Balancing the Positive and Negative: A Look at Significant Life Events

When we think about stress, we often think about all of the negative reasons for stress, and the difficult effects that come along with these negative life events.  You may think of daily hassles experienced, work stress, stress related to the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the loss of a relationship.  In all of these situations, stress can be detrimental to our health and perceived as negative.  But what about the type of stress that comes along with positive life events?  Events like moving into a new home, getting married, getting a promotion, or becoming pregnant.  These events are indeed stressful, but the stress looks and feels different than the stress associated with negative life events. 


The Science Behind Negative Life Events, Positive Life Events, and Stress

Much research has explored the relationship between negative life events, stress and depressive symptoms (You and Conner, 2009).  Through these studies, researchers have identified a link between stressful negative life events and the onset of a depressive episode (Dixon and Reid, 2000).  Because not everyone who experiences negative life events go on to develop depression, Dixon and Reid decided to take a look at protective factors in individuals that experience negative life events and stress.  In this study, Dixon and Reid noted that those individuals that experience both negative and positive life events have lower levels of stress and depressive symptoms, indicating that even if someone experiences stressful negative life events, positive life events can actually serve as a protective factor (Dixon and Reid, 2000).  The results of this research indicates that although some positive life events may be stressful in their own way, they can also enhance your overall well-being and protect you from experiencing the detrimental effects of stress related to negative life events.

Now that we’ve learned about the protective feature of experiencing positive life events, we’ve put together some tips on how you can utilize these positive life events when managing stress levels:

 

Remember that we all experience both positive and negative life events – When it comes to everyday life there is going to be a combination of both exciting and happy moments, along with the more difficult stressful moments.  It can be easy to get caught up in all of the negative daily hassles/events, but try to remind yourself that within the negative events that have happened in your life, there have also been very positive ones.  It may be easier to recall the more difficult moments, but try writing down 3 positive life events you have experience in the past 3 months.  See what you can come up with – you may have experienced more than you think!

Focus on the feelings associated with positive life events and carry this into everyday life – When you spend time reflecting on positive life events that you have experienced, try to also recall what that moment felt like for you.  Did you feel ecstatic, proud and confident with your new job promotion?  Did you feel excited, loved and happy when you got married?  Did you feel accomplished, proud, and intelligent when you graduated from school?  All of these moments can be associated with many positive emotions.  Try to remind yourself of these feelings and emotions when going through everyday life to make the feelings last.

Practice Gratitude when experiencing negative life events – When you’re faced with difficult times, it may feel like the moment will never pass, and that you don’t have anything positive in your life during that time.  When we’re caught in this type of cycle, it can be helpful to practice gratitude to start to change your perspective on your life and outcomes.

Practice Self-care during negative and positive life events – We have talked a lot about self-care routines in previous blog posts (see blog post The Power of Self-Care: What’s in it for me? ) but it’s important to remember that it’s helpful to practice self-care during negative times and positive times.  Continuing a self-care routine even when times are great, can help maintain these positive feelings, while practicing self-care when times are challenging can increase positive feelings when times are tough. 

 

Thank you for taking some time to read more about the different types of life events, and how important positive life events can be to our well-being and mental health.  Remember “the days, months, and years eventually reveal, like a polaroid, a clear picture of how significant events and decisions ultimately shape our lives” – Hoda Kotb.

 

Live life lighter,

Carolyn and Steph


References 

Dixon, W. A., Reid, J. K. (2000). Positive life events as a moderator of stress-related depressive symptoms. Journal of Counselling and Development. 78, 343-347.

You, S. Conner, K. (2009). Stressful life events and depressive symptoms: influences of gender, event severity, and depression history. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 197(11), 829-833.

Sam Cooper