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Positive Thinking

Thinking, emotions, and behaviors intertwine very closely and each can change the others. This article is focused on the importance of our thoughts, how they help or trouble us, and what to do about our counterproductive thought habits.

Voodoo deaths, faith cures, the placebo effect, and hypnosis all provide dramatic evidence for the power of thinking. Voodoo deaths seem to come from the great anxiety and loss of hope in the cursed person caused by one overwhelming thought, the belief that death inevitably awaits. Faith cures at religious sites or by charismatic healers may come from a newly acquired serenity, acceptance, confidence, and vigor due to belief in the cure that reduces helplessness and allows one to notice small improvements and pay less attention to symptoms or problems. Faith in the cure may help some people to stop gaining sympathy and attention for the sick role. Perhaps believing in the cure reduces anxiety and the experience of pain. Such changes may alleviate an emotional problem or overcome a physical one. Perhaps these improved feelings and behaviors produce beneficial effects on the disease processes themselves.

In the placebo effect, believing someone gave you an effective cure can sometimes improve emotional or physical problems, especially pain.  Researchers mislead patients by treating them with placebos, inactive imitations of medicines such as sugar pills or injections of saltwater.  New research combining 114 studies of placebo shows that placebos don't help nearly as many people as believed in the past.  Many studies found no placebo effect at all.  However, the new research shows patients in pain studies given placebos report an average of a 15% reduction in pain and shows a smaller placebo effect in other studies with subjective measures such as ratings of how much symptoms bother the patient.

Placebos occasionally cause unpleasant side effects: heart palpitations, insomnia, weakness, nervousness, drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, nausea, vomiting, rashes, hives, swelling of the lips, constipation, diarrhea, etc.  When the patients stop taking the placebo, the side effects disappear.  The simple belief that one took a potent drug causes these reactions.  Researchers don't understand the placebo effect, but all the possible explanations for faith cures noted above may also apply here.  Psychologists often take advantage of the placebo effect by giving glowing testimonials about the effectiveness of their techniques, because they know making believers of their clients will result in more cures.  Hypnosis, treating people with the power of suggestion, also highlights the power of thinking.

When a problem frustrates us, we should either do something constructive about it or learn to accept it. Negative thinking resigns you to problem emotions and keeps you from feeling calm and content and confronting problems in constructive ways. Instead of seeing problems as normal, tolerable, manageable, or challenges to overcome, people with habits of negative thinking often overreact and blow things out of proportion. Negative thoughts continually create bad feelings and cause misery or upset over life circumstances. 

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