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Negativity Bias and Mental Well-being

Caught up in the latest news cycle spiral? Can’t stop thinking about that one comment your teacher made on your last essay when studying for a test? Can’t stop replaying a disagreement with your partner or friend in your head? You may be experiencing Negativity Bias, a cognitive phenomenon deeply ingrained in the human psyche. Our brains are wired to give more weight to negative information and experiences than positive ones, impacting our relationships and mental well-being. In this post, we’ll explore the effects of Negativity Bias, particularly in relationships, and offer strategies to counteract this natural inclination so you and the people who care about you can be a little happier every day.

Understanding Negativity Bias

Think of negativity bias like this: your day starts out great, you get up early, with plenty of time to make it to school. Big presentation today. You decide to reward yourself with a coffee, but the drive-thru line’s longer than it should be. You can’t back out now, so you get your coffee. But now you’re running late – which spirals into thoughts of how your presentation isn’t that great and you don’t have any friends at work. Your coffee doesn’t taste good anymore.

Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., an author and expert in ADHD and anxiety disorders, explains Negativity Bias leads us to place more importance on negative information and experiences. It’s kind of a leftover element from our prehistoric days – always having to be on alert for the dangers ahead.

What might have been useful and kept us surviving back then, now can make us overthink a minor mishap (getting delayed by a coffee run), rather than focusing on the positive (how prepared you are for the presentation). Not the best use of our energy!

Overcoming Negative Thoughts

Feeling stuck, confused, or frustrated is expected when dealing with these negative thoughts, but awareness is the first step to overcoming them. Challenging negative thoughts becomes crucial in kick starting growth, paving the way for a more positive mindset. For example, speak to yourself as if you were speaking to a friend. Would you tell a friend they were not good enough, or they should give up?

Another way to be aware is to highlight, as Claire Savage from The Better You Institute points out, the ways in which our brains are wired to twist a potential negative narrative. If we get in a minor fender bender, that means we’re the world’s worst driver. A rejection from a job or opportunity means we should throw out all our aspirations. This is what’s referred to as black-and-white thinking.  Next time you are faced with this scenario, be gentle with yourself. And ask, is that really the whole truth?

Impact on Relationships

Ever heard the phrase, even the smallest ripple can make waves? That’s certainly true for positive behaviors and actions. But it is even more so for negative emotions and thoughts. We’re all connected to each other–whether in work, school, or friend environments. If you’re always around someone who is constantly negative, it starts to affect the whole group. For example, say you have a big project coming up, or a game that could decide whether you go onto playoffs. If one person keeps identifying, in an unhealthy way, all the things that could go wrong, that attitude spreads. We all have bad days, but it’s important to remember that our vibes and outlook matter. We owe it to ourselves to see the bigger picture, and to realize that we all are responsible for setting the tone in our relationships. By being more aware and positive, we can help keep things upbeat and focused on solving problems, not just dwelling on them.

Strategies to Counteract Negativity Bias

Practice Gratitude: Actively focus on and appreciate the positive aspects of your relationships. Acknowledge the good moments, and regularly express gratitude to your partner or friends. For example, you can keep a Gratitude Diary.  Take the time each day to write out five things that make you feel grateful

Mindful Reflection: When faced with a situation, take a moment to reflect on what went well before diving into analysis. Training your brain to be aware of the positive aspects can gradually shift your perspective. Take a deep breath, get outside in nature. Anything to give yourself a pause to digest the situation.

Surround Yourself with Positive People: Sure, it can’t be all day every day, but having a friend or support group that is made up of positive outlooks is essential! Think about your friends and loved ones as your personal cheer squad, helping you to focus on the bright side when your mind wants to focus on the rain clouds.

Make Time for Play: Get outside! Join a pickleball league or discover a new coffee shop in town! All with the goal of hitting reset on your stress levels. Laughing and enjoying yourself can go a long way to leaving those negative vibes behind.

Self-Awareness: Understand and challenge negative thoughts about yourself and others. By taking charge and flipping the script inside our own heads, we can develop the capacity to turn down the negative noise and see situations more clearly.

Think back to that ripple effect: if we all devoted more energy to finding ways to combat the negative thinking patterns, we could make real change! It’s the little things – texting your friends how much you appreciate them or thanking a teacher for helping you understand a tough concept at school. Little by little, we can train our brain to start seeing the positive all around us. When we’re feeling good, usually that rubs off on our colleagues and friends and we create a feeling of well-being in the groups we belong to. So, let’s focus on embracing the good stuff! It’ll make a real splash in the lives of those we love. Think of how much better you’ll feel, and others will feel, as you help them embrace the best part of their day!