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Opinion: Positive reframing rather than venting benefits mental health

(Anna Richardson/Daily Bruin)

By Laura Gulbinas

June 11, 2023 8:48 p.m.

“Can I rant?”

Whether it be a hard class, an inflexible professor, misunderstanding parents, troublesome friends or a toxic workspace, students’ rants overwhelmingly have one thing in common – an emphasis on the negative. While we hear many pessimistic conversations, we rarely encounter students asking for permission to share the positive aspects of their day.

Students at UCLA and other universities must balance the challenges of maintaining their mental health with rigorous coursework and extracurriculars. Reports of anxiety and depression among college students are reaching record highs. Although mental health issues have many causes, negative framing can have additional harmful implications on mental health.

Although students have access to wellness resources such as Counseling and Psychological Services and safe spaces to debrief within student-run podcasts and community-oriented clubs, these social activities are only part of a broader solution.

It is essential that students also prioritize their mental health at the individual level through positive reframing, which can be accomplished through the identification and positive redirection of emotions that accompany a problem.

While there are varying tips and methods that come with the practice of positive reframing, at its core, the process simply pushes an individual to consider a negative or challenging situation in a more optimistic light. Proponents of this approach claim many short- and long-term benefits such as higher energy levels, lower rates of depression and anxiety, and an overall better quality of life.

A 2022 study conducted by the University of Rochester found that reframing stress as a tool rather than an obstacle helped community college students procrastinate less, manage their time and academics more effectively, and earn higher exam scores. Despite these many benefits, some students remain unaware of positive reframing or how to implement it.

Sejal Malhi, a first-year political science student, said she had not heard of the term before and admitted to previously leaning toward negativity. She said she struggled with pessimistic thinking in the past, which led to her often blaming herself for stressful situations until she implemented positive reframing. She has since switched to a more positive mindset and makes a conscious effort to reframe her thoughts.

“I like to paint everything in a positive tone,” Malhi said. “If I’m going through a hard time, I try to understand it and appreciate what I do have instead of focusing on the things that are out of my control.”

While some may disbelieve the benefits positive reframing, various mental health organizations suggest small changes individuals can make, such as writing positive thoughts in a journal, surrounding themselves with positive people, and practicing positive affirmations.

Nevertheless, positive reframing may be easier said than done.

Roman Toledo, a second-year chemical engineering student, said despite identifying as a generally positive individual, he commonly enters a negative headspace when confronted with stressful situations.

“I can get flustered very easily, but I’ll take some time to think about it. It takes me a minute to organize my thoughts and my feelings,” said Toledo.

Like Toledo, I also struggled with properly identifying and communicating my emotions when I was upset, leaving me unable to positively reframe my thoughts.

Recently, my boss threatened to dismiss me permanently if I did not work over the summer instead of returning home to spend time with my family. After speaking to my boss, I was at a loss for words, yet simply said I felt fine. I wasn’t fine, but I couldn’t voice how I was feeling and began to spiral back into a negative mindset with this sudden change of plans.

After a few rants to my friends and family, I knew I had to reframe my thinking for myself and my coworkers, who were also subject to my complaints. My boss’s threat almost seemed like a good thing after weighing out the pros and cons and understanding that I could move on to another workplace that offered more opportunities for growth and meeting new people.

Although I was able to reroute my thinking toward a more positive outlook, it certainly was not a simple task, and ranting felt like a necessary step in order to process my feelings.

For some students, ranting about negative situations may be crucial to releasing their emotions and bring a sense of catharsis. Despite the temporary benefits of venting, a 2012 study found that participants were often angrier after writing or reading online rants than they were prior.

On the other hand, it is essential to acknowledge that students should be wary of toxic positivity, since being told to “just think positive” can lead to the harmful suppression of one’s emotions.

Students coming from racial minorities experience systemic discrimination and disproportionately higher rates of mental health issues compared to their white counterparts. Toxic positivity can do more harm than good for them and invalidate the harsh realities of their lived experiences that can’t be cured by positive reframing.

All students should have equal opportunity to experience the potential benefits of positive reframing, whether it be through the implementation of additional mental health resources or the establishment of secure support systems across communities.

“I’ve been much more at ease and at peace with who I am as a person and how I react to things,” Malhi said about the benefits of positive reframing.

Students should strive to educate themselves about the method and implement it in their daily lives. Although it may be a daunting task and one’s mindset certainly cannot be fixed overnight, positive thinking and its benefits are attainable with time.

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Laura Gulbinas
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