Why negative thoughts make you feel old
- This relentless bad news is seriously bad news
- How negative thinking affects your memory, sleep and libido
- The chronic 21st century condition that can accelerate the ageing process
There’s a lot of it about, isn’t there?
Bad news everywhere, all the time.
Unlike in the old days, you don’t only get bad news at 6pm or 10pm when the TV news is on, or when you glance through the newspaper on the train.
Bad news has seeped out of those old school formats…
And it has spread into every corner of daily life.
The bad news is on rolling TV news, on the radio, on social media, on newsfeeds, on smart phone alerts that tell you the bad news as soon as it happens, whether you like it or not.
Go onto Facebook – hello bad news!
Check your email – ugh, more bad news!
Sit in silence in your kitchen with a cup of tea – “PING” – you stare down at your phone to see… a fresh nugget of bad news!
For instance, on Monday morning I switched on my computer to see a news headline about bubonic plague in China.
Then I read that apparently the Alps are turning pink thanks to algae replacing melted ice, thanks to global warming.
Immediately after that, I saw a headline about cancer…
A new Health Data Research UK study has suggested that we could have up to 35,000 excess cancer deaths in the next year, all thanks to the pandemic.
This is because the crisis has halted or delayed many diagnoses, with an estimated 2 million breast, bowel and cervical cancer screenings missed already.
All that bad news in the space of a few minutes.
And I hadn’t even drunk my morning coffee yet!
Perhaps life is always going to be a bit like this in the new digital age where we have screens on our desks and in the palms of our hands…
But thanks to covid-19, the negative news is more relentless than usual, with worrying implications for almost all of us.
Because it’s not just the horrible virus itself that’s the problem, but the havoc it’s wreaking on businesses, the arts and education.
Then there’s what I would call the ‘invisible’ effects…
The ones that are hard to measure but will cause problems over time.
One of these might be the long-term impact of negative thoughts caused by the combination of a pandemic and the 24/7 rolling newsfeeds of the digital world.
The risk of constant negative thoughts
I’ve seen even some of the sunniest, most optimistic of my friends become quite down in the dumps over the past 3 months.
It’s not always one bad thing that gets to us…
It’s the drip feed of sadness and worry…
All those small problems, obstacles and fears building up, day by day.
These persistent negative thoughts can have a major impact on our health.
Studies have shown that chronic stress disrupts your sleep patterns, lowers your libido, and ruins your concentration.
As the American author Robert Albert Bloch once said:
“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”
It can also affect your memory. For instance, in 2018, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that people with high levels of blood cortisol had poorer memory powers when compared to subjects with normal cortisol levels.
Early this month, a new study in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, showed that chronic negative thinking could raise the risk of dementia.
It does this by contributing to high blood pressure and other issues linked to an increase of dementia. But also, during brain scans it was found that those who were plagued by bad thoughts had more deposits of two proteins linked to Alzheimer’s.
To make matters worse during a global pandemic, chronic negativity lowers your immunity.
For instance, last year, a study at Pennsylvania State University found that constant negative moods change the way in which the immune response functions and increases inflammation.
It has also been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and gastrointestinal problems.
In other words, being plagued by negative thoughts can age you more quickly, leading to poor concentration and memory, higher inflammation and weaker resistance to disease, as well as a potentially higher risk of dementia.
So what’s the solution?
How to reduce the impact of gloomy thoughts
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to simply switch off negative thoughts like a light switch.
Some of us are predisposed to think that way and this behaviour is ingrained. What’s more, if you are having a bad time of things right now, it might be that the reasons are unavoidable.
What you can do, however, is tackle the underlying stress factors that are making things worse. For instance, Dr. Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui from Harvard Medical School, who led one of the studies into the effects of chronic negative thinking, suggests:
“It’s important for people to find ways to reduce stress, such as getting enough sleep, engaging in moderate exercise, incorporating relaxation techniques into their daily lives.”
You could also try and control the negative news feed that might be fanning the flames of your anxiety.
For example, switch off any news feeds and alerts on your phone and computers, so that you physically have to log on, or go to a website, in order to read news.
Limit your exposure to social media, so that you don’t get hit by bad news stories you didn’t want and aren’t mentally prepared for.
Perhaps log on once or twice a day at times when you are most relaxed and best able to process the information.
Instead of listening to live radio, maybe choose podcasts or online music streams where there aren’t regular breaks for the news.
I’m not saying that you should shut out the world entirely and remain ignorant – but simply that you should control your exposure to news.
Be kind to yourself.
You see, when you look at the media, the world seems a crazy, uncertain place, but if you step away from the screen, there’s still a beautiful world outside your doorstep, where time moves much more slowly and peacefully.
Once a day, go into that world and pay attention to it. Take 20 minutes to appreciate the here and now. Listen to birdsong, feel grass beneath your feet or smell the flowers.
Take a walk… cook yourself a meal… bake something or do something artistic.
Even the act of sitting still in a quiet room for ten minutes will work wonders.
These things might seem like indulgences – luxuries that you are too busy to afford – but they could be vital for your long-term health.