A Journal of Abnormal Psychology Study Shows How Optimism and Perseverance Can Help You Limit Anxiety and Depression

How a change in your perception can help you battle anxiety and depression

Robert Nicholson III
Jun 18 · 10 min read

According to Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP, 26% of Americans suffer from depression. In his article, The Effects of Depression in Your Body”, he names some of the common symptoms your body goes through when you’re experiencing chronic depression.

Symptoms such as:

  • Feelings of Sadness or Emptiness
  • Insomnia
  • Trouble with Memories or Decisions
  • Risk of Heart Attack
  • Weight Fluctuations
  • Constricted Blood Vessels
  • Feelings of Clinginess
  • Increased Pain Sensitivity
  • Fatigue
  • Lower Interest in Sex

Although chronic depression and anxiety are mental health issues, they’re serious business when it comes to your body. But, could recovery from these debilitating conditions be as simple as changing your perception about your life?

Nur Hani Zainal, MS, and Michelle G. Newman, Ph.D. both from Pennsylvania State University, conducted a study on how coping strategies would be helpful in reducing rates of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.

The study consisted of 3,294 adults who were observed for over 18 years. Participants of the study where majority caucasian, with an average age of 45 years, and less than 50% obtained college degrees.

During that time span, data was collected 3 times.

  • 1995 to 1996
  • 2004 to 2005
  • 2012 to 2013

Between these years, the volunteers were asked to give an estimation of their results on goal persistence, self-mastery, and positive reappraisal. Here is what Zainal and Newman found out:

“Our findings suggest that people can improve their mental health by raising or maintaining high levels of tenacity, resilience and optimism,”… Aspiring toward personal and career goals can make people feel like their lives have meaning. On the other hand, disengaging from striving toward those aims or having a cynical attitude can have high mental health costs” — Nur Hani Zainal, MS

Another interesting discovery from Zainal and Newman was that the volunteers didn’t show any change in self-mastery during this experiment. So, the need of being in control didn’t play a factor into participant’s ability to cope with depression and anxiety.

What does this mean for you?

You have the power to control your emotional well-being by how you perceive life.

Where Your Perception Comes from In the First Place

According to a study written about in an article by Brianna Steinhilber of NBC News, optimism is 25% inherited from family. Factors that are out of our control plays a small percentage in how we view the world.

Contrary to popular belief about optimists, they do observe the obstacles they come across. Everything isn’t all sunshine and lollipops for them. But, they have trained themselves to look for the good during their turbulent times.

“ In fact, experts claim that the real difference between optimists and pessimists isn’t in their level of happiness or in how they perceive a situation, but in how they cope” — Brianna Steinhilber (Editor at NBC News BETTER)

Some naturally excel at it, while most struggle. But, regardless of where you are when it comes to being optimistic, it’s a mindset you can improve on.

The benefit of practicing an optimistic perspective helps improve your mental state and your physical well-being.

What does being optimistic have to do with perseverance?


Research shows that being optimistic is closely related to perseverance. When you’re facing a challenging situation, you have 1 of 2 choices on how you can think about.

  1. You can let the challenge convince you that it’s bigger than you are. This thought process will cause you to quit.
  2. You could look for the opportunities in the challenge. This mindset will cause you to continue toward your goal.

Going through a challenge in your career or in life just means that there is something that you don’t know. Many people will quit, depending on how much they value their objective or themselves. Usually, it is because they have a fixed mindset.

Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset

A fixed mindset means that you’re not willing to take the time to learn the lessons in difficulty. Have you ever heard someone confess that they are just stuck in their ways?

This is what a fixed mindset is.

When your thought process is fixed, you’re relying on what you already know. You will not allow yourself to learn anything that challenges your thoughts and beliefs.

You also will have a belief that all talent and skills are inherited. The concept of self-development is nonexistent in a fixed mindset.

You either have it or you don’t.

Micheal D Pollock is a life coach and a blogger. In his blog post, “The Science of Perseverance-How Your Beliefs Can Strengthen (or Weaken) Your Motivation”, he gives examples on common things people with fixed mindsets say:

  • I’m not a math person.
  • I’m not creative.
  • I’m a procrastinator.
  • I’m not good with technology.
  • I don’t have any self-discipline
  • It’s hard for me to lose weight.
  • I have no talent.
  • I’m shy.
  • I’m not athletic.
  • I’m not a writer.

This type of negative self-talk is why most pessimists possess a fixed mindset.

It’s fine to understand your limitations, but you can’t let them define who you are. When you do, your chances of starting something new decreases. If you do try and fail, you’re going to quit.

If you’re going to practice resilience, you’re going to have to adopt a growth mindset.

A person with a growth mindset believes that they can build off their talents and skills. Failure doesn’t mean they should give up. They’re aware that there is something they need to work on to be successful.

Failure doesn’t mean that you’ve failed to person with a growth mindset. They believe for someone to fail, they must quit.

Both mindsets require you to make up your mind as to what you are going to do during troubling times. Your self-talk also plays an important role as to what kind of mindset you currently have.

Your life is a direct reflection of your mindset and self-talk.

(You can read more about the importance of self-talk in my previous story.)

How You Can Improve on Being Optimistic and Resilient?

If you’re struggling with seeing the brighter side of life, it is possible for you to develop optimism and resiliency. It will take some time because you’re learning a new behavior.

Here is how you can become more optimistic and resilient.

Break Down Large Goals

Having large goals can be intimidating. Especially if you’re in a situation where you can’t see a way to get started. Focusing on the big picture could cause anyone to quit before they start.

