Tuesday, June 25, 2024

How to Avoid the Negativity Bias

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By Irene Roth

sunnyiroth@gmail.com

https://irenesroth.com/Irene S. Roth

A chronically ill person can have a difficult time feeling healthy and resilient. There are days where you may feel tired and unable to cope because of a sleepless night. Or you may feel more pain for no apparent reason. Individuals with chronic illness frequently struggle with such enigmatic times.

There is no doubt that living with chronic illness can be stressful. Our life feels like an uphill battle, going to nowhere good. The thing about chronic illness, however, is we don’t really know how bad or good things really are. In other words, our negative perceptions can impact now we interpret our pain and fatigue levels.

Why, you ask? Because our perceptions usually focus on the negative aspects of living with chronic illness and unintentionally avoid some of the positive things. I realize this sounds odd and perhaps even counterintuitive at first glance. But there is real wisdom in this realization.

The negativity bias occurs when we hold onto negative thoughts instead of positive ones. This bias makes it easier for the brain to register negative stimuli than positive ones. We also dwell on negative events more readily.

For a chronically ill person, this can add a lot of unnecessary stress to your day. You may find yourself lost in the morass of negative thoughts and emotions, making you feel worse. As a chronically ill individual, you are far better to focus on some of the positive things in your life. Then you can take full ownership of your health and ensure that you live a healthy life.

Therefore, the negativity bias can impact your mental and physical health. Negative thinking can influence your behaviors, actions, and attitudes. Some of the unwanted emotions the negativity bias can bring about are anger, emptiness, helplessness, guilt, shame, fear, failure, sadness, overwhelm, inadequacy, and not feeling strong enough to cope with things of life.

It’s no wonder that you feel weak and unable to cope. When you focus on the negative, you become mired in all the terrible things you believe are happening. But what about some of the good things? If you think there are none then you are deeply in the throes of the negativity bias.

What’s worse, when you get caught up in negativity, these thoughts and emotions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, if you keep telling ourselves you feel awful, tired, and in excruciating pain repeatedly, after a while that’s all you will perceive. Your perceptions will become distorted, and you will start experiencing thinking traps, which keep focusing on the same negative thoughts and emotions, whether they are relevant at the time.

Here are a few ways to overcome negative biases.

1. Be aware of the negative bias. Become aware of your negative thoughts as they are occurring. Practise self-compassion by giving yourself some space to deal with them and accept how you feel.

2. Reframe the way you think. This technique identifies automatic thoughts and replaces them with more balanced ones. Start by noticing your thought distortions. Every time you experience a thought distortion, point it out to yourself. Evaluate whether there is factual evidence for your negative statements. If there isn’t, let go of the statement.

3. Start a gratitude journal. This practice will help you focus on the things you are grateful for. The more often you practice gratitude, the stronger you will feel.

4. Repeat some positive affirmations every day. Affirmations can change your outlook on life. When you’re having a hard day, consult your list of affirmations, and read one that resonates with you.

By taking these steps, you can become more resilient and in control of your health. You can’t feel resilient and healthy if you are focusing on what is wrong with you, the pain in your arm, your headache, or your fatigue. Instead, try to focus on your warm cup of tea, your view from the window in your study, the love and attention your spouse gives you and so on.

So, today make some space to focus on the positive. There is so much we can all rejoice about. Just look around you right now. Name five things are good right now. There, I knew you could do it.

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