such thoughts are very “sticky” and difficult to get rid of. Unless we are skilled in the art of managing our thoughts well, we are prone to many diseases due to low immunity. The source of many lifestyle diseases lies in our inability to handle our thoughts and feelings.
Emotions have a profound effect on our health. This happens due to low immunity, occasioned by life-snuffing thoughts and behaviours. It has been established that our emotions directly affect our immune response.
In fact, negative moods may change the way in which the immune system functions. Pioneering work done in this field by Dr Candace Pert, an eminent American neuroscientist and pharmacologist who extensively researched neuropeptides, inspired Dr Pert to refer to them as “molecules of emotion.”
Pert describes the mysterious energy connecting body to mind and emotions as the free flow of information carried by the biochemistry of emotion – that is peptides and their receptors.
What are neuropeptides
As previously described, neuropeptides are small protein-like molecules used by neurons (billions of cells forming dense networks in the brain) to communicate with each other. They are neuronal signalling molecules that influence the activity of the brain in specific ways.
Different neuropeptides are involved in a wide range of brain functions, including metabolism, reproduction, social learning, and memory. The strong link between emotional responses and the biochemical change they produce, specifically in the immune system, forms the basis of the nascent field known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI).
PNI explores the links between mind and body in regard to the immune system. The immune cells communicate directly with the brain, and vice versa, via neuropeptides. Cells in the immune system are responsive to all the neuropeptides that are triggered by our thoughts and emotions.
When we are emotional, neuropeptides travel throughout our body and influence the functioning of various types of body cells. Neuropeptides change their own configuration, like a chameleon, due to thoughts and emotions.
According to Dr Pert, depending upon the thoughts and emotions, specific neuropeptides are made in the brain and nervous system, white blood cells, reproductive cells, digestive system, and heart. They form a two-way network between psyche and soma, mind and body.
The complex communication network between cells, neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, hormones, the immune system, blood, and nerves enables the body-mind to work as one healthy balanced person.
Among the most common health disorders are depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Tens of millions of people suffer from these disorders around the world. In India, an estimated 56 million people are dealing with depression, and 38 million from anxiety disorders, according to a report by the World Health Organisation.
We have a serious mental health crisis in India. Likewise, millions of people suffer from lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart and lung disease. All these mental and physical illnesses originate from our inability to manage our thoughts well.
The main causes of lifestyle diseases are lack of physical exercise, bad eating habits, chronic stress, and substance abuse. Most of the diseases start with low immunity, when our inner fighting system against bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms is weak.
As we have seen, our thoughts and emotions affect our immunity level. If we learn to witness and control our thoughts, emotions, and thinking patterns, we can surely manage our immunity. Mental disciplines like mindfulness and meditation can also help us to improve our ability to handle thoughts in healthy manner.
Every time when we get trapped in negative and harmful thoughts, we should remember that if we allow these thoughts to persist for a longer time in our mind, they will sooner or later impact our physical health. We should never treat mind as a separate entity located inside our skull. Mind, body and self are all part of a single psychosomatic entity