Stress is a significant contributing factor to mental ill-health. It’s true; we may not have control over all the things in our life, causing stress. However, we have control over how we interpret our experiences and our reactions to them. Positive thinking plays a part in reducing stress, and here’s how you can do it.
I spoke with a woman whose relationship had broken down. She had moved out of the home she and her ex-partner shared. This move was a rather hasty one, and her new home was less than ideal; it was downright depressing. Because of the breakup, her self-esteem was at an all-time low. She freely admitted signing a short lease for the first house she saw and taking what she could get, frankly, what she felt like she deserved.
Fast forward a few months, and she was ready to move on to something she could call her own. She spent Saturday mornings looking at less than livable places, making her feel more depressed.
However, she realised she couldn’t find anything suitable because she was choosing something better for herself. She no longer believed that she deserved to live in a hovel. She was actively making choices not to move house rather than feeling like she had no options.
This is a positive reframe. For her, it was powerful. The situation remained the same, but how she chose to see it had changed.
From Stress To The Positive Reframe
Positive reframing or positive thinking is all about challenging the way you see something. For this person, her meaning shifted from feeling like she had no choices to knowing that she was making all the choices. And this gave her power back.
You are the one who assigns meaning to your life. You analyse these experiences through your lens and worldview. But what if you challenged the way you feel, see, think and interpret your experiences?
Reframing is not about trivialising traumatic or highly confronting situations. Reframing is about making conscious and active decisions to relieve stress by exploring the meaning of the problem from a different perspective and therefore altering that meaning.
Be Aware Of Your Negative Thoughts
Let’s delve into your thoughts. What is your default reaction to stressful or challenging situations? Imagine you sat an interview for a new job but didn’t get the job. Perhaps your first thoughts are:
‘I must have really screwed the interview’.
‘How embarrassing. I’ll never apply for a job with that organisation again’.
‘Maybe I shouldn’t even be doing this job if I can’t even interview for it?‘
Perhaps your reframed thoughts might be:
‘My application must have been pretty good even to get an interview, so my resume is strong’.
‘This interview was a good learning experience. Maybe next time I won’t feel so nervous’.
‘I will apply for the next job tomorrow and see how I go’.
It’s All About How You View Things
Nothing about the situation has changed other than how you interpret it. Your perspective is where the choice lies – you can either sit in the disappointment of not getting the job or beat yourself up for all sorts of reasons as to why you should have done a better interview.
Alternatively, you feel disappointed and then choose to move forward with what you have learned from that experience, a little wiser. This is an active shift.
The reframe is moving from the negative to the positive. You are no longer focusing on the past; you are now looking toward the future.
It can be helpful to know that while you don’t always have control over situations, people or events, you control how you respond to them. This is your power.
I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.Charles Dickens
Challenge Your Thinking
Challenging your thinking is being honest with yourself about what you perceive to be true. Tricky! This can begin with recognising whether your experience has created perceived or actual stress.
Perceived stress for the house-hunter was about her situation feeling helpless and awful because she wanted to move but couldn’t. The reframe allowed her to see she had choices and the meaning she associated with those choices. What do you believe to be true about the situation? It is your choice to reframe your experience and how you see it.
Perceived Or Actual Stress?
Consider whether your thoughts about the situation are rational or irrational? Are your thoughts accurate and based on facts? Or are they based on emotions? Are you really never going to get another job because you didn’t get this one? Are you never going to find love again because your Tinder date was a jerk? No to both of these! These are not helpful or, in any way, real thoughts. These thoughts also put a lot of unnecessary weight into these particular people and situations, taking away your power of choice and control and handing it over to something or someone.
Turn Your Thoughts Around
So you had a bad date. The automatic go-to thoughts might be:
‘I must have done something wrong‘
‘How am I ever going to find anyone?‘
‘There must be something wrong with me’
And here we have a spiral. Being aware of your thoughts and challenging them replaces negative thoughts or perspectives with more positive ones.
Positive thoughts break negative thought loops. Positivity takes the stress and anxiety of perceived stress and turns it into learning or growth opportunities based on facts, something tangible.
The way you see situations impact the way you view the outcome. If you perceive an event from a negative lens, the result will also be harmful. Focusing on the positive is remaining optimistic about the future and this, in turn, builds resilience. Without resilience, it is a slippery slope into helplessness.
Ask yourself: What did you learn from the situation you can take into the next? Consider how this situation will help you in your life moving forward. Will you set tighter boundaries for the next tinder date? Will you Google common interview questions and prepare a little more for the next job interview? Every experience provides the opportunity to learn and develop, and not-so-great situations are no different.