How Being Cynical Changes Your Brain
If you're someone who always sees the cup half empty, you may be hurting yourself more than you realize. Having a bad attitude about life can seem harmless, but it can have some profound effects on your wellbeing. There a number of ways being cynical can change your brain, and it can impact everything from your mood to even your risk of disease in the future. Although it may not come naturally to you, adopting a more optimistic attitude can help bring about some positive changes into your life.
"Every thought we have changes the structure of our brains," cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf, tells Bustle. "If we constantly have negative thoughts, always imagining the worst, we build these thoughts into our brain, which affects our future thoughts, words, and behavior. It is, of course, normal to be a little 'pessimistic,' which often helps us see our circumstances for what they are [...] On the other hand, deliberating on our negative thoughts and feelings and allowing pessimism to take over our minds is incredibly damaging to the brain."
For the sake of your health, it's time to flip that bad attitude around. Here are six ways being cynical can change your brain, according to experts.
1. It Puts It Into A State Of Stress
Constantly seeing the world through a cynical lens changes your brain by impacting your ability to see the best in any given situation, which makes it harder to handle stress. "This weakens your bodily systems and sets you up for many different kinds of health issues," Dr. Leaf says. "A number of studies have highlighted the link between pessimism, coronary heart disease and reduced lifespan, while other studies have shown the link between cynical attitudes and a compromised immune system."
2. It Stifles Creativity
Feeling stuck? Pessimism can impact your ability to use your imagination. "Deliberate, negative thinking such as, 'This will always go bad' and 'This is how it will always be' can literally paralyze our imagination and ability to think creatively, inhibiting success in school, life, and work by creating negative reinforcing feedback loops in the brain," Dr. Leaf says. Negative thinking can undermine creativity because it causes your brain to focus on avoiding failure or negative outcomes, according to research published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
3. It Makes You More Likely To Engage In Risky Behaviors
"Pessimism tends to cloud our judgment and encourage negative thinking patterns that lead to riskier activities," Dr. Leaf says. "Many studies have shown the relationship between cynical, hostile mindsets and an increased risk for harmful behaviors such as smoking [...] and excessive alcohol consumption. These behaviors not only affect our physical health but mental health as well."
4. It Puts You At Greater Risk For Anxiety/Depression
When you're cynical, it can lead to intrusive thinking patterns that are associated with the onset of depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. "Constantly thinking things will go badly plants seeds of pessimism in our non-conscious mind, which will affect the way we think, speak and act in the future," Dr. Leaf says. "This can lead to thinking disorders such as depression and anxiety, as we are repeatedly anticipating the worst, which strengthens our pessimistic mindset and makes it harder for us to be optimistic about our circumstances."
5. It Overworks the Brain
By constantly anticipating the worst, you never allow your brain a break. "There is a flood of chemicals throughout the brain, which engulfs the neurons and can lead to atrophy," Dr. Leaf says. "This affects memory — this is literally 'cell suicide.' In turn, it impacts our ability to think clearly and with wisdom. Although a little bit of pessimism can be good for us, a pessimistic mindset impedes our ability to evaluate our circumstances and think rationally."
6. It Puts You At Greater Risk For Dementia
Cynical thinking can have long-term effects on your brain health as well. One study published in the American Academy of Neurology found that those with cynical distrust, which is defined as the belief that others are mainly motivated by selfish concerns, were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism.
There's no problem with being realistic, but take a too pessimistic view of life, and your mental health could suffer. If you find it difficult to shake your cynicism, it can be useful to see a cognitive behavioral therapist, who can help you adopt a more positive mindset.