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How Does Positive Thinking Impact Your Stress Level?

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Updated June 26, 2014

How Does Positive Thinking Impact Your Stress Level?

Positive thinking makes negative events less stressful.

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Question: How Does Positive Thinking Impact Your Stress Level?
"I've heard that positive thinking can reduce stress levels. Why, and how, does this happen? And how can I change my thought patterns to be more positive?"
Answer: Research shows the benefits of optimism and a positive frame of mind are huge: optimists enjoy better health, stronger relationships, are more productive, and experience less stress, among other things. This is because optimists tend to take more risks, and blame external circumstances if they fail, maintaining a 'try again' mindset; this makes them more likely to succeed in the future, and less upset by failure in general. Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to blame themselves when things go wrong, becoming more reluctant to try again with each negative experience in life. They begin to look at positive events in their lives as 'flukes' that have nothing to do with them, and expect the worst. In this way, optimists and pessimists both create self-fulfilling prophecies.

When you understand this, it becomes more clear how optimism and positive self-talk can impact your stress levels, as can pessimism and negative self-talk. Negative events are less stressful when you see them as 'not your fault', and less likely to recur. Similarly, positive events are even sweeter when you see them as evidence of more to come, and see yourself as the master of your own fate. Additionally, because of the difference in behavior in optimists vs. pessimists, those who habitually practice positive thinking tend to experience more success, which can add up to a less stressful life.

So how can you use this information to reduce your stress level? Fortunately, optimism can be learned. With practice, you can change your self-talk (your inner dialogue, what you say to yourself about what you're experiencing) and your explanatory style (the specific ways that optimists and pessimists process their experiences). Here's how:

  • Take The Optimism Self Test and learn whether you're an optimist or a pessimist, and to what degree. The reason that this is important is that many pessimists think they're optimists; however, optimism is defined by specific criteria. If you know where you lie on the optimism-pessimism spectrum, you'll have a better idea of what may need changing.
  • Once you understand your current way of seeing things, you can make a conscious effort to look at things differently as you're presented with situations. (Read this article for a more in-depth look at ways to practice different types of positive self talk and learn how to become an optimist.)
  • Positive affirmations can also help you reprogram yourself and your way of thinking so that positive thinking becomes more automatic and less something you need to think about consciously in each new situation. (Learn more about positive affirmations and aquiring the positive self-talk habit.)

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Sources:
Peterson, Christopher; Seligman, Martin E.; Vaillant, George E.; Pessimistic explanatory style is a risk factor for physical illness: A thirty-five-year longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 55(1), Jul, 1988. pp. 23-27.
Peterson, C. (2000). The future of optimism. American Psychologist, 55, 44–55.
Solberg Nes, L. S., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2006). Dispositional optimism and coping: A meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 235–251.

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