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wellness / mental health

How Positive Thinking Can Improve Your Mental Health

by BetterSleep
Sep 14 2021 • 2 min read
Last Updated on Oct 23 2022

A more positive outlook on life is beneficial to your mental health. You can reduce your risk of depression, manage stress, and be happier by focusing on the positive.

Use affirmations, practice gratitude, meditate, and learn to recognize, stop, and change your negative thoughts. Daily practice will make this a life-changing habit.

What Is Positive Thinking?

Positive thinking is pretty much what it sounds like: approaching life with a positive outlook. This doesn’t mean ignoring the negative—it’s about your attitude. You can choose whether to react to everyday situations in a productive and positive way.

Optimistic Attitude

When your thoughts and attitude are optimistic, you have a healthy outlook on yourself, your life, and life events. You take credit for the good things in your life and recognize that outside forces control negative outcomes.

As an optimistic, positive thinker, you also realize that bad things are temporary.

Pessimistic Attitude

The opposite is a pessimistic-negative- attitude. Negative thinking means seeing the worst in a situation or expecting the worst to happen. With a negative outlook, you don’t recognize bad situations as temporary.

Many people direct their negative thoughts inward and blame themselves when bad things happen. You blame yourself even when things are outside your control and see them as a persistent, inevitable part of life.

What Does Thinking Positively Look Like?

Positive thinking can take many forms:

  • Identifying and stopping negative thoughts, then approaching them with a more positive outlook
  • Focusing on gratitude and the good things in life
  • Positive affirmations—short, optimistic statements used daily to challenge negative thoughts
  • Spending more time with positive people
  • Embracing humor and laughing more
  • Practicing positive self-talk

How Is This Different from Toxic Positivity?

Positive thinking is generally more helpful and healthful than negative thinking. However, there can be a wrong way to go about it.

Toxic positivity came to the forefront of popular culture during the pandemic. As mental health issues rose, some people combatted their fear and anxiety by overdoing positivity.

Positive thinking becomes toxic when you feel forced to adopt a positive attitude that isn’t natural or helpful. This tends to minimize your feelings. It’s often valid and healthy to feel sad. You don’t have to stay positive all of the time.

A study found that people who tend to completely avoid difficult emotions, like sadness or anger, often feel worse in the end.

Sometimes, other people force toxic positivity onto you. It can be upsetting if you’re going through a difficult time and someone tells you to be positive or to look on the bright side.

In this case, try politely explaining why their advice isn’t sensitive to your situation and what they can do to help you feel better.

How a Positive Outlook and Affirmations Support Mental Health

It’s important to balance positive thinking and minimize difficult thoughts and situations. Reasonable doses of positive thinking can help you shift your attitude and improve your mental health.

A study of nurses with significant job stress found that wellness apps helped boost positive thinking. They reported a significantly improved work-life quality and less stress and were better able to cope with difficult situations on the job.

These are more of the many benefits of a positive mental attitude on emotional well-being:

Reduce Stress

The biggest benefit of positivity for your mental health is stress management. People who have a positive outlook and attitude face stress more effectively. They don’t necessarily have less stressful lives, but they cope with stress better.

Instead of dwelling on a stressful situation, a positive thinker makes a plan, takes action, or asks others for help. Someone who is more negative ruminates and feels defeated. They believe the situation is out of their control and don’t take steps to make it better.

Improve Resilience

The ability to face stress by taking action is an example of resilience. More positive people tend also to be more resilient. This means they cope better with all kinds of challenges. They overcome adversity and bounce back better.

Less Depression

It is no surprise that positive thinkers tend to be less depressed. Negative thinking leads to rumination, a major characteristic of depression in which you get lost in a spiral of bad thoughts.

A positive attitude isn’t a cure for depression but can reduce symptoms and help lift you out of the spiral. The belief that you have the power to change your situation is a powerful antidote to depression.

Increase Creativity

A positive attitude supports creative thinking, which is good for mental health. Negative thinking is a defeatist attitude. It represents giving up. Positive thinking is all about coming up with solutions. By focusing on positive thoughts, you can become a more creative and better problem solver.

Positive Thinking is Good for Physical Health Too

You can’t separate mental from physical health. They impact each other, so it follows that positivity improves your physical health as well:

  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Boosted immunity and fewer infections
  • Less pain or improved pain tolerance
  • Reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and infections

How to Stay Positive and Reduce Negative Thinking

Most people can benefit from increasing their positive thoughts. It seems part of human nature to be too hard on ourselves. A concerted effort to think more positively can improve your mental and physical well-being in many ways. Here are some tips to help you make a change.

Recognize and Stop Negative Self Talk

Boosting positivity is about much more than simply adding positive thoughts. You also have to stop the negative ones.

The first step is to pay more attention to how you think. Many people let thoughts race through their heads without much awareness.

Practice noticing a negative thought as it passes through your mind. This can be difficult at first. Try paying attention to all your thoughts for five minutes and notice all the negative ones.

When you do notice a negative thought, stop it and reframe it. For instance, if you think, “I was so stupid to make that mistake at work today,” change it to, “I will learn from that mistake I made today.”

