Repetitive negative thinking is tied to cognitive and neuropathological markers of Alzheimer’s disease, a longitudinal study showed. Patterns of repeated rumination or worry were associated with subsequent declines in global cognition, immediate memory, and delayed memory.
“This study identifies a novel and potentially modifiable psychological process – repetitive negative thinking – that is associated with increased risk for dementia,” Marchant said.
The fact that repetitive negative thinking might be detrimental to longterm mental health probably shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the links to specific outcomes like global cognition and memory seem new and important to me.
But “potentially modifiable” was the phrase that interested me most.
Is it possible for people who persistently worry or possess a perpetually negative outlook on life alter these states for longterm mental health?
For some, perhaps not. You can’t simply change your brain chemistry or rid yourself of past trauma by willing it away. For some, persistent negative thinking may not be so malleable.
But for many, I suspect the answer may be yes. “Potentially modifiable” might be a real thing.
I aggressively attempt to avoid negative thinking at all costs. I recently described myself as oppressively optimistic, and Elysha agreed.
She agreed in not so positive way. Sort of a “Yes, and it really sucks” kind of way.
Oh well. No cognitive decline for me, at least not as a result of repetitive negative thinking.
And yes, I know that I can sometimes be crushingly sunny. I spend a great deal of time trying to convince people that things are going to be okay. The world is not so bad. Problems are often conquerable and temporary. Complaining gets you nowhere. I know that many people find my disposition challenging and even offensive.
I’m planning a TED Talk on the subject. I’m sure it will annoy many.
Too bad. I think that sunny is right. Optimism rules. Positivity is precious.
Admittedly, I am not oppressively optimistic because of a fear for cognitive decline, though I’ll happily add it to my list.
I have a few reasons for my oppressive optimism:
- I don’t enjoy the company of persistently negative people and complainers, so I try not to be one myself.
- I find that people are happier and more excited to spend time with me if I have a positive attitude.
- I feel better about myself and the world when I’m not worrying or trapped in negative thinking.
- My past struggles often make the problems of today seem small and petty by comparison.
- I think that Martin Luther King, Jr. was correct when he said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
- Multiple studies have concluded that optimists are healthier, more productive, and live longer.
With a list like that, why not at least try to rid yourself of some negative thinking?
If you’d like to give it a try, here are a few simply strategies that boost my optimism every day:
- I exercise every day. Biking, golf, swimming, and a morning routine of push-ups, sit-up, and planks are my current staples. Nothing boosts my mood better than exercising. Yet less than 5% of American adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week.
- I stay informed, choosing my news sources carefully. During the pandemic, for example, I have followed the vaccine trials and developments of therapeutics closely. I understand what a phase 1, 2 and 3 trial involve. I know the current status of the Oxford and Moderna studies. I can tell you the evolving thinking on herd immunity. Back in early February, I was aware of the coming pandemic before most people because I stay informed. Elysha and I stocked up on supplies like toilet paper and prescription drugs long before the supply chains were stretched and broken. I was telling colleagues about the coming pandemic in early February, and some thought I was crazy. But being well informed eliminates the worry of not knowing, prepares me for moment, and offers me hope for the future.
- I meditate daily. Teaching yourself to clear your mind is an outstanding way to eliminate worry.
- I sleep well. This is not possible for everyone, I know, but if you watch television in bed, spend significant time on your phone while in bed, read in bed, constantly alter your sleep patterns depending on the day, or hit the snooze alarm, you are not taking sleep seriously and are probably losing valuable REM time as a result. Yes, I sleep fewer hours than most people, but I spend that time in bed well.
- I spend time in nature. Spending time around trees and looking at trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood. Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at trees reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
There are many other things I do and many more things that I could be doing, of course. But these five strategies are simple and doable by just about everyone regardless of your lifestyle.
For me, one of the biggest boosts to my positivity is time spent in the company of another positive person. I have two people in my life who are even more oppressively positive and optimistic than me, and they have become role models of sorts for me. Reminders that further progress is possible. Examples of how infectious and appealing a positive person can be.