Many people don’t think about how positivity can reduce their anxiety symptoms. But positive thinking, or framing situations in a more favorable light, may help you avoid catastrophizing. People with anxiety often experience debilitating symptoms that prevent them from living everyday life. They sometimes can’t differentiate between their thoughts and reality, making it difficult to see things clearly.
Since humans have a natural negativity bias, it explains why we’re prone to anxiety disorders. We pay more attention to bad news than uplifting stories as a survival mechanism. Early humans had to hunt for food, water, and shelter, making them more reactive to threats. Biologically speaking, we haven’t changed much since pre-industrial times.
Arguably, our fight-or-flight response gets triggered more often in the modern world. Our environment changes so quickly that we have little time to adapt to possible threats. Therefore, we might overestimate the danger of certain situations simply because they’re unfamiliar to us.
It becomes a vicious cycle where the scary information causes anxiety, but we can’t focus on anything else. That would threaten our survival, so we would rather feel anxious than be unpleasantly surprised. However, too much bad news can overwhelm even the most resilient person. It paralyzes you with fear and makes you question your ability to overcome challenging situations.
That’s where the power of positivity comes in to help you see the silver lining in situations. An upbeat attitude can help you weather the storms of life no matter what you experience. Below, we’ll discuss how optimism can improve your mental health.
How Positive Thinking Can Reduce Anxiety Symptoms
Even though we’re hardwired to pay more attention to problems, that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome this tendency. News outlets have learned to exploit our bad news bias to get more views and clicks. But this just feeds the endless cycle of drowning in negativity. If you want to feel happy and healthy, it helps to avoid or limit your media exposure.
After you’ve taken preventative measures, you can start working on ways to influence your mind positively. Remember, everything we give our attention to makes up our consciousness. Therefore, you must fill your mind with uplifting thoughts if you want a positive outlook and demeanor. After all, a negative mind will never give you a positive life.
So, how can you train your brain for optimism? Research shows that people with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) greatly benefit from an exercise called thought replacement. It involves replacing worst-case scenario thinking with more positive outcomes.
People with GAD tend to overestimate the likelihood that something will go wrong. They over-worry, overthink and overstress about everything, keeping them trapped in a cycle of fear. But research shows that positivity can cause dramatic reductions in anxiety and worry. Our minds are incredibly malleable and flexible, and this neuroplasticity allows us to form new connections.
We get to control the reality we experience, on a certain level, by simply changing our thoughts. The study above proved this, as participants learned to use positive thinking to shift their perspectives. They felt less distress by disengaging from catastrophic thinking and “zooming out” from situations. However, they didn’t ignore that a situation could end badly. They simply chose to focus more on positivity and less on unfortunate alternatives.
Other Benefits of Positivity
The power of positivity can help reduce anxiety and make you feel more in control. Being optimistic offers many other benefits, including the following:
- Increases your lifespan. A study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discovered that women who practiced positivity lived longer, on average. They also had lower rates of diabetes and hypertension than people with a cynical outlook.
- Improves your immune system. Your mental health impacts your physical wellness and vice versa. Scientists have found that having a good attitude and a positive mindset can boost your immune system! A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers found that positive thoughts lowered cortisol and activated the brain’s reward centers.
- Helps reduce depression. People with depression struggle to see the light in the darkness. It’s a severe illness that impacts millions, if not billions, of people worldwide. People with this disorder may feel helpless to change their thoughts or situation. However, studies show that positive psychology can treat depression in some cases. Coping strategies such as expressing gratitude, sending positive thoughts to yourself and others, and mindfulness can improve mental health.
- Increases self-confidence. You might not consider how positivity can make you more confident. However, if you have a positive self-image, you’re more likely to believe in yourself. People with high self-esteem have more energy and seek out opportunities in daily life rather than sitting on the sidelines. Positive thinking also makes you more resilient in the face of adversity.
- Improves heart health. Numerous scientific studies have found a link between positivity and better heart health. One study of 8,000 people found that those who scored high on optimism and a sense of well-being had a 30% lower risk of heart disease. Another study of about 70,000 women followed for over ten years found that the most positive participants had lower mortality rates from heart attacks and strokes.
Final Thoughts on How Positivity Influences Mental Health
As you can see from the studies above, a happy outlook simply makes you feel more vibrant. You’re less stressed, focus more on the positive aspects of life, and even have a healthier heart! Also, you may live longer and have a better immune system, thanks to a positive mindset. That doesn’t mean you have to feel ecstatic about life every second. It just means that whenever you feel overwhelmed or depressed, you try to see the silver lining.