Continue to check in with yourself throughout the day. When you catch yourself in an unnecessarily negative thought, recognize it and then reframe it. You don’t have to be relentlessly positive or deny all bad thoughts, but try to shift your perspective or frame of reference.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Once you begin training your brain to limit negative thoughts or to shift your perspective on them, build more positive thinking with other tools.

One way to build a more positive mindset is with gratitude. Gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring bad things that happen to you or what’s wrong in your life. It means putting more focus on what’s good.

When you focus on good things in your life, you’ll naturally begin to think more positively.

An easy way to practice gratitude is to keep a daily journal. Before you go to bed each night, write down a few things you are grateful for from the day.

Studies back up the efficacy of actively practicing gratitude. It makes you happier and improves overall health and well-being.

Focus on Your Strengths

A big part of positive thinking is recognizing your control over your life and situation. Things don’t just happen to you. You have the power to make positive changes.

To boost this kind of positive thinking, make an effort to focus on your personal strengths. Maybe you are a good friend or partner. You’re good at your job or a sport. It doesn’t have to be a skill or anything bit. Maybe your greatest strength is that you are kind to people.

Take time to list your strengths, especially when you feel yourself getting into a downward spiral of negative thoughts.

Smile and Laugh More

This might sound obvious, but the more you laugh and smile, the happier you will be. Boosting happiness automatically boosts your positive thinking.

Spend more time with friends who make you laugh. Watch funny movies instead of dramas. Watch clips online of your favorite comedians.

Even faking a smile can instantly boost your mood, according to research. Studies show that smiling during a difficult or stressful situation reduces heart rate and blood pressure. It helps people cope better with that situation. So, even when you feel negative about life, smile and see how it affects your mood.

Change Your Social Group

Take a critical look at the people you spend most of your time with. Are they unnecessarily pessimistic? Do they face adversity well and laugh a lot?

If you spend time with more negative people, it will impact your thinking. Choose who you spend your time with because it affects your mindset, mood, and overall health.

Visualize a Better Future

The power of your imagination can make you a more positive thinker. When you’re in a bad situation or unhappy with your life, picture yourself in a better place.

Visualization is a great tool for manifesting what you want. By picturing it, you can make it happen. The first step is changing your negative outlook on the situation. Think about what’s possible, and then make a plan to get to that better place.

Stay Healthy

When you feel good, your thoughts will be more positive. A healthy lifestyle makes it easier to think positively. Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly. Spend time outside and hang out with friends. See your doctor regularly and stay on top of your health.

Using Meditation to Boost Positive Thinking

Meditation is a practice that improves awareness and focused attention. It is not a single thing but multiple practices with similar goals. It creates a deep state of mind and body relaxation and, like positive thinking, boosts mental health.

Meditation is an ancient practice rooted in spirituality. Today it is a diverse practice that encompasses many cultures and styles. You can meditate with a blank mind, focus on your breathing, or repeat a positive mantra.

How Meditation Boosts Positivity

Regular meditation practice benefits mental and physical health in many ways. One thing it can do is give you greater control over your thoughts. Meditation helps you build greater awareness about your interior monologue and your ongoing conversation with yourself.

Awareness is the first step to changing unhelpful, negative thoughts. Consider meditation a type of brain training. The more you practice it, the more aware you become of your thoughts and the easier it is to jump outside and see them from a new perspective. Once you can do that, you can begin to change them too.

A study of meditation and positive thinking compared non-meditators to a group of people using Brahma Kumaris Rajayoga Meditation (BRKM). BKRM is a simple, accessible style of meditation.

The researchers found that the meditators considered themselves much happier than the non-meditators. The study determined that meditation helped people improve positive thinking, leading to greater self-satisfaction and happiness.

Try Positive Meditations on BetterSleep

You can create or alter any meditation to focus on positive thoughts, or you can find guided meditations that emphasize positivity. Try these BetterSleep app meditations to get started:

Dropping into the Present Moment

This mindfulness meditation is all about focusing your awareness on the present moment, which is a great antidote to negative thoughts. Negativity tends to arise when you dwell on the past or worry about the future. Use this meditation to turn your thoughts away from negativity and focus on what you can feel and sense right now.

Gratitude Booster

Use this short, six-minute gratitude meditation for a quick infusion of positive thoughts.

Gratitude for Stressful Times

Gratitude is a great counterbalance to negative thinking. When the stress and bad things in your life threaten to overwhelm you, focus on what you are grateful for. This 19-minute meditation is a good guide to finding happiness and positivity during a difficult time.

Positive Vibrations

This meditation will help you manifest more happiness and positivity in your daily life.

5 Nights of Gratitude

For more extended practice, use this series of five meditations all focused on finding gratitude in your life.

Positive Dreaming

Your dreams are an extension of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Use this short meditation to help condition your mind to have more positive dreams.

Final Thoughts

In addition to meditations, you can find other tools on BetterSleepto help you boost your positivity while improving sleep. Try bedtime stories to take your mind out of a negative cycle of rumination. These easy, soothing stories are light, positive, and just what you need when feeling down.

Practice positive thinking by using daily affirmations, catching negative thoughts and self-talk, and turning them around. Then use meditations to support your mental health and cement those affirmations. You’ll start feeling better about yourself and your life before you know it.

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