How Positive Thinking Impacts Your Stress Level

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Can you think your way to a stress-free life? It is possible to reduce the amount of stress you feel by having positive thoughts about the things that happen in your daily life.

Most of us have had someone say "Think positive!" or "Look on the bright side," when something didn't go quite right. As difficult as that may be to hear, there is some truth to it. Positive thinking can reduce your stress level, help you feel better about yourself (and the situation) and improve your overall well-being and outlook.

The only problem is that it's not always easy to be positive and some circumstances make it more of a challenge than others. The good news: With a little work on turning around your negative thoughts, you can become an optimist.

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The Attitudes of Optimists and Pessimists

Research shows the benefits of optimism and a positive frame of mind are huge. Optimists enjoy better health, stronger relationships, are more productive, and experience less stress, among other things.

This is because optimists tend to take more risks. They also blame external circumstances if they fail, maintaining a "try again" mindset.

Because of their resilience, optimists are more likely to succeed in the future and less upset by failure in general.

Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to blame themselves when things go wrong and become more reluctant to try again with each negative experience in life. They begin to look at positive events in their lives as "flukes" that have nothing to do with them and expect the worst.

In this way, optimists and pessimists both create self-fulfilling prophecies.

Your Perception of Negative Events

When you understand how both outlooks view circumstances, it becomes clear how optimism and positive self-talk can impact your stress levels, as can pessimism and negative self-talk.

  • Negative events are less stressful when you see them as "not your fault" and less likely to recur.
  • Similarly, positive events are even sweeter when you see them as evidence of more to come and see yourself as the master of your own fate.

Because of the difference in behavior, those who habitually practice positive thinking tend to experience more success, which can add up to a less stressful life.

How to Learn to Be Optimistic

How can you use this information to reduce your stress level? Fortunately, optimism can be learned.

With practice, you can change your self-talk (your inner dialogue, what you say to yourself about what you're experiencing) and your explanatory style (the specific ways that optimists and pessimists process their experiences). Here's how:

  • Take The Optimism Self Test. Learn whether you're an optimist or a pessimist and to what degree. The reason that this is important is that many pessimists think they're optimists; however, optimism is defined by specific criteria. If you know where you lie on the optimism-pessimism spectrum, you'll have a better idea of what may need changing.
  • Try to Be Positive. Once you understand your current way of seeing things, you can make a conscious effort to look at things differently as you're presented with situations. Now is the perfect time to practice different types of positive self-talk and learn how to become an optimist.
  • Use Positive Affirmations. You can reprogram yourself and your way of thinking by using positive affirmations on a regular basis. This will help positive thinking to become more automatic. Over time, you will have to consciously think about it less as each new situation comes up. 
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Peterson, Christopher; Seligman, Martin E.; Vaillant, George E.; Pessimistic explanatory style is a risk factor for physical illness: A thirty-five-year longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 55(1), Jul, 1988. pp. 23-27.

  • Peterson, C. (2000). The future of optimism. American Psychologist, 55, 44–55.
  • Solberg Nes, L. S., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2006). Dispositional optimism and coping: A meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 235–251.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.