How Positive Thinking Impacts Your Stress Level

Learn specific action items to develop positive thinking.

Everyone feels stress at one point or another. Stress can come from various sources, be it family problems, work, school, health, or personal life.

When people feel stressed out, there is usually an increase in cortisol production, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels and metabolism. Cortisol also facilitates the release of glucose into the bloodstream to help provide energy for our muscles when we need them most (i.e., during periods of physical activity). However, too much cortisol can lead to weight gain, high blood sugar, pre-diabetes, and diabetes. High cortisol levels also increase stress.

One way to help reduce the amount of cortisol in your body is by thinking more positively. A study done in 2010 showed that individuals who had a more positive outlook on life had lower cortisol levels when they were exposed to stressful situations than those who did not focus on the positive as much.

This article will leave you with actionable steps to provide you with the tools necessary to make changes in your life!

What Is Positive Thinking?

Beautiful African American woman smiling with her eyes closed thinking positively.Positive thinking is the practice of looking at the bright side of any given situation and expecting good things to happen. When we practice positive thinking, we are more likely to see the best in people, and we are more likely to be optimistic about our future.

It’s important to note that positive thinking does not mean that you ignore unpleasant situations in your life. Instead, you choose to focus on the good, even when bad things happen.

Some examples of positive thinking include:

  • Feeling grateful even when you have little
  • Having a good time when things don’t go according to plan
  • Being happy for another person’s success

Health Benefits of Positive Thinking

Your thoughts can also impact your physical health. According to a study done by the Mayo Clinic, “positive thinking may actually help keep you healthy.” The study found that people who had a positive outlook on life were less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who didn’t focus on the positive.

Furthermore, the study found that positive thinking may also help boost your immune system. This means that if you tend to think positively, you may be less likely to get sick.

John Hopkin’s Medicine found that people with a positive outlook were one third less likely to have a heart attack or cardiovascular event than people with a negative view.

Positive thinking has been shown to have many physical and mental benefits.

Positive thinking has been linked to:

Positive Thinking Reduces Stress

There are a few potential reasons why positive thinking might help reduce stress levels. Firstly, when someone is stressed out, their mind is usually occupied with negative thoughts and worries. This can lead to rumination, which is when a person keeps going over and over the same thoughts in their head. This can be very damaging, leading to increased cortisol and anxiety levels.

Thinking positively allows a person to focus on the good things that are happening in their life, which can help to distract them from any negative thoughts that may be causing them stress. It also allows a person to be more optimistic about the future, giving them hope that things will eventually get better. Finally, positive thinking can help people feel happier and more content with their lives, lowering stress levels.

So, if you are feeling stressed out, try to focus on the positive things in your life. Think about all the good things that have happened to you and the things you are grateful for and appreciate. This will help to increase your overall happiness and reduce your stress levels.

Identifying Negative Thinking

Woman deep in pensive though of negative thinking.Negative thinking can be tough to identify. Often, we are so used to our negative thoughts that we don’t even realize that they are happening. However, there are a few clues that can help you to identify negative thinking.

Firstly, if you find that your thoughts are often pessimistic and negative, then this is a sign that you may be engaging in negative thinking. Secondly, if you find that your thoughts are causing you stress or anxiety, this is also a sign of negative thinking. Finally, if you find that your thoughts impact your physical or mental health, this is a sign of negative thinking.

It can be helpful to keep a journal of your thoughts to track what types of thoughts are going through your head daily. This can be a great way to identify any negative thinking patterns you may have.

Examples of Negative Thoughts Include:

  • All or nothing (polarizing). All or nothing, no middle ground. You’ve decided to eat healthily but didn’t have time to meal prep for dinner. So instead of putting together something healthy, you choose to give up and eat a bunch of unhealthy foods.
  • Personalizing. “It’s all my fault.”
  • Blaming. “You made me feel bad.”
  • Catastrophizing. “My morning coffee order was wrong; the rest of my day will be terrible.”
  • Jumping to conclusions. “My boyfriend doesn’t look happy. He must be about to break up with me.”
  • Should/must do something. “I should be a better person.” “I must start eating healthy.”
  • Filtering. You filter out all of the positives of a situation and instead focus only on the negatives.
  • Overgeneralizing. “I never say the right thing.”
  • Perfectionism. Keeping impossible standards.

