Have you ever tried to explain your mental health struggles to a friend or a partner or even a relative only to be met with the patronising sentiment that you should just have a more positive mindset? If you said yes, you’re not alone. Researchers Patrick Corrigan and Amy Watson found, “Many people with serious mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness.” The Washington Post published an article on ‘toxic positivity’ in 2020 to describe the dangers of forcing positive attitudes on those coping with negativity: “With data indicating that anxiety and depression, among other mental health problems, have surged to historic levels in recent months, adding toxic positivity to the mix may only exacerbate the rising tide of negative emotions by preventing people from working through the serious issues they’re experiencing in a healthy way, experts say.” Another article notes that the pressure to always be happy leads to feelings of guilt when one is unable to maintain a positive outlook, adding fuel to the fire of mental health issues. Psychology professor, Stephanie Preston, says positive thinking itself isn’t the problem, but rather the invalidating of other emotions outside of happiness. Experts from Johns Hopkins have even found that positivity can positively impact your physical health as well as your mental health. The key is balance. Life is both good and bad, there’s no point in trying to force it to be more of one than the other. Acceptance and contentment is the true key to a positive mindset. Having a trained coach is a great first step to identifying challenges and finding solutions to help you move forward. However, depending on your situation, you may need a therapist. You can learn more about mental health https://www.mentalhealth.gov/. If your coach is well trained, they will be able to identify your deeper needs and redirect you when you need more help.
Below are three ways balanced positive thinking may improve your mental health.
Neutrality is the state of being that is decidedly impartial. For example, body neutrality is a term coined to, “steer away from the link between physical appearance and self-worth.” Body positivity became a buzzword in 2012, but in many ways, it puts too much pressure on people to love everything about their bodies. Body neutrality, on the other hand, focuses on the more realistic concept that we might not like every part of our body, but we don’t have to. Instead, we can just focus on gratitude for the body we do have and create a healthy relationship between our body and our mind that has nothing to do with self-worth. A more neutral perspective on our minds and bodies has a plethora of benefits that are still being studied. These benefits include but are not limited to: developing a less judgemental mindset, developing greater empathy, lowering stress, understanding yourself better without the lens of comparison, reduced reactionary responses, improved mood, and lower anxiety. A neutral mind is an accepting mind, a mind mentally prepared for both good and bad days, and a mind that does not judge itself based on positivity or negativity.
Johns Hopkins says, “Resiliency is the ability to adapt to stressful and/or negative situations and losses.” Adaptation is a key feature of the human race, and frankly, we’re pretty good at it. Building resilience with balanced positivity means you’ll have a more realistic expectation of what you need to deal with a situation. Instead of focusing on how someone else would handle an upset, or even how someone else would expect you to handle an upset, you can focus on the healthy ways you know you need to handle it. For example, perhaps you and your coach have identified that self-soothing techniques like counting or aromatherapy work best. Instead of worrying about how your co-worker or parent thinks you should deal with a mental health issue, you’ll have the personal tools you need to move forward. Thus, instead of having a debilitating panic attack made worse by the unnecessary shame of having a panic attack, you’ll be able to remember your personalized coping mechanisms. Plus, if you continue to have a panic attack, your balanced positivity mindset will help you to realize that you are capable of contending with that hurdle, too. A study in 2018 found conclusive data that suggests, “individuals who accept rather than judge their mental experiences may attain better psychological health, in part because acceptance helps them experience less negative emotion in response to stressors.” When you’re mentally prepared for either outcome, they don’t seem pitted against each other as positive or negative. Instead, you are ready for anything that could come your way as a natural part of experiencing life.
Positivity helps to heal our brains. No, really, balanced positive thinking helps to strengthen our neurons, improving cognition, our ability to focus, analyze data, and to problem solve quickly and creatively. We also have something called neuroplasticity, which affects the way those neurons grow. Researchers found that negativity and shame cause prefrontal cortex growth that fixates on such negativity and shame, while a balanced positivity grows positive reinforcement in the same area of the brain. This means that a positive outlook genuinely helps to positively affect our mental health, but only when it is genuine and not clouded with toxic positivity. You have the power to strengthen your mind with genuine positivity, but remember not to fear negativity. Everything in life is a balance and there is no one good or correct way to embrace that balance.
Positive thinking alone cannot solve all mental health issues, especially if positive thinking is weighed down by societal pressures or expectations. The first step to living with mental health issues is always seeking professional input. However, with a balanced perspective on the relationship between positivity and negativity, positive thinking can help to improve your mental health.