Mental health

Rhys Clark, AXA Health physiologist

Harness the power of positive thinking

12 December 2020

Is your glass half full or half empty? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Our perception of the world around us can affect many areas of our physical and mental wellbeing; this includes how we deal with stress and our attitude towards ourselves and other people. The meaning we place on our experiences can influence how we feel and behave. A balanced perspective means that we can approach life’s ups and downs in a more constructive way that leaves us feeling more energised.

Being able to identify and then challenge unhelpful thoughts can result in a more realistic or balanced perspective, helping us to be more resilient to life’s challenges.

Try these top tips to get a more balanced perspective

  • Become more aware and identify ‘triggers’. First you need to identify the areas of your life or situations where you notice you usually experience unhelpful or negative thoughts, whether at work, during social occasions or at home. For example, it could be something a friend has posted via social media, or something someone has said or done at work.

  • Check yourself. Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you are thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to think about finding an alternative, more balanced way of thinking. Are your negative thoughts justified or irrational? Can you counter them with a more positive thought or a logical explanation? 

  • Practice positive self-talk. Try this one simple rule: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative or unhelpful thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations , then replace with a more positive thought. Alternatively, ask yourself ‘What would I say to a friend in this situation?’ and use this to balance your response and be kinder to yourself.

  • Opinion vs fact. Our brains naturally evaluate the world around us and are very subjective and opinion-based; typically we have an emotional response to a situation that drives the way we think. For example, if you walk past someone you know and say ‘Hello!’, but they don’t respond, you might feel embarrassed, annoyed, awkward, nervous and, often, the automatic reaction is to think ‘Did they deliberately ignore me?’ and ‘Do they dislike me?’. This is your interpretation of the situation, driven by your emotional response. The fact is that they walked past you without responding, anything else is opinion.

  • Be open to humour. Give yourself permission to smile and laugh, especially during difficult times. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.

  • Try to follow a healthy lifestyle by eating well and moving more. Physical activity has a positive effect on mood, helping to reduce stress and boost self-esteem. When you’re active, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin - the ‘feel-good’ chemicals, which are known to improve your mood.

  • Learn to manage your stress by doing the things you enjoy and with the people you love being with! When life’s busy it’s all too easy to cancel dinner dates or social events, but try to make time. If you’re lonely, don’t be afraid to reach out to people – they may be feeling lonely too. Sharing your worries or problems will leave you feeling more energised and able to deal with things.

  • When you feel negativity creep in, stop for a minute, or ten, and take some deep breaths. Breathing properly can benefit your mind and body in a number of ways, from managing emotional, physical and mental stress to increasing performance at work or at a sport.

Being aware of our unhelpful or negative thinking is the first step to creating a positive outlook, with more realistic and balanced thinking. These thinking techniques are proven to be effective, but be mindful that they take practice and won’t make a difference overnight; be patient and give yourself time to give these approaches a try.

If you still find that negative thoughts take over and if they become persist, more severe or interfere with your day to day life, consider seeking professional help from your GP.

References

Think positive: 11 ways to boost positive thinking. By Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., Psychology Today, 6 March 2018.

Unhelpful thinking - NHS podcast.

Rice, E, & Fredrickson, B. (2017). Of Passions and Positive Spontaneous Thoughts. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 41, (3), 350-361. DOI: 10.1007/s10608-016-9755-3.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - NHS website.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - Royal College of Psychiatrists.

www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/treatments-and-wellbeing/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-(cbt)