Tips for Thinking More Positively

1. Start Your Day Off Right

After you wake up, take a few minutes to think about things you are grateful for in your life. This could be anything from having a roof over your head to being able to see another day. For many of us, when we wake, we immediately start thinking of all the things we need to get done that day. Instead, shift your thoughts and spend a few minutes thinking about something in your life that make you happy.

Spend two to three minutes first thing in the morning thinking about things you are grateful. Reflect on someone in your life that makes you happy or reflect on a happy memory.

2. Pay Attention to Your Thoughts

When you’re feeling stressed, take a step back and notice the thoughts running through your head. Are they negative or positive? If they’re mostly negative, try to reframe them in a more positive light. For example, instead of thinking, “I can’t handle this,” try telling yourself, “I’m doing the best I can.”

Negative thinking is a habit, and like any other habit, you can break it. When you catch yourself thinking negatively about a situation, take a moment to reframe your thoughts. For example, if you feel stressed about an upcoming presentation, instead of thinking, “I’m going to screw this up,” tell yourself, “I’ve done well in presentations in the past, and I will do well in this one.”

Practice positive affirmations. Find several positive affirmations that speak to you, and keep them somewhere you see them every day. For example, you could put them on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator, by your computer, front door of your house, or anywhere else that you’ll see them daily. Read or repeat these affirmations to yourself each morning before starting your day.

3. Practice Gratitude

Gratitude journal sitting open on a table with a cup of green tea next to it.Gratitude is one of the simplest but most powerful ways to shift your mindset from negative to positive. When you take time each day to appreciate the good things in your life, it’s harder to dwell on stressors. Try keeping a gratitude journal or sharing your thanks with a friend or family member.

When we take the time to think about the things we are grateful for, it helps us appreciate what we have rather than focusing on what we don’t have. Additionally, gratitude has been linked with increased happiness and life satisfaction levels.

Keeping a gratitude journal can be pivotal in changing your negative thoughts into positive ones. Start with a small notebook kept by your bed. Then, at the end of each day, make a list of three good things that happened that day. You may be surprised to find that by making this small habit of writing things down each day, you become more grateful, and it becomes easier to focus on the positive things in your life.

4. Find Your Sense of Humor

Laughter really is the best medicine when it comes to stress relief. When you can find even a small reason to chuckle, it can help lighten your mood and give you a break from all the negative thoughts swirling around in your head.

Find humor in everyday situations. It has been shown to reduce stress hormones and increase endorphins, which are hormones that make you feel happy. So, try to find things to laugh about throughout your day.

Favorite a few videos that you find funny. Spend a few minutes at lunch and in the evening to watch part of a video.

5. Be Present in the Moment

When you’re stressed, it’s easy to get caught up in worrying about the future or regret about the past. But neither of those things can be changed. The only thing you can control is the present moment. So instead of dwelling on what could go wrong or what went wrong in the past, focus on what’s happening right now. This will help you live in the moment and enjoy life more.

Start by focusing on one thing at a time. Make a to-do list of things that need to be accomplished and go through the list one item at a time, start to finish. Set aside your phone, turn off the tv, and close any tabs on your computer that don’t relate to your specific task so that you’re not distracted.

6. Take Care of Yourself

A man relaxing reading a book practicing self care.When you’re stressed, it’s important to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. That means eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and taking breaks when you need them. It also means being gentle with yourself and practicing self-compassion and self-care.

One of the biggest obstacles to positive thinking is self-criticism. When we are constantly putting ourselves down, it is difficult to see the good in any given situation. However, finding the silver lining in even the darkest of clouds becomes easier when we are kind and compassionate towards ourselves.

