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Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk and help to reduce stress.

Positive thinking can help with stress management and can even improve your health. It just takes a bit of practice.

Negative thoughts

Is your glass half-empty or half-full? The answer to this question may reflect your outlook on life, your attitude toward yourself, and whether you're optimistic or pessimistic and it can even affect your health. Studies have consistently shown that negative thinking can make us feel anxious in life and potentially hold us back.

Indeed, some studies have shown that personality traits such as optimism and pessimism can affect many areas of our health and well-being. The positive thinking that usually comes with optimism can help with effective stress management. And effective stress management is associated with many health benefits. However, the good news is that pessimism can be turned around.

Understanding positive thinking and self-talk

Positive thinking doesn't mean that you ignore life's challenges. Positive thinking just means that you approach those challenges in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.

Positive thinking often starts with self-talk. Self-talk is the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through our heads. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some of our self-talk comes from logic and reason. Other self-talk may arise from misunderstandings that we create because of lack of information or expectations due to preconceived ideas of what may happen, past history.

If the thoughts that run through our head are mostly negative, our outlook on life is more likely pessimistic. If your thoughts are mostly positive, you're likely an optimist, who practices positive thinking.

Health benefits of positive thinking

There are a number of health benefits to positive thinking:

· Increased life span

· Lower rates of depression

· Lower levels of distress and pain

· Greater resistance to illnesses

· Better psychological and physical well-being

· Better Heart health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke

· Reduced risk of death from cancer

· Reduced risk of death from respiratory conditions

· Reduced risk of death from infections

· Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

It's unclear why people who think positively experience these health benefits, but it could be as simple as people that have a positive outlook are better able to cope with life’s stresses, which reduced the harmful health effects of stress on your body.

It's also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles which can also help us all to cope with stress more positively.

Identifying negative thinking

So how do you know if your inner dialogue is negative or not?

Some common forms of negative self-talk include:

Filtering. You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all the positive ones, almost ignoring the positive aspects of the day.

Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself when they are a number of reasons why the bad event happened.

Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst without facts that the worse will happen.

Blaming. You try to say someone else is responsible for what happened to you instead of yourself. You avoid being responsible for your thoughts and feelings.

Saying you "should" do something. You think of all the things you think you should do and blame yourself for not doing them.

Magnifying. You make a big deal out of minor problems.

Perfectionism. Keeping impossible standards and trying to be more perfect sets yourself up for failure.

Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad. There is no middle ground.

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. Following are some ways to think and behave in a more positive and optimistic way:

Identify areas to change. If you want to become more optimistic and change your thoughts, so they are more positive, first identify areas of your life that you usually think negatively about, whether it's work, your daily commute, life changes or a relationship. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way. Think of a positive thought to manage your stress instead of a negative one.

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 humour. Try to smile or laugh even if you are going through a tough time. When we can laugh at life, we can all feel less stressed.

Follow a healthy lifestyle. Aim to exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week. You can also break it up into 5- or 10-minute chunks of time during the day. Exercise has been proven to positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body and try to get enough sleep. When we sleep enough, stress can be easier to manage.

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. Negative people can increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways. Negative people don’t always encourage positive thinking in our lives. If you can, try to distance yourself, at least until you’ve managed your own negative thoughts.

Practice positive self-talk. Start by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you. Think about things you're thankful and grateful for in your life.

Here are some examples of negative self-talk and how you can apply a positive thinking twist to them. For example, if you limit yourself if you’ve never done something before, then try to think of it as an opportunity to try something new and learn a new skill. Try to think positively and don’t give up at the first hurdle.

Practicing positive thinking every day

People that have a negative outlook, might not become an optimist overnight. But with practice, eventually your self-talk will contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance. You could also become less critical of the world around you.

When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you're better able to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way. That ability may contribute to the widely observed health benefits of positive thinking.

It might feel daunting to start with and there are times in life when it feels that the whole world is against us, but positive thinking can help us all to navigate life’s often tricky journey, it just takes a bit of positive practice.

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