Reducing stress and anxiety through actions to increase optimism and resilience

Many studies over many years have explored the correlation between an individual’s optimistic or pessimistic outlook and the impact on stress, anxiety, health and well- being. Consistent consensus has been made that optimism is positively correlated with improved psychological health whereas a pessimistic outlook may increase vulnerabilities for poor psychological health.

There are also strong associations between optimism and resilience.

“A resilient person works through challenges by using personal resources, strengths, and other positive capacities of psychological capital like hope, optimism, and self-efficacy.”

Pennock, 2020

“The results indicated that psychological well-being is influenced by personal characteristics such as resilience, and the individual’s optimism regardless of his/her degree of resilience can to some extent provide for psychological well-being.”

Souri and Hasanirad, 2011

I recently explored this with a friend who had a performance review planned with her Manager. Her last performance review (with a different company) left her feeling deflated and unsupported as the poor feedback from her Manager was unexpected, and unwanted. She was expecting the worst from her upcoming review as well, and the only ‘qualifier’ for this pessimistic view was her last performance review. Jill had been working for this company for over a year, and over our coffee catch ups, I recalled events and stories that appeared to indicate a positive work environment and signs that she was a strong performer in the workplace, so I queried her negative outlook.

– “So, what about that quality assurance project you lead, with great outcomes?” “Yeah, that went well, but the team did most of the work.”

– “Who delegated the work?”

– “I did.”

– “So, you collaborated with the team, as their project manager, provided them with direction, agreed to task roles and ultimately guided the team to a successful outcome?”

Jill’s experience with predicting future outcomes in a negative framework, based on experience is not uncommon. To help Jill feel more confident going into her review, we brainstormed all the positive outcomes she contributed to or was personally responsible for. This included achievement of KPI’s, positive reviews from customers, and her contribution to positive team culture. By challenging her low expectations of the review, she was able to develop a plan to go into the meeting feeling confident, positive and adequately prepared if her Manager did happen to raise any issues. This would also help to put any criticisms that may be raised, into context. After all, none of us are perfect, but if the positive outcomes outweigh the ‘room for improvement’ results, we are winning!

Your current way of thinking may be keeping you where you are, but is that where you want to be? Are your current actions moving you closer to your goals or further away from them? If you would like to improve your current situation, it is likely that you need to start by changing your mindset.

Developing a positive mindset, if you are not already manifesting this, will take a conscious effort. Included below are some tips on helping to manifest a positive outlook in your own life:

  • You may have heard about practising gratitude. This is a simple and reflective process you can add into your routine at the end of each day, to reflect on something positive that happened during your day. It may be as simple as receiving a friendly smile from a stranger or feeling gratitude for the comfortable roof over your head. Many studies have found that expressing gratitude increases optimism.
  • Reframing your thought processes: This can start with challenging your own negative thoughts e.g., ‘My life is not going the way I would like it to’. To challenge this, you might break it down by looking at one aspect of your life – “I have a great social life.” In the words of author Martin Seligman (2019), “The key to learning optimism is learning how to recognise and then dispute unrealistic catastrophic thoughts.”
  • There are numerous studies regarding the practice of meditation and how the regular practice of meditation can improve your mindset, improve your memory, help you manage stress more effectively and many other health benefits. Meditation is a form of brain training. There are multiple studies which show that meditation can actually change your brain.
  • Try to surround yourself with positive people. When you seek out positive people, you will be around solution-focused thinking and can-do attitudes. Being in such company can influence your own thinking. These types of people are often found in groups which are focused on goal achievements such as business networking groups. You may already know someone who has a ‘glass half full’ attitude. Meeting up with them more frequently will be a start to increasing your network of positive people.
  • If you can join a gym or any type of exercise class, such as yoga, you can meet people trying to improve their lives, well-being and fitness through exercise. Any group that focuses on personal development and growth is likely to include positive people. There is significant evidence that exercise is also good for the mind.

My own personal experience with embracing optimism was best reflected in my journey after a severe traumatic brain injury, and waking up from my coma unable to walk, talk, see or have control over any of my bodily functions. Medical opinion was negative about my outlook. Prognosis predictions included life in a vegetative state, an inability to finish school or achieve the goals I had set, little hope of ever being able to participate in meaningful work, and more. My story of using those negative predictions as a powerful motivator to prove those doctors wrong, to lead a full, productive and meaningful life is documented in my new book, Holding on to Hope, Finding the ‘New You’ after a Traumatic Brain Injury.

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