Today, we live in societies where stress has become a ‘norm’. Managing stress has entered our daily routines and stress-free life only reminds us of our childhood fairytale book.
But as surprising as it might sound, stress management can pretty much be under everybody’s control. It is possible to reduce the level of stress by having positive thoughts about everything that happens around us.
While it might remind some people of the famous old-time metaphor about the glass-half-full or half-empty, it has long been proven that positive or negative attitude towards life can affect many areas of health and wellbeing.
So why don’t we just all start to think positively?
The fact is positive thinking comes harder than negative thinking. If in order to practice positive thinking a person should follow certain rules and do daily activities, negative thinking comes pretty much ‘naturally’. This is because of the famous ‘negativity bias’ of our brain which makes it more sensitive to negative news and thoughts. It simply means that positive thinking is harder to implement and requires more efforts than negative thinking.
But can the optimistic consequences of positive thinking on stress management outweigh the efforts required to implement positive thinking?
Let’s take a closer look at positive thinking.
What is positive thinking?
In simple words, positive thinking is a mental and emotional attitude of expecting good results. It doesn’t mean you see the world in pink and ignore all the negativity. It simply means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and constructive way.
Many people confuse positive thinking with optimistic blindness. In reality, positive thinking is based on a critical approach to life situations where a more positive behavior to problem-solving is prioritized.
Research has proven that the effects of positive thinking expand beyond good stress management. Numerous positive effects include but are not limited to:
- Less anxiety and depression
- Improved psychological balance
- Better capacity to manage stress and stress-causing events
- Better health and increased lifespan
- Healthier and stronger relationships
- Higher productivity
- The overall feeling of happiness
One of the theories why people feel all the health benefits when they practice positive thinking is because having a positive attitude enables people to cope better with stressful situations, which, in its turn, reduces the harmful effects of stress on one’s health.
So what does positive thinking really have to do with stress management?
In general, positive people tend to take more risks in life because thinking positively helps the brain think more widely and consider more opportunities. When something goes wrong positive people tend to ‘blame’ the external factors for the failure, whereas negative people, or pessimists, tend to blame themselves in such situations. As a result, they shut themselves down to new opportunities and see only limited choices when a problem arises.
To some extent, this explains why negative events are handled easier when a positive attitude is adopted.
There has also been scientific proof as to how positive thinking influences stress management.
Studies by Andrews and colleagues (2008) have shown that women and men who are happier and have more positive thoughts and feelings usually experience lower levels of stress hormone cortisol(this hormone is also responsible for harming the immune system, among other things). So the results basically suggest that the way you think effects on how you manage stress.
Back to optimists and pessimists. People who think positively see failure as a set of unfortunate circumstances. Their answer to failure is the immediate reaction to fix the problem without limiting their own opportunities. In other words, they have a problem-solving mechanism that immediately starts working when something negative happens.
On the contrary, people who think negatively only see the negative pattern behind the problem and see no point in trying to fix it, as “It will anyway end negatively.”
But can negative-thinking be transformed into positive-thinking?
It has been proven that by repeating certain tips continuously on a daily basis can help every person apprehend positive thinking and change the spin of negativity for good.
How can positive thinking be practiced?
A lot of people think that once they start practicing positive thinking they will no longer have negative thoughts. Well, it is not right.
Negative thoughts are part of how our brain functions. It is totally natural to have negative thoughts. Positive thinking is not about deleting those negative thoughts for good. It is about knowing how to manage once those thoughts appear in one’s brain.
So the first step towards practicing positive thinking is identifying negative thoughts.
People who think negatively tend to magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all the positive ones. Another distinctive quality of negative thinkers is the ability to personalize all the problems and immediately assume that the problem is in them. They also tend to automatically anticipate the worst when something occurs and see things black-and-white without no color in the middle.
If you identify yourself with at least one of these situations, you are most probably a negative thinker. Admitting it is the first step towards positive thinking.
Once you understand your current way of thinking, it is time to make conscious efforts to look at things differently. So how to actually implement it?
Transform your negative thoughts into positive ones
Letting negative thoughts hang around for some time causes anxiety and depression. That is why it is important to quickly respond to negative thoughts.
Here are some tips to help you handle your negativity:
- Positive affirmations:positive self-talk helps transform negative thoughts into constructive positive affirmations. Instead of saying, “I made a mistake” you can try, “This is an opportunity for me to learn.” It does not mean you neglect the problem. It simply means you give it a second chance and do not limit yourself to one failure.
- Positive visualization:when we visualize a situation, we tend to see more opportunities for finding ways to solve problems. So next time you use positive self-talk, try to visualize the situation. It will help you find solutions to bring your thoughts into reality and thus manage your stress.
- Positive people and events:positive thinking has a greater impact when we surround ourselves with positive people and events. They have a direct influence on our mood. So a little extra positivity will certainly not harm you. On the contrary, it will boost your motivation to practice positive thinking.
Know and utilize your strengths on a daily basis
Knowing and utilizing our strengths helps us become happier and more confident about ourselves, be more productive at work and be more satisfied with life in general. But studies have shown that not even one out of three people can confidently name their top strengths.
Strength-awareness helps to understand our top skills and the ways we could leverage them more in our life. This, in its turn, boosts our self-confidence and self-esteem.
When we know what we are good at and can use it in our lives, positive thinking becomes more than possible. It becomes a necessity.
So how to identify top strengths?
- Using strengths tests: strength assessments are the best way to find out one’s top character traits. I have recently been recommended a free strengths finder. It is called HIGH5 and helps identify your top 5 strengths and explore how you can use those strengths more effectively on a daily basis.
- Asking friends and colleagues: another way of finding out one’s top skills is by asking friends and colleagues for feedback. Their opinion will help you comprehend the areas you are good at and the possible ways of utilizing your strengths more often.
- Consulting with a personal coach: career coaches and personal development professionals can also guide you in your exploration of personal strengths and top character traits.
Practice, practice, practice
Many people fail to adopt positive thinking because they want immediate results. When change does not happen overnight, they turn their backs on positive thinking. This type of people generally constitutes the majority of those who do not accept positive thinking.
Well, here is the secret. Positive thinking does not do magic and will not turn you into a positive person overnight. It is a continuous process of practicing the abovementioned techniques and not giving up.
It is like learning a new language. No one is capable of nailing French in one day.
The same logic works for positive thinking. In order for your brain to turn negative thinking patterns into positive ones, it needs time and a lot of practice. It is about learning how to identify negative thoughts and using small steps to transform those into positive.
Positive thinking is not a supernatural power of changing the dark negative world into a pink positive one. It is an attitude that helps manage negative situations by adopting a positive approach, which eventually helps cope with the stress related to those negative situations.
How we think influences how we manage stress. Why not think positively and manage stress more easily? At the end of the day, it is always a question of a choice. So choose positive.
If you want to know more about building on your confidence, take a look at this article about strength-based confidence building.