For those managing a chronic autoimmune disorder such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, it is important to nurture a positive attitude. Thinking positively, practicing gratitude, and socializing regularly have all been linked to better health outcomes. However, focusing exclusively on the positive can have its own negative impact.
While common advice like “just think positive,” “focus on the good,” or “don’t dwell on the negative,” are meant to be encouraging, sometimes it is healthy to face the awful truth of painful life circumstances. In addition, negativity is a critical survival mechanism which alerts you to possible dangers.
Forcing a positive attitude when it is inappropriate is known as toxic positivity. Avoiding or denying negative emotions only makes them bigger and more persistent. This actually creates more inflammation in your body, especially if you have an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Telling someone who is suffering that they should only focus on being positive is an example of spiritual bypassing or gaslighting. Spiritual bypassing uses false positivity to bypass a difficult issue. Gaslighting attempts to make someone feel crazy when they express uncomfortable thoughts or feelings.
Many autoimmune patients have felt gaslighted by doctors who insinuated they were making up their symptoms or just seeking attention.
Practice mindfulness, not just positivity
It’s human nature to want to avoid negative and unpleasant emotions because they are uncomfortable and distressing. We often label these painful emotions as “bad.” However, instead of banishing them, we can learn to be fully present with negative feelings and allow them to help us make decisions that protect and support us.
Rather than denying them through forced positivity or numbing them with bad habits and addictions, psychologists recommend listening to what they reflect about a current situation.
For example, feeling frustrated and angry about your health actually reflects that you care about yourself and your ability to participate in life. Allowing and accepting negative thoughts and feelings can be helpful in understanding who you are and in making good choices.
Resilience and self-care are the bedrocks of positivity
Some self-help circles teach that negative thoughts can manifest bad circumstances. The reality is that bad things just happen – to everyone. Positivity isn’t about feeling good all the time. It’s about responding to adversity with positive self-talk in order to become more resilient.
Become aware of these negative self-talk habits:
- filtering out the good parts of an experience and dwelling on the bad
- blaming yourself when things go wrong, or thinking that bad things only happen to you and not other “luckier” people
- catastrophizing and making problems out to be much bigger than they actually are
- polarizing issues into very good or very bad and failing to see that most things in life are within the grey area
Instead, practice positivity in difficult situations by becoming your own cheerleader and coach. By doing so, you will avoid falling into the trap of despair and hopelessness.
Positivity is a practice, not a destination
The most important thing to remember is that positivity takes practice. By applying yourself consistently to the practice of positivity, you hardwire new neural pathways into your brain, which makes you more proficient over time – just like playing an instrument or a sport. This is an example of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change through a person’s lifetime.
If you have a chronic autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, every time you practice positivity you also release anti-inflammatory chemicals in your body that help tame inflammation and modulate immunity.
Here are some tricks that can help you become more resilient and capable of responding positively to the negative aspects of life:
- Strategize about how you can change an area of your life that causes constant stress, like a job or a relationship.
- Check in with yourself throughout the day and be mindful about whether your thoughts are negative or positive.
- Look for the humor. Laughing at life reduces its weight and lowers stress.
- Follow an anti-inflammatory diet. Many studies have shown the link between what we eat and how we feel. Consume food that fuels a good mood.
- Move your body at least 30 minutes a day. Generating feel-good endorphins through exercise beats any addictive substance or habit. It also makes it easier to practice positivity.
- Surround yourself with positive people and avoid the incessantly negative ones. Seek out and cultivate friendships that are mutually supportive for those inevitable down days.
- Pay attention to how you frame things. We all say things that can be rephrased more positively. For example, if you make a mistake, instead of saying, “I’m so stupid,” rephrase it to something like, “How can I do better next time?”
- Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you care about. You most likely would never talk to someone you love the way you talk to yourself. Prioritize care and respect in your self-talk.
Some people were modeled positively healthy self-talk in childhood by their parents and teachers. Others have to learn it later in life. Either way, this skill is honed through awareness and practice and will help you develop the resilience you need to navigate the rough times of managing an autoimmune or chronic health disorder like Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.