By Rhonda L. Williams, LCSW
Do you know someone who is generally cheerful and in a good mood, someone who looks on the bright side of things and who lets bad situations roll off their back? You may be envious of this person’s positive attitude and wish you were born with the same sunny disposition.
You also may know someone who seems to be a friend of gloom, with a “thanks for noticing me” attitude. Did you know you can change the way you think and respond? Changing the way that you think and talk to yourself can improve your physical and emotional well being.
Learning how to become a healthy, optimistic thinker can help you some of the following ways:
• It can improve your mood and self-esteem.
• It can decrease depression, anxiety and hostility.
• It can lessen pain and other physical symptoms.
• It can improve the speed of recovery after surgery.
• It can enhance your immune function.
• And it possibly can extend your life.
We constantly talk to ourselves. The way we do so is often a learned habit. It’s difficult at first to change how we think, because similar to a train on an old familiar track; our thoughts tend to run down the same paths over and over.
Learning to think optimistically is an exercise. The more you do it, the stronger your brain will become in jumping off that same old worried, sad or gloomy track and trying out some bright new trails.
Mental health experts say that optimists tend to seek out, remember and expect positive experiences. Optimists learn to: 1. Be selective, remembering mainly the positive events in the past. 2. Focus on the present, seeing the future in terms of what can be done instead of what can’t happen. 3. See threats as challenges, problems to be solved. And 4. Believe the world is coherent, and their actions make a significant difference.
September is Older Virginian’s Mental Health Awareness Month. As an effort to increase our own awareness about our mental health, consider learning to view life more optimistically.
There are several excellent resources available regarding learning optimism, and positive thinking skills at your local library. A couple of examples that are helpful are; “Healthy Mind Healthy Body Handbook” by Dr. David Sobel and Robert Ornstein and “The Depression Workbook” by Mary Ellen Copeland.
A healthy change in thought patterns can go a long way in preventing depression and anxiety.
The writer is a mental health first aid instructor with the city department of health and community services.