How optimism aids in reducing stress, anxiety, depression

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Photographer: Jacob S

A student studying for an IB Math exam could benefit from a dose of optimism to achieve an optimal result.

Jacob S., Reporter

“You have a lot of schoolwork to do and too little time to get it all done. You are just looking over all the work you have to complete this week. You have two tests and a big paper due, all of which you haven’t even started yet. You feel completely overwhelmed.”

Feel familiar? If you’re a student in high school, stress and anxiety are very common and could possibly lead to clinical depression. Unfortunately, a majority of high school students fail to overcome this emotional state causing them to fail their classes and hurt their GPA. 

Luckily, there is a way to conquer many stress related illnesses without having to go to a psychologist. Optimism. In learning to become happier, you might not achieve it straight away — everyone is different, and different exercises will work for different people. You simply have to try a few methods that work for you. Allow me to help alleviate your stress and anxiety at the low-cost of your time in reading this article. 

Infusing positive emotions in life

Allow me to bring back the quote from earlier. 

You have a lot of schoolwork to do and too little time to get it all done. You are just looking over all the work you have to complete this week. You have two tests and a big paper due, all of which you haven’t even started yet. You feel completely overwhelmed.”

These words came from a group of psychologists who presented them to participants in a study in which stressful scenes were imagined. The psychologists were exploring the broaden-and-build theory and a dual-process model of resilience. In their study, they had participants listen to a vignette as an audio recording via headphones, and they told participants to visualize this scenario, reflecting on how they would feel in this situation.

The study was used to help psychologists understand if manipulation of individuals’ mindsets was effective in inducing stress for participants in the sample. All participants did experienced an increase in stress levels. The research suggests that strategies eliciting positive emotions are important for establishing beneficial coping outcomes. This is useful in understanding how well-being activities and optimistic thoughts could decrease certain levels of stress. 

Finding happiness

Despite reasons for pessimism, research shows that anyone can achieve happiness. Happiness is not always stable across a person’s lifetime; however, personality can change over time. In addition, studies have shown that well-being can be improved due to lifestyle changes (e.g. exercise, nutrition), and by engaging in positive activities, such as performing acts of kindness, becoming more grateful, or practicing optimism.

These sorts of results are also attainable for people suffering from depression or anxiety. They may benefit from the practice of well-being-enhancing activities. In fact, recent literature has highlighted the importance of positive activities as a possible way to alleviate depression and encourage them to live more fulfilling lives.

Studies have suggested that positive activities not only improve well-being, but they are also capable of minimizing depressive symptoms. For example, a 2009 meta-analysis by Nancy L. Sin and Sonja Lyubomirsky found that positive psychology exercises can successfully reduce depressive symptoms in individuals with a range of symptom levels.

Positive activities may also be beneficial to individuals suffering from anxiety. In one study, patients with affective disorders (i.e., major depression, panic disorder, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder) were assigned to complete well-being therapy, in which they kept a diary of the positive events in their daily lives, or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Participants in both conditions demonstrated improvements. Both those who completed well-being therapy showed greater decreases in anxiety and increase in happiness. 

Given the growing rates of depression and anxiety in the United States, as well as the expense of treatment, positive activities may be an easy, accessible, and low-cost method to alleviate depression and anxiety.

How can I become happier?

Using positive emotions to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression can be ultimately very successful. With repeated practice, you won’t have to try as hard; the effects will require only minimal attention or effort. The benefits of positive emotions can be valuable for coping in the short-term and can also have long-lasting benefits for an individual.

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