Are you an optimist or a pessimist and why should it matter?
Our outlook on life can affect many areas of our physical and mental wellbeing including how we deal with stress, our attitude towards ourselves and towards others.
A tendency toward negative thinking can be all-encompassing but there are things we can do to turn around unhelpful or unwanted thoughts. Re-training ourselves into thinking in a more positive way can have an enormous impact on how we lead our lives.
AXA PPP healthcare physiologist, Rhys Clark, explains:
“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”.
If the way in which we think can affect the way we feel and what we do then unrealistic or unhelpful thinking patterns can cause or even make us hold on to those negative feelings, prompting us to support or even validate these feelings.
If we are able to identify and turn around these unhelpful thoughts it will help us to achieve a more balanced perspective and so be more resilient to life’s challenges.
So how can we achieve a more balanced perspective?
- Be mindful of the situations which regularly trigger unhelpful or negative thoughts. This could be in any area or situation ranging from home or work to social occasions or social media.
- Periodically stop and evaluate your thoughts. Are you thinking in a negative way? If so then try to find a more balanced way of thinking. Can these thoughts be turned around by finding a logical explanation?
- Be kind to yourself. Try not to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and replace with a more positive thought.
- When we evaluate the world around us, we typically have an emotional response to a situation which drives the way we think. For instance, if we pass someone we know and say ‘hello’ but they don’t respond we may feel awkward, embarrassed, nervous, annoyed and some of us may think ‘did they deliberately ignore me?’ and even ‘do they dislike me? But this is our emotional interpretation. They may not have heard or seen us, or they may be having difficulties of their own. The only fact here is that they walked past without responding and every other interpretation is mere conjecture.
- Try and smile and laugh more, especially through difficult periods. We all feel less stressed when we laugh.
- Eat well and exercise. The brain releases dopamine and serotonin when we are active and these help by boosting our mood and our self-esteem, and by reducing stress.
- Doing things we enjoy and with people we want to be with enables us to manage our stress. Sharing worries or problems leaves us feeling more energised and able to deal with things. If you’re lonely, don’t be afraid to reach out to people – they may be feeling lonely too.
- When you realise you’re having negative thoughts then pause for a minute and take some time out. Deep breaths can help too. Learn how to centre yourself and relax. There are multiple benefits from learning how to breathe properly from managing emotional, physical and mental stress to increasing performance at work or a sport. See our article for tips on how to practice mindful breathing.
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 persist, become more severe or interfere with your day to day life, consider seeking professional help from your GP.