Falling into a spiral of negative emotions is, obviously, never fun. It can be hard to gain control again, feeling like your own mind is slipping away from you as you feed into anxious thoughts and tumble further away from whatever stable platform you were once standing on.
Unfortunately, negative feelings tend to work like that, feeding off each other until they're dragging you down. Thankfully, there's now research that proves this to be a phenomenon in a lot of people, linking one outwardly negative mindset with frequent anxious thoughts.
Anxiety can appear in a great number of people for any reason. Sometimes it's a temporary ailment brought upon by a stressful event that passes soon after, while other times, it's a chronic condition that works its way into every area of a person's life.
We all experience anxiety, and having it more often than someone else is no reason to disparage those who don't. We all understand how awful it is to be debilitatingly worried and full of fear, so it's something we should stand together in experiencing!
In Our DNA
As mentioned, there are a great number of potential causes for anxiety, including things like lack of sleep or malnutrition. Some recent research has been pushing that idea further, looking into whether or not anxiety can be triggered by or found alongside certain personality traits.
It seems their investigation has finally reached its peak, as findings published in the Science Advances journal have proven that they're right. Anxiety can be linked to different personality traits, with one standing out as the most likely indicator for anxiety-related issues.
That's right! Research shows that pessimists are largely more likely to deal with high amounts of anxiety and, as such, are at an increased risk of suffering from an anxiety disorder.
The study was conducted on over 600 college students right before exams. The students filled out a survey in which they predicted what grades they'd be getting on their upcoming tests, and measured those responses with the amount of anxiety they reported feeling at the time.
Stuck In Their Ways
As one of the study authors wrote in their findings, "Individuals with elevated negative emotionality, a personality trait linked to the development of anxiety disorders, displayed a global pessimism and learning differences that impeded accurate expectations and predicted future anxiety symptoms."
To water it down, though pessimists tended to do better than they expected on their tests, this didn't seem to alter their view of their capabilities. They would continue to believe they'd do poorly on their next test. Optimists, on the other hand, would react well if they exceeded their expectations and did allow good results to alter their perception of the future.
Some Time In The Future
This same group of students was then interviewed again three years later to see how they had developed. Those who were marked as pessimists the first time showed more significant signs of anxiety than those labeled optimists.
The authors note that this pessimism may not be the direct cause of anxiety, but rather as a coping mechanism to avoid the disappointment they convinced themselves they were going to face thanks to the anxiety. Coincidentally, using pessimism as a means to avoid feeling disappointed is a symptom of anxiety disorders.
One Begets The Other
"We hypothesize that a conditioned aversion to negative and unpredictable events would lead a person to develop a pessimistic and inaccurate model of the world, which may predict risk for anxiety," they explain in their report.
It's a sort of snake-eating-its-own-tail scenario. One becomes pessimistic in order to cope with anxious thinking and avoid being let down, and in turn, only becomes more anxious because their worldview is so inherently pessimistic. This is why anxiety is such a tricky feeling to deal with, and those who are plagued with it constantly can find it difficult to break out of this cycle.
There's More Out There
There is hope to be had, though, as this negativity bias can be dispelled with some work. The shift from a pessimistic mindset to an optimistic or realistic one is possible!
Seeing as the study focuses heavily on pessimism as a means of coping with negative outcomes, the act of radical acceptance may be a great first step for those wanting to break free of this anxious cycle.
Radical acceptance is learning to accept all that comes your way, good and bad. It's understanding that no one's life is perfect; no one only receives good things without anything negative happening to them. When we remind ourselves that even the most successful, luckiest people face hardships, we learn to stop immediately beating ourselves up when something bad does pop up.
Taking It All In Stride
It also teaches us how to learn and grow from these negative events. This isn't saying you're not allowed to feel sad about them, because of course you are! Let yourself work through those emotions! It just aids in not hanging onto them too tightly and not using them as a 'reason' for why you should be so worried all the time.
Therapist Megan Bruneau wrote about acceptance for mgbhealth, saying, "Acceptance can be practiced in all areas of your life [...] This doesn't mean you necessarily endorse whatever it is that you're accepting in these realms; rather, you recognize that you can't change the current nature of this exact moment, and accepting manages anxiety and helps calm."
No Path Of Least Resistance
It's also important to remember that feelings of anxiety and pessimism can never be completely dispelled. Stress, sadness, and anger are natural components of our lives, and to pretend like we can dodge every instance of them is a pipe dream.
It also wouldn't be healthy for us. Not only is it important we freely express our emotions rather than bottling them up, but if we only felt positivity all the time, it would make the moments of true joy we experience less impactful.
Dealing with anxiety, dealing with pessimism, dealing with any other bundled emotion that comes along with those two isn't easy. Living a life so drenched in negativity is a struggle, and there are plenty of outside factors that do nothing to help. Be it social elements, socioeconomic matters, family issues or otherwise, the things that cause us stress are worth acknowledging and honoring as a valid source of anxiety.
Just know that it is within you to fight through these barriers. It may take some time, or a lot of help from others, but there is a version of you that's capable of living a positive life that's full of growth and love. Even if you take it one baby step at a time, you're still fighting back against the odds, and that already makes you immensely powerful.