Staying positive when times are tough is easier said than done. You may find yourself spiraling into negative self-talk patterns, or unable to think of good things that are happening in your life. However, learning how to be positive — especially during difficult times — can help you mentally and physically.
“Pessimistic people have more medical challenges,” clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Osit, Ed.D tells Woman’s Day. “Staying positive is crucial for being healthy and having a high quality of life.” These mental and physical health benefits include longer life spans, better resistance to the common cold and cardiovascular disease, and lower rates of depression.
The first step to being positive is actually acknowledging that you’re in a difficult place. “Trying to convince yourself that you aren’t feeling down can actually make you feel worse,” clinical psychologist Dr. Jaclene Jason, PhD tells Woman’s Day. Once you’ve accepted that something is wrong, you’re ready to start addressing it.
These seven strategies can help put you on the road to positive thinking.
Be mindful (when you can).
Mindfulness can come in all shapes and sizes. “A lot of people have this misconception that they need to be still and have a blank mind to practice mindfulness, or that they need to spend an exorbitant amount of time on it,” Dr. Jason says. “Instead, I encourage patients to build mindfulness moments for themselves throughout the day.”
Instead of feeling like you can only be mindful if you do an hour-long meditation in a candlelit space, work to intersperse it throughout your day. Jason notes that listening to an upbeat song or podcast that takes your mind out of a negative space can be very helpful to making you feel more grounded and centered.
Surround yourself with positivity.
To stay positive, it’s important to surround yourself with positive people. Dr. Osit recommends “limiting or eliminating relationships that bring out the worst in you. Eliminate optional, negative people from your life, and if it’s a relative that’s hard to completely get rid of, set limits in that relationship.”
Engage in soothing activities.
It’s important to do activities that can be relaxing and allow you to momentarily get your mind off whatever difficult time you’re going through. “We can have two different things going on at the same time in our lives. For example, we can experience stress, and we can also have one hour of our day where we’re focusing just on yoga,” Dr. Jason says.
Participating in an activity that comforts you can be more than just an hour of recreation; it can allow you to gain perspective and re-center yourself.
Imagine the worst-case scenario.
To cope with a difficult time, it can be helpful to envision the worst-case scenario. “It’s usually not as bad as you think,” Dr. Osit says. “Keeping perspective is key. During emotional times, thoughts and feelings can become magnified and irrational, which can cause you to be negative and anxious. So you have to maintain perspective, and challenge irrational thoughts with factual evidence.” In other words, imagine the worst, and then challenge it with rational thinking.
Staying active can help put you in a better headspace. Studies show that even working out for as little as ten minutes a day can help you feel more positive.
“Whether it’s taking an exercise class or even just taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting up and moving can make you feel happier and decrease negative thinking,” Dr. Jason says. Even smaller bouts of activity, like taking a stretch break from your desk, can help you reset.
Knowing you have agency in situations can help you feel more like you’re driving the car, and less like a helpless passenger. “When people are able to take control, it empowers them and makes them feel more positive, instead of like a victim,” Dr. Osit says. “To be positive, you need to accept both intellectually and emotionally what you can’t control. When there’s acceptance of that, you’re less conflicted.” Recognize and control the factors that you can, and accept whatever it is you can’t.
Train yourself to be optimistic
You can train yourself to be more positive. Although we’re all born with a certain temperament, incorporating the above techniques to feel more optimistic can help you feel more grounded when difficult times arise. “I think we’re all set up with a genetic component. But you can train yourself, with certain limitations, to react and think differently during hard times. While certain people have a larger capacity to do that than others, we’re all able to change,” notes Dr. Osit.
You won’t see a dramatic change overnight, but by slowly adding in these positive mindset techniques, you may find yourself handling adversity better than ever.
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