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6 Tips to Stay Positive in a Negative Situation (that Actually Work)


A real test of our character is in how we deal with a difficult situation. Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty sort of person? Are you aware that you have control over this? Staying positive in a negative situation takes practice. I have been told many times I am “annoyingly positive” but behind the facade, I have my demons. 

Not all negative situations are made equal. A bereavement through separation or death isn’t comparable to a homemade cake gone wrong. However, human beings are all different. And what triggers one of us into the depths of despair may not cause another one of us to blink. And of course, there are some situations whereby it is entirely inappropriate to seek out anything that’s positive. 

In this article, we will look at what it means to be positive in a negative situation and the benefits of this. We will discuss toxic positivity and we will identify 6 actions to help us stay positive in a negative situation (that actually work!)

A significant part of your happiness is a result of your personal outlook. Being aware of your own emotions and mindset is a vital step towards happiness. This is covered in-depth in the section Internal Happiness in the biggest guide on how to be happy available online.

What does it mean to be positive? 

A positive person is one who is full of optimism and hope. They see the world through rose-tinted spectacles. They focus on the good aspects of a situation as opposed to dwelling on the bad elements. 

Let’s be honest. How many of us actually enjoy being around negative doomsayers? I have a few negatrons in my life. I limit my time with them as they suck my energy like a vampire. Every tiny little hiccup becomes a drama and it can be quite exhausting. 

On the other hand, I have some incredibly positive souls in my life. People who have surfed the waves of sucky situations. I can’t even comprehend how they stay standing. And they do so with ease and control. They maintain a sunny disposition and they somehow get through thorny times with barely a scratch. 

I often wonder what their secret is. I look at these people with awe, and I feel I am somewhere in the middle. Depending on my frame of mind, I can over catastrophize something incredibly small. Or I can handle complete devastation like a Budda. What about you? 

Simple positive activities help make us happier. These activities could be engaging in kindness or keeping a gratitude diary. Perhaps if we build a more positive psyche in the first place, we are better equipped when it comes to dealing with a negative situation. 

The benefits of positivity 

The greatest benefit of positivity is life. Quite literally. 

This study found women who scored higher in optimism were less likely to die from some of the major causes of death, like heart disease, stroke, cancer or respiratory disease. 

Positivity and negativity are synonymous with optimism and pessimism.  

An article by Brianna Steinhilber distinguishes between the two. 

Experts claim that the real difference between optimists and pessimists isn’t in their level of happiness or in how they perceive a situation, but in how they cope

Brianna Steinhilber

So our life expectancy may be longer and our ability to cope greater if we are optimistic. But what is actually happening in the brain when we adopt a positive mental attitude

The left-hand side of the brain is associated with positive moods and the right-hand side of the brain is linked to negative moods. The good news is our brains can be rewired.

This means that – with practice – we are all able to become more optimistic

Know the difference between healthy positivity and toxic positivity 

I have recently learned about the term “toxic positivity”. 

Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how difficult or devastating a situation is, people should maintain a positive outlook. They should focus on the silver linings, no matter how dire the situation is. 

While the simple truth is that sometimes there are simply no silver linings.

Toxic positivity can cause emotional turmoil. It can result in feelings and emotions being bottled up. Problems ignored and feelings of others being dismissed. 

An indication of someone trying to initiate a bit of toxic positivity is when sentences are started with “look on the bright side…” or “just stay positive”. 

Take cancer as an example. I can’t even begin to imagine the heartache of being diagnosed with cancer. Or having someone close to you diagnosed with cancer. 

No matter what the diagnosis is, an example of toxic positivity would be to try and see false positives in this situation. Comparing one diagnosis with another is not always helpful.

Toxic positivity can minimize a situation and that’s certainly not what we are trying to do here. 

A positivity study in cancer patients found optimism to be essential in the patients’ well-being for their present moment but was not beneficial when thinking of the future. This brings us to the conclusion that whilst positivity has its place, we also need to be mindful of realism. 

6 actionable takeaways to stay positive in a negative situation 

Some situations are extremely difficult to overcome. 

A study into the posttraumatic growth in prisoners of war veterans from the Vietnam war showed a significant correlation with optimism. This went on to outline that it is possible to achieve long-lasting positivity following significantly traumatic life events. 

This may be an extreme example, but I want to highlight that we can find positivity and happiness following deep trauma

Here are 6 tips to help you build resilience and build a more positive mindset.

1. Breathe

When faced with a negative situation. One of the first things to consider is your breathing. It can help you gain composure and give you space to minimize a knee-jerk reaction. After all, deep breathing has been linked to emotional control and physical well-being

So, inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 4. Repeat this for a few minutes before you consider how you are going to react to your situation. This will facilitate the adoption of a positive mindset. 

2. Don’t jump to conclusions 

Make sure you don’t catastrophize the situation. Deal in facts and be ready to reel your anxious brain in when it starts spinning out of control. You can only go on the information you have. Don’t read between the lines or build a dramatic story around the information you have. 

This will keep you in control of the situation and prevent your brain from taking you for a joy ride. 

3. Seek alternative solutions 

Consider if you have any options in your situation.

  • Do you need to figure out a solution to something?
  • Do you need to focus on your own well-being?
  • Perhaps it’s time to ask a favor of someone?
  • Maybe it’s time to lean into your emotional support group?

Control the controllables. But aside from this, look after yourself and be mindful of your own wellbeing. 

4. Talk to someone about how you feel

Express your feelings and talk openly. Admit your feelings to yourself and don’t deny them. Process them, feel them, sit with them. Don’t be shy in engaging with professional help in terms of therapy. This may help stop you from getting stuck in negative cycles.

5. Exercise

I know not everyone is as obsessed with running as I am. But it doesn’t have to be running. It could be anything. Swimming, cycling, kayaking. Even a simple half-hour walk can elevate your mood and help you regulate your emotions. 

Exercise releases dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone. This means that we are more inclined to lean towards a positive response after we’ve exercised for a bit. 

6. Keep positive company

Be mindful of the company you keep. I appreciate we can’t always shut out the negatrons. But learn to put boundaries in place. Find a way to limit the time you spend with negative, energy-sapping souls. 

Instead, seek out people who energize you. 

The company we keep can have a dramatic impact on us. In fact, it was Jim Rohn who said we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. So think of these people. Do you want to be like them? If not, it’s time to shake up where you invest your time. 

Wrapping up

Staying positive in a negative situation isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes practice. Sometimes, responding to a negative situation with a positive mindset is completely inappropriate. There is a time and a place to sit with our emotions and suffer. Differentiating between positivity and toxic positivity is key. 

Don’t be a negatron. Be somebody who energizes others and glows with authentic positivity.

What do you think? Do you believe that you can adopt a positive mindset in the face of dire setbacks? Do you want to share your own story on how you stayed positive in a negative situation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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Ali Hall

Writer

Kindness is my superpower. Dogs and nature are my oxygen. Psychology with Sports science graduate. Scottish born and bred. I’ve worked and traveled all over the world. Find me running long distances on the hills and trails.


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