Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer

By Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor’s in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.

Stressed Woman

Image by Viktor Solomin / Stocksy

January 6, 2023

There are a number of factors that can contribute to anxiety, from stress to burnout to not getting enough sleep. But according to new research published in the journal Science Advances1, there could be certain personality traits that contribute to anxiety as well. Namely, pessimists may be more likely to struggle with it—here’s what the research found.


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Studying the relationship between pessimism and anxiety.

To study the relationship between anxiety and pessimism versus optimism, researchers looked at the attitudes of over 600 college students before their exams. They had the students predict the grades they expected on their tests, finding that some students clearly displayed an optimism bias, while others displayed the opposite.

As the study authors write, “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.”

In other words, even when pessimists did better than they expected on their tests, they didn’t move forward with an updated perspective that their good grades could be replicated. Meanwhile, optimists did raise expectations of their grades based on their performance.

Then, when surveyed three years later, it was the pessimists who showed greater signs of anxiety. The study authors note this pessimism could be a coping mechanism to avoid disappointment, which is also a symptom of anxiety. “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,” the study authors add.

What to do about it.

If you’ve been struggling with anxiety and think a negativity bias could be at play, the good news is, you can slowly but surely tap into a more optimistic, or at least realistic, perspective.

For one thing, considering the study authors suspect it could be a fear or avoidance of disappointment driving pessimism, learning to practice radical acceptance could be a good place to start.

As therapist Megan Bruneau, M.A., previously wrote for mbg, “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.”

And when things do go awry, it’s important to be able to bounce back. To that end, here’s our full guide on how to rebound when things go wrong.

As you learn to be less pessimistic, that doesn’t mean you won’t still feel moments of anxiety and stress, and that’s when you’ll want to lean on stress-busting practices like meditation, yoga, and spending time in nature. It could also be worthwhile to try out a quality supplement for stress as you learn how to manage your anxious feelings.


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The takeaway.

Anxiety can arise from a number of factors, and a pessimistic outlook may just be one of them. While it can take time to rewire those negativity biases, as you do, you may just find you feel less anxious as a result.


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