Staying positive when you’re struggling

Emese Nagy is a Thinkaction counsellor at Thinkaction Thanet and South Kent. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, she shared advice for staying positive when you’re struggling.

This year Mental Health Awareness Week has the theme ‘surviving or thriving?’.

If you survive in difficult circumstances, you manage to live or continue in spite of them, whereas if something thrives, it is successful, active, and developing quickly and strongly.

The idea of surviving focuses on the negative things we have to overcome in order to stay alive, whereas the word ‘thriving’ makes us think of positive things such as success and strength.

But how can we progress from merely surviving the many difficulties life may throw at us, to attaining a state of wellbeing – in other words, thriving?

The PERMA Model of Happiness

The bad news is that human brains often dwell on negative experiences. We often notice bad things more and remember them longer than good things. The good news is that as we strive for happiness, we have a large set of tested tools to work with.

Using the PERMA Model can help. It’s a set of five things that create happiness:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishments

Each thing on the PERMA list is a tool you can use to build a more positive outlook.

Positive Emotion

Holding on to positive emotion and optimism is a skill.  It can be hard to focus on the highs rather than the lows.

How can we develop and sustain positive emotions? You could start by regularly trying the following small exercise:

  • Before going to sleep in the evening, look back on the events of the day
  • For those few minutes, try to forget about the bad stuff
  • Even if you can only remember two positive experiences, try to dwell on those, going over each moment and every detail of that particular experience
  • It’s okay if the bad events are also lurking somewhere in the back of your mind – just try not to run through them over and over.

The idea is that by focusing your attention on the good thoughts, there will be no space left for the bad ones.


The next point on the PERMA list is Engagement. This means training yourself to become so absorbed – engaged – in an activity that you forget all about time and space.

Everyone has things they are good at. When we are good at things, we usually enjoy immersing ourselves in them. Chances are good that we’ll experience a ‘flow’. So try to adopt this exercise:

  • Make space every day for spending time on a task or hobby you really enjoy
  • It can playing cards or reorganising your wardrobe – anything that gives you a deep sense of satisfaction.


Relationships have a real influence on our wellbeing. We all need human connection and interaction, love and intimacy.

Spending time with others regularly is something each of us needs. It’s helpful to remember that for friendships to work, they can’t be one way.

From time to time, while we may lean on others for support when we are struggling, we need to be able to focus on what we can do for the other person too.


It is very hard to survive, let alone thrive, without meaning in our lives – the M in the PERMA Model. The good news is that each of us can find it, regardless of our circumstances.

Some of us find meaning in spirituality or helping others, or in doing the things we love. Sometimes it involves taking a painful experience and turning it into something positive. The bottom line is that this meaning is there for each of us – we just need to find it.


Achieving an ambition gives us a sense of accomplishment, which is another key ingredient for happiness.

Start with setting a goal. When you’re struggling, it can be hard to identify something that feels realistic and achievable – during our teens it’s usually our parents who set our goals for us.

For some people it can take several years to replace the goals imposed on them by others with their own unique goals.

It can help to start with small everyday goals, like tidying your desk at the end of the day or eating more vegetables. The good feeling you’ll get from achieving small goals will put you in a place where you can aim for bigger ones.

Using the PERMA Model, you can take baby steps towards a more positive outlook. It can make a whole lot of difference to how you experience life, and you can start today.

Get help if you’re struggling

If you’re feeling really low or stressed, Thinkaction offers help with a range of mental health problems.

Text TALK to 82085 or find your local service.