Take the time to go over your goals and break them down to smaller, more manageable objectives. Let’s say your goal is to run 5 miles non-stop, but you’re currently out of shape. Don’t focus on running the entire 5 miles immediately.

Start out by making your first goal of running 1 mile around a track in a month’s time. After a month, push yourself to 2 miles. When you notice that you’re progressing, it will motivate you to keep at it. Over time, you will be in better condition to run the entire 5 miles.

If your objective is to write a novel, make time to write a chapter a day. In a year’s time, you might have created multiple novels.

Be patient with yourself and stick with your goals. The only way you’ll fail is if you give up.

Practice Taking Personal Responsibility

Get into the habit of looking at yourself for your results in life. You’re going to go through problems. It is a part of life. But, what you do during those problems will define who you are.

If you have a tendency of blaming sources outside of yourself for your shortcomings. Stop today. There is only one person that is responsible for the choices you make…YOU.

The moment you begin to blame other people, circumstances, or things, you give away your personal power to them.

Do you hate your job?

There are plenty of options for you to choose from. You can get another job. Create your own business. If you don’t have the skills to do what you want as a career. Go learn the skills required for you to make a living doing what you want.

In today’s world, you don’t have to college to learn what you want. You can find plenty of online courses on Udemy, Linkedin Learning, and other sources.

The moment you take personal responsibility for your life is the moment you begin to take control of your life.

Give the News a Break

The common excuse to watch the news is, “I need to know what is going on in the world?” Why? Most of the time when the news is reported, the event already happened.

What are you going to do about it?

Besides, you’re going to hear about what is going on anyway.

If you make a habit of watching the news, you increase your chances of developing a pessimist mindset. Most of the news presented on television and the internet is bad news. When you consistently observe negative events, you’re conditioning your mind to focus on negative things.

Especially when your feelings become involved.

Let’s take the fear of flying for example.

Many people are afraid to travel because of the news reporting airplane crashes. In reality, it is safer to travel by airplane than it is by car.

If this is true, why do most people feel safer in a car than an airplane?

Unless your job requires you to travel by air, you’re going to spend most of your travels on the road. We’re used to riding in cars. It’s not every day that you’re going to fly in an airplane.

But you’re more likely to hear about an airplane crash on the news instead of you boarding a plane. Although more car accidents are reported than air transportation incidents. It comes down to experience.

The news will cause you to build up fear and unbelief.

Stay clear of negative people

Do you know someone who complains a lot? How about an individual that likes to gossip? These type of people have a negative view of the world around them. If your goal is to develop a positive mindset, you’re doing yourself a disservice spending your time with them.

10 times out of 10, if you share your goals with friends or family that has a negative mindset, they are going to give you reasons why you will fail. They might talk about you or think you’re crazy.

They will discourage you and talk you out of achieving your dreams. Not because they are against you, but in their mind, they think they are helping you. Just because they lack the faith and courage to pursue their goals, doesn’t mean you should stop pursuing yours.

Practice Mindfulness and Positive Self-Talk

I’m not telling you to get into the habit of meditation. Although it does help. What I am saying is begin to pay attention to what you’re thinking and feeling. Listen to the words that are coming out of your mouth. Observe what you’re doing throughout the day.

Having the awareness of what you are thinking and feeling puts you in a situation of power. Instead of acting out of automatic response, you will be in the position to change a habit that isn’t serving you.

When challenging times come, you can notice your thoughts and feelings. Make conscious decisions to look for good possible outcomes.

You’re already in the habit of making negative predictions based on your five senses, you could just as easily make an argument of any positive outcomes as well.

If you can’t shut your mind up from telling you negative outcomes. Tell yourself out loud positive outcomes in the third-person. (e.g. “Everything is fine. You have experience controversy before and you came out unharmed. Everything is going to work out for your good. You’ll see.”)

Talking in the third person to yourself helps you detach from the issue. Even if it’s temporary. This will help you put things into perspective.

Focus on What You Do Have and Be Grateful for Them

Every morning before you wake up, give thanks for what you have in life. Nobody’s life is perfect and we are all going to want something more. But, I promise you that someone else has it worse off than you.

  • Do you have a roof over your head?
  • Are you eating every day?
  • Do you have a job?
  • Are all of your body parts intact?
  • Do you have a spouse that loves you?
  • Did you take a shower this morning?
  • Do you have teeth to brush?

Someone out there doesn’t have these in their life. Children in some countries that don’t have access to a good education. Families that don’t have clean water available.

If you’re reading this from a smart-phone, tablet, or pc then you have something to be grateful for.

If you spend more time focusing on the things you have, you will develop the feeling of gratefulness. That feeling will help you view your life from a positive perspective.


Although depression and anxiety are mental issues, they can have a dangerous effect on your body. When you’re experiencing chronic depression and anxiety, it means that you’re entertaining negative thoughts consistently.

It is a sign that you have to make a change in your life. That change can be something as simple as a change of perspective. It takes time to develop the mindset of an optimist. When you do, you will notice that it is easier for you to stick to your goals.

Beware of what you’re giving your attention to and continue to look for things in your life to be grateful for. When you practice gratefulness and personal responsibility, combined with being mindful of your thoughts and feelings, good things happen.

You will begin to expect them to.

Did you find this story helpful? Leave a comment if you can relate to anything I talked about in this story.

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Robert Nicholson III

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I just love to read and write. I’m a spiritual guy who also loves sports, video games, traveling, and personal development. Just learning and having fun.

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