Everywhere you look, you’ll find books, articles, and social media image quotes extolling the virtues of positive thinking. Heck, I’m constantly posting articles and blogs that encourage positivity. Yet, these “Be Happy” messages can be bad advice for some. Call me Debbie Downer, but a recent study shows why.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, women have a larger anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain dubbed the worrywart center. It’s also why some women (okay, me at times) have more difficulty letting go of an emotional conversation, but I’ll save that for another blog. So, if you tend to be a woman who worries, being told to “look on the bright side” may be the wrong advice.
While a common tactic among positive thinkers is to reframe the meaning of a bad situation, this proved tricky for worry-prone women. In the study, women were shown a series of neutral and negative images. Some women were told a troubling image was coming up and they should try to think about it in a positive way. Yet this strategy created above-average anticipation of unpleasant images and also increased emotional arousal during the reappraisal task for worriers.
What does work? According to the research, a more helpful tactic is to take a detached, objective view of the situation. For instance, those who tend to worry could ask themselves, “How would I advise a friend facing this type of challenge?”
Personally, I find it’s also helpful to pick up the phone and vent to a girlfriend – one who truly listens with empathy and encouragement, rather than immediately telling you to look on the bright side.