It’s not always easy to stay positive – but dwelling on negative thoughts can do more than put you in a blue mood; your thoughts affect the way you feel mentally and physically, says Helen Grusd, PhD, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist who specializes in health psychology. Studies have shown that gloomy thoughts can worsen pain and fatigue and negatively affect your immune system.
Fortunately, positive thinking can have the opposite effect. Try these simple mood boosters.
Have a laugh
Research shows that laughter decreases levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. It may also help support the immune system and protect against infection. And a long laugh works much like exercise to lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol. So grab a funny book, turn on a good sitcom or check out a favorite comedian on YouTube.
Call a friend
When you are feeling down, reach out to friends who don’t ignore your pain, but also don’t dwell on it, says Grusd. “If we surround ourselves with people who are joyous, who are hopeful and laugh and live in the moment, that often makes us feel so much better,” she says.
You probably have a lot to be grateful about, despite your arthritis – maybe it’s a supportive spouse or friends, a talent you’re proud of or a park where you can enjoy nature. Focusing on gratitude distracts from pain. Write about it in a journal or letters. According to research, showing gratitude can ease depression, lower stress levels and even reduce biomarkers of inflammation.
Get lost in a song
It’s hard for negative thoughts to take hold when you’re listening to happy music. A 2013 study found that listening to upbeat music improved moods short term, and boosted overall happiness over a two-week period. Another study found people with fibromyalgia reported lower pain levels after listening to their favorite music.
Doing anything is better than doing nothing, says Grusd. “Don’t just lie in bed; get up, even if you are hurting.” Soak in a warm bath, go out for coffee or take a walk – even just to your mailbox. If you want a hamburger but don’t feel like cooking, have one delivered. Even that can act as an antidepressant, she says.
These types of mood-boosters work best when practiced regularly and before your mood sinks too low, says Grusd. Keep a list of activities that bring you joy, and turn to them when negative thoughts start to creep in.
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