Eye roll, right? Another article that’s going to tell you about how amazing positive thinking is, and if you could just think more positively you’ll be cured of your depression and anxiety. I get it. It can seem really condescending when you’re struggling and someone tells you that you just need to be more optimistic. Positive thinking is not the end-all, be-all cure to mental illness. However, just because positive thinking isn’t a cure, it can help.

It will be a struggle at first. Our brains have a tendency to focus three times more on the negative than we do the positive; this is evolutionary, it is how our prehistoric ancestors survived! They had to focus on the negative experience of encountering a bear, as opposed to the positive experience of seeing a pretty flower in a field or they wouldn’t have survived! Nowadays though, the tendency to focus more on the negative can have some very harmful symptoms to our mental health and isn’t as adaptive.

It takes a lot of effort and energy to change that pattern of thinking. Imagine the pathway in your brain that thinks negatively is the size of the Grand Canyon. Trying to think more positively might feel as though you are picking away on the side of the canyon with a tiny pick axe, and in essence, you are. Your brain has created a pathway in your brain so ingrained with negative thinking that creating a new pathway is going to take time and lots of exertion.

If you enjoy writing then a great way to start practicing thinking more positively is to keep a “Positivity Journal”. The great thing about a Positivity Journal is that it should not interfere much with your busy life at all, because you can take a couple minutes at the end of the day to write about some good things that happened during the day. The Positivity Journal does not have to be all positive. You can also write about difficulty being positive that day and why it was so difficult. If you have very limited time you can make a list and jot down three good things that happened during the day. Another similar idea is a Gratitude Journal. Recognizing gratitude has been shown through research to help with not only thinking more positive, but with symptoms of anxiety and depression as well. You can write down things you are grateful for everyday in your journal.

If you do not particularly enjoy writing, you can practice positivity in your mind. Some people practice a “daily affirmation”, which acts somewhat as a mantra for your day. You can find a whole list of positive affirmations at the following link: http://theeverygirl.com/50-positive-affirmations-you-should-tell-yourself/. It is difficult to find a positive affirmation that isn’t cliché, but even creating one yourself can work; a simple “I am calm” can be sufficient to add a little more positivity to your day. Of course, you can also practice gratitude in your mind by recalling three things you are thankful for or you can think of three good things that happened to you that day.

There are also many great apps to help you foster more positivity. The following are some great options (and are all free to download, although there may be in-app purchases required):

  • Joy
  • Calm
  • Happify
  • Live Happy
  • Think Up
  • Thought Diary
  • Just One Minute

Again, when you are in the midst of depression and/or anxiety it can seem almost impossible to try to think more positively. Positive thinking is not a cure, however research has shown that implementing more positive thinking into your everyday routine can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of various mental illness. I invite you to give it a try!


By: Marion R. White, MHC-LP