How Negative Thoughts Kill by Damaging Our DNA
Do you see red when someone cuts past you at the checkout counter? Do you think they deliberately did it? Beware, you are cutting short your life, warn molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn — who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2009 — and health psychologist Elissa Epel, who studies stress and ageing.
The authors claim in their new book, The Telomere Effect, that negative thoughts harm our health at the DNA level. Research has shown that a person’s “social relationships, environments and lifestyles” affect their genes. “Even though we are born with a particular set of genes, the way we live can influence how they express themselves.”
Blackburn and Epel say components of DNA called telomeres determine how fast our cells age. Short telomeres are one of the major reasons human cells grow old, but lab tests have shown that they can also grow longer. In other words, ageing “could possibly be accelerated or slowed — and, in some aspects, even reversed.”
The shopper in the above case, who sees red when someone cuts past him at the checkout counter, is an example of ‘cynical hostility’. “People who score high on measures of cynical hostility tend to get more cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease and often die at younger ages. They also have shorter telomeres.”
Pessimism shortens telomeres too. “When pessimists develop an ageing-related illness, like cancer or heart disease, the illness tends to progress faster… They tend to die earlier,” warn the authors.
Several studies have been conducted around the world on post-surgical recovery of patients. It was found that those who were optimists with a positive mindset, had a faster rate of recovery after surgery and were discharged earlier, compared to the pessimists with a negative mindset. They took longer time to recover after surgery and were discharged much later than the optimists.
Ruminating over a bad situation is also destructive. “Rumination never leads to a solution, only to more ruminating… When we ruminate, stress sticks around in the body long after the reason for the stress is over.” The resulting depression and anxiety only make our telomeres shorter.
Ruminating is akin to brooding or worrying. Worry gives a small thing a big shadow. If worries can cure your sickness, then go ahead and worry. If worries can prolong your life, then go ahead and worry. If worries can exchange for happiness, then go ahead and worry. If worries can improve your financial condition, then go ahead and worry. Our kids have come with their own destiny and will make their own fortune accordingly. In fact, we should not worry about anything. Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain.
However good or bad a situation is, it will change. Don’t spend time brooding over sorrows or mistakes. Don’t be one who never gets over things. Frame every so-called disaster with these words “in 5 years will this matter?” Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
The faculty of imagination is for creativity. It should not be misused for ruminating, brooding or worrying.
Trying to suppress thoughts and feelings makes matters worse. “The more forcefully we push our thoughts away, the louder they call out for our attention… In a small study, greater avoidance of negative feelings and thoughts was associated with shorter telomeres.” Suppression can lead to perversion.
“None can destroy iron, but its own rust can! Likewise, none can destroy a person, but his own mindset can.” — Ratan Tata
Don’t get identified with the contents — that is, emotions and thoughts — of the mind and intellect equipment and get carried away by them. Observe the mind as a witnessing consciousness. It will remove the sting from the negative thoughts and feelings.
Even lack of focus is bad for telomeres because “when people are not thinking about what they’re doing, they’re not as happy as when they’re engaged.” Lack of focus means either the mind wanders into the past or the future and is not available to us in the present moment. We cannot change a single moment of our past, but we can ruin our present by nurturing past grievances and worrying about a future mired in uncertainties. To have full focus on what we are doing, we should do it with full awareness and not do it mechanically. Let the mind and the eyes be where the hands are working.
To reverse the harm to telomeres, keep the body well hydrated, keep at optimum level all the nutrition in the body including vitamins and minerals, practice hathayoga or long-distance running and spend some time in meditation.
Baby mosquito came back after flying for the first time.
His dad asked him, “How do you feel?”
He replied, “It was wonderful, everyone was clapping for me!”