Positive thinking and self-talk may help you reduce stress and manage anxiety. But there may be some limits to the effects.

Positive thinking refers to the idea that you can affect your outcome through positive affirmations, self-talk, and visualizations. It’s an idea that many people across different industries, including healthcare, have adopted to one degree or another.

Though many people promote it for various health benefits, evidence suggests that it may not be as powerful as some people suggest. Still, it may help with reducing anxiety and stress.

Positive thinking is an act of replacing negative thought patterns, often thought of as pessimism, with positive thought patterns, often thought of as optimism.

To achieve positive thinking, you can:

  • repeat constant affirmations
  • envision success
  • create happy thoughts to block out stressful or unpleasant thoughts
  • say good things to yourself to build self-esteem

A 2019 article notes that positive thinking suggests that you need to replace all negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones in order to accomplish anything good and pursue happiness. But the author of the article notes that there are several limitations to positive thinking.

How to have positive thoughts

Positive thinking can’t be practiced without acknowledging the reality of what you’re experiencing and feeling.

According to a 2020 study, grounding positive thinking in reality and setting reasonable expectations can improve your overall well-being.

When practicing positive thinking consider taking time to observe your thoughts and feelings by practicing somatic therapy exercises, like self-regulation or body scanning.

This can help you ground yourself and acknowledge how your observations are affecting you in the present moment. Try to allow yourself to experience any emotions that come up, such as sadness or anger.

You can then set realistic expectations without denying yourself emotions that may naturally arise when going through difficult situations.

Thinking positively can take practice, particularly if you naturally have a more pessimistic view of the world around you.

Some tricks you can try to help you focus on more positive thinking include:

  • be open to laughter and smiling even during stressful, sad, or otherwise unpleasant situations
  • take time to check in with your thoughts and try to put positive spins on negative thought patterns
  • look for friends who share a positive viewpoint of the world around them
  • take time to exercise regularly and eat a healthful diet
  • practice positive self-talk, affirmations, and positive imagery

The benefits of positive thinking may differ for people. You also may find that it’s easier to achieve with practice. Some possible benefits of positive thinking include:

1. Stress and anxiety management

A 2021 study found similar results in people undergoing kidney dialysis. In their controlled study, researchers found that positive thinking helped to reduce anxiety and stress in the study group compared to the control group.

They also noted that perceived quality of life scores also increased. But depression scores remained the same.

Reducing your stress level can have several benefits. These include:

  • help with weight control
  • better sleep quality
  • easier to get along with friends and family
  • improved mood
  • decreased muscle tension

Reducing stress may positively affect several aspects of physical and mental health since studies show it can trigger or aggravate several different diseases and mental health conditions.

2. Improved quality of life

Worrying can negatively impact your quality of life and lead to mental health issues, such as high-stress levels, overwhelm, or burnout.

According to a 2016 study, replacing distressing thoughts with positive ideation has a beneficial effect and provides an effective replacement for worry.

3. Better thinking

In a 2017 study, researchers looked at student outcomes when exposed to positive thinking.

In the controlled experiment, the students in the study group showed increased creative thinking and reduced stress compared to the control group that didn’t engage in positive thinking.

Positive thinking can help with stress management, worry, and improving the way you think. By extension, it may have positive effects on other aspects of health due to stress’ role in several diseases and mental health conditions.

Positive thinking involves focusing on the positives and replacing negative thoughts with a more optimistic outlook. This can include positive self-talk, positive imagery, and building self-esteem.