Positive thinking, or healthy thinking, is a way to help you stay well or cope with a health problem by changing how you think. It’s based on research that shows that you can change how you think. And how you think affects how you feel.
If you think in a positive way, you may be more able to care for yourself and handle life’s challenges. You will feel better. And you may be more able to avoid or cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, also called CBT, is a therapy that is often used to help people think in a healthy way. It focuses on thought (cognitive) and action (behavioral). Studies have shown that CBT can help people sleep better and help them lose weight.1, 2 It also can help treat depression and keep it from returning.3
CBT can help you notice the discouraging thoughts that make you feel bad. These thoughts are sometimes called irrational or automatic thoughts. Using CBT, you can learn to stop these thoughts and replace them with helpful thoughts.
Healthy thinking also involves calming your mind and body. You can use one or more techniques. These may include meditation, yoga, muscle relaxation, or guided imagery.
Many people work with a therapist or a counselor to learn CBT. But you also can practice healthy thinking on your own.
CBT involves techniques that you can practice every day so that healthy thinking comes naturally. For example: Maybe you're upset about a job review at work. Your boss praised several things about your work. But you're feeling down because she had one small criticism. You might even think, "I'm no good at my job" or "She doesn't like me. I must be bad."
Focusing on only the bad and not the good is an example of negative or distorted thinking. You can teach yourself to watch for negative thinking. You can ask yourself how true or helpful your thoughts were. "What did my boss say exactly?" "Were there positive comments?" "Why do I focus only on one criticism?"
You can learn to see that the harsh things you say to yourself may keep you from enjoying your life and work. With time and practice, you can learn to tell yourself more accurate and helpful statements. You might say, "I've done a lot of good work this year, and my boss noticed it. She thought there was one area I can improve. So I'll think of some things I can do to get stronger in that area."
CBT combines several ways to help you change how you think:
Although you can use CBT on your own, it’s important to talk to your doctor or a counselor if you have symptoms of depression or feel that your mood is getting worse.
Learn to stop discouraging yourself with negative thoughts:
Learn how to use positive thinking to prevent or treat some health problems:
Learn how to lower your stress:
If you work with a counselor or a therapist, he or she can coach you to do CBT methods on your own.
There is no special license to show that a counselor has trained in CBT. You need to ask about a counselor’s knowledge of CBT.
Try to find two or three counselors who are licensed by your state. Ask your doctor and family or close friends if they can recommend someone. Licensed counselors may have a doctorate (a Ph.D.) in psychology or a master’s degree in social work or counseling.
You can call the counselors for a brief phone interview. Ask them if they have training in CBT and if they use it often.
Pick the counselor you feel most comfortable with.
For more information on related health topics, see:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
|Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.|
|Anxiety: Using Positive Thinking|
|Depression: Using Positive Thinking|
|Positive Thinking: Stopping Unwanted Thoughts|
|Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation|
|Stress Management: Doing Guided Imagery to Relax|
|Stress Management: Doing Meditation|
|Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation|
|Stress Management: Managing Your Time|
|Stress Management: Practicing Yoga to Relax|
|Stress Management: Reducing Stress by Being Assertive|
|Weight Management: Using Positive Thinking|
- Edinger JD, et al. (2001). Cognitive behavioral therapy for treatment of chronic primary insomnia: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 285(14): 1856–1864.
- Shaw K, et al. (2005). Psychological interventions for overweight or obesity. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
- Paykel ES (2007). Cognitive therapy in relapse prevention in depression. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 10(1): 131–136.
Other Works Consulted
- Burns DD (1999). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. New York: Avon.
- Ellis A (2001). Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.
- McKay M, et al. (2007). Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Sue Barton, PhD, PsyD - Behavioral Health|
|Last Revised||August 26, 2010|
Last Revised: August 26, 2010
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