Positive thinking helps with stress management and can even improve your health.

Some studies show that personality traits like optimism and pessimism can affect many areas of your health and well-being. The positive thinking that typically comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management. And effective stress management is associated with many health benefits. If you tend to be pessimistic, don’t despair — you can learn positive thinking skills. Here’s how.

Understanding positive thinking and self-talk

Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life’s less pleasant situations. Positive thinking just means that you approach the unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.

The health benefits of positive thinking

Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:

·         Increased life span

·         Lower rates of depression

·         Lower levels of distress

·         Improved immune system and greater resistance to the common illnesses

·         Better psychological and physical well-being

·         Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease

·         Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

Identifying negative thinking

Not sure if your self-talk is positive or negative? Here are some common forms of negative self-talk:

·         Filtering. You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, say you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. But you forgot one minor step. That evening, you focus only on your oversight and forget about the compliments you received.

·         Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled, and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.

·         Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst. The drive-through coffee shop gets your order wrong and you automatically think that the rest of your day will be a disaster.

·         Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad, black or white. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or that you’re a total failure.

Focusing on positive thinking

You can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. The process is simple, but it does take time and practice — you’re creating a new habit, after all. Here are some ways to think and behave in a more positive and optimistic way:

·         Identify areas to change. Whether it’s work, your daily commute or a relationship, for example, you can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.

·         Check yourself. Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you’re thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.

·         Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.

·         Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise at least three times a week to positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body.

·         Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback.

·         Practice positive self-talk. This is the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head every day.  Start by following one simple rule: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else.

Here are some examples of negative self-talk and how you can apply a positive thinking twist to them.

Negative:  I’ve never done it before

Positive: It’s an opportunity to learn something new.

Negative: It’s too complicated.

Positive: I’ll tackle it from a different angle.

Negative:  There’s no way it will work.

Positive:  I can try to make it work.

Practicing positive thinking every day

With practice, you can eventually become an optimist.  With a generally optimistic state of mind, you’re able to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way. That ability may contribute to the widely observed health benefits of positive thinking.