Practice daily self-care. Spend some time each day doing something just for yourself. It can be as quick as five minutes of mediation or an hour-long bubble bath with a good book. Plan what you will do each day at the beginning of the week so that you don’t forget or run out of time.

7. Avoid Comparisons

Another way to practice self-compassion is to avoid comparing ourselves to others. It is all too easy to get caught up in comparing our own lives to the lives of those around us, but this only leads to feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction. Instead, focus on your own journey and be proud of your progress.

Focus on your strengths. Re-train yourself to compete with yourself instead of others. Set individualized goals for yourself and work towards reaching them. For example, say you want to buy a new car. Determine what steps you need to take to reach this goal. Maybe you cut back on some of your spending and put that money into savings or pick up some extra part-time work. You may find having a visual graph or goal tracker easily visible in your home helpful to stay motivated.

8. Set Realistic Goals

SMART goals listed on a table top along with a blank list for a person to write their own goals.Unrealistic goals are one of the quickest ways to set yourself up for disappointment. When our expectations are too high, we are more likely to be disappointed with the outcome, no matter what it is. On the other hand, when we set realistic goals, we are more likely to achieve them and feel good about our accomplishments.

When you set goals, make sure they are set to your needs. Use SMART goals to help guide goal setting. SMART goals are: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. For example, a goal of “I want to make as much money as XYZ person” is not a SMART goal. Instead, a SMART goal is “I want to make an additional $10,000 by the end of the calendar year to fund my Roth IRA. This goal is S-M-A-R-T: specific (it’s not general such as “I want to make as much as XYZ person”), measurable (you will have either made an additional $10,000 or not), attainable (perhaps $10,000 is achievable, but $20,000 is not), relevant (this goal is relevant to you for your retirement), and time-bound (at the end of December you will know if you’ve met your goal).

9. Challenge Yourself

Choose to do something outside of your comfort zone every once in a while. This could be anything from taking a different route to work to talking to someone new. Challenging yourself will help you realize that you are capable of more than you think.

Talk to someone new. Challenge yourself to talk to someone new once a week. It doesn’t need to be a long conversation. Start by paying someone a genuine compliment while waiting in the checkout line or at work or school.

10. Surround Yourself With Positive People

Group of happy positive people standing and laughing together.The people we associate with have a significant impact on our mood and outlook. If we surround ourselves with negative people, we will more likely adopt a negative outlook on life. On the other hand, if we surround ourselves with positive people, it is more likely that their positive attitude will rub off on us.

Evaluate the mindsets of the people you spend time with (outside of work or other required obligations). Identify the positive people in your life and make a point to spend more time with them. Schedule a lunch, dinner, or other activity that you enjoy.

11. “Can’t Change It”

Author Hal Elrod’s ‘Can’t Change It’ philosophy can be a helpful tool in learning how to let go of negative emotions, accept whatever life has given you, and find happiness and peace. According to this philosophy’s 5-minute rule, it’s ok to be negative when things go wrong, but not for more than 5 minutes. Set a timer for 5 minutes on your watch or phone. “During those five minutes, allow yourself to feel and express all of your frustration, anger, and upset. Curse, stomp your feet, go over it in your head until the alarm goes off. When it does, your time to be upset is up. You then have to move on; you “can’t change it.”

Watch the video on Hal Elrod’s website, where he explains his ‘can’t change it’ philosophy. If this video resonates with you, make it a point to try the 5-minute rule the next time you find yourself in a frustrating situation when things go wrong.

The Bottom Line

Making even small changes in the way we think can have a big impact on our stress levels. By practicing positive thinking, we can increase our happiness, decrease our stress levels, and improve our overall health.

When you focus on negative thoughts, you’re more likely to feel anxious and overwhelmed. But when you shift your focus to positive thoughts, you’re more likely to feel calm and in control.

That’s not to say that positive thinking will make all of your problems disappear. But it can help you cope with stress in a healthier way. And over time, as you learn to think more positively, you may find that your stress levels start to decrease naturally.