It’s on postcards, it’s on get-well notes, it’s on the cover of every best-selling self-care guidebook, and for most people, the notion of positivity as a serious and driving force for both physical and mental health is not only wildly impersonal, but also almost insulting. At least, at first glance. But there is a genuine importance to positivity on a clinical level and thinking positively about something can have a crucial effect on its progress, within the proper context.
It’s important to differentiate the urge to practice and preach a positive mindset within the context of mental illness treatment and addiction treatment from the impersonal and nearly boorish call to simply ‘think positive’ as a solution to one’s problems.
Positivity isn’t magical, and like motivation, it requires genuine work to cultivate and maintain, both from patients and their healthcare professionals. And just like motivation, it suffers from the same misconception that both need to originate solely within the minds and hearts of those who are struggling with issues such as addiction and depression to begin with.
As we delve into what it means to use positivity effectively, it’s important to keep in mind the numerous factors that often influence the development of addiction, and remember how, conversely, it’s negativity that often plays a hand in worsening both the physical and mental elements of substance use disorders.
What Does It Mean to Think Positive?
The brain is a powerful organ, far more powerful than we may give it credit for. On a philosophical level, every aspect of reality passes through the brain before we recognize it, and everything we see is, undoubtedly, molded and shaped at least partially by our preconceptions and beliefs. We see the world through our own lens, and regardless of how impartial we aim to be, we cannot separate ourselves from the experiences we’ve made.
That, in turn, affects everything. It all compounds together, and many of the decisions we make about the world around us – the judgments we meet and the opinions we form – are years in the making, influenced by experiences that we had no part in causing, formed without free will but by chance and happenstance.
Trying to control that is what brings us a ‘mindset’. While we are in large part a sum of internal and external factors, we can practice influencing how we react to the things that happen to us. We can work on feeling grateful for the good in our lives. We can work on learning to separate ourselves from elements that clearly cause us harm and unnecessary stress.
We cannot always use a mindset to cut away at what’s difficult and uncomfortable. Everyone struggles with different circumstances, many of which we cannot control. Some people are born with differences both psychologically and physiologically, differences that might make them more prone to depressive thoughts or addictive behavior. Some people have an easier time being an optimist.
But we can, with practice, learn to mitigate some of these problems in our lives and apply positivity. Not alone, but with help – through medication, through therapy, through treatment, through healthier relationships, through healthier habits, through healthier friendships. These things don’t guarantee a more positive outlook, but they make it possible to begin forming one.
Past Platitudes and Empty Words
For some, it’s not enough to stand in-front of a mirror and be self-affirming. It might be that a technique like that simply doesn’t work for you. You might find it ridiculous, and just can’t take it seriously. But there are many ways to apply a more positive mindset in your life.
Start by catching yourself when you begin to express self-doubt. If you struggle to convince yourself to stop doubting yourself, speak up about your anxieties to a close friend who knows what you are going through. By seeking encouragement and affirmation through those close to us, we can mitigate some of our own negative thoughts and begin to combat them through the positivity of others around us.
More than just empty words, these thoughts can have a genuine impact. Research shows that negativity and depression increase the perception of physical pain, slows healing and recovery, and contributes to a host of both physical and mental ailments, including addiction. Making everyday improvements to how you think about yourself and the world around you does more than just make you a little happier – it could make you a little healthier, too.
It’s No Replacement for Therapy and Treatment
No one should advocate for concepts such as positivity and healthier living as end-all-be-all solutions for physical or mental illnesses. Substance use disorder is a diagnosable illness, caused by repeated and unavoidable drug use, often as a result of or in conjunction with other conditions.
For people who struggle with chronic addiction, polysubstance abuse, and dual diagnoses, there is no effective replacement for treatment and therapy. Some might grow out of their condition, but others are stuck in cycles of relapse and self-doubt.
A positive mindset can be tremendously useful in the recovery process, both during treatment and in the many months, years, and decades to come.
How a Mindset Inspires Action
We think, then we do – ideally, at least. A positive mindset can inspire us to be more open to new experiences, discovering newer ways to deal with the challenges we face in life, and finding ways to continue remaining committed to sobriety without the threat of relapse.
A positive mindset can help us avoid making hasty judgments when it comes to meeting new people, often discovering ways of life we might not have previously been exposed to. A positive mindset can help us get things done faster.
But a positive mindset is not infinitely manageable. You will have bad days. You will have slow days. It is important to be patient with yourself and recognize that recovery from addiction, as with any chronic condition, is ultimately a difficult and uphill battle, and progress should only be traced over the long-term rather than the chaotic day-to-day.
Seek help in cultivating and maintaining positivity through professional help and close friends and family. Know that, when you can’t be positive, it’s okay to rely on others. And understand that seeing life in a better light is not a solution to addiction, but a supplemental tool in combatting the mental and physical effects of long-term drug use and mental illness.