February 7, 2022

Growth Mindset: A New Tool to Help with Anxiety and Depression

By Christina Pay, Extension Assistant Professor

piece of paper that says I can do it

 Growth mindset may be a new tool to help with depression and anxiety.  Merriam-Webster defines mindset as a mental attitude or inclination.  This definition can be broadened to include what people believe about themselves and their most basic qualities and abilities.  Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, has studied what she calls, fixed and growth mindset. “In a fixed mindset, people believe basic qualities such as intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” (Dweck, 2015) Alternately, “In a growth mindset, people believe their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (Dweck, 2015) Psychologists have also learned that mindsets extend into domains other than just intelligence. They extend into personality, people, emotion, stress, failure, and more (Dweck, 1999). The way a person responds to challenges and setbacks is often determined by their mindset.

When it comes to anxiety, those with a fixed mindset believe it is just part of who they are and that it can’t be changed or controlled.  One study found that youth with a fixed mindset were 58% more likely to show severe symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to youth with a growth mindset. (Schleider, et all, 2015) Researchers also have found that “growth mindset buffers the link between stressful life events and psychological distress and coping strategies” (Schroder, 2016). In other words, growth mindset can cushion or safeguard the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression and the use of unhealthy coping mechanisms. Therefore, growth mindset individuals view anxiety as temporary and an emotion they can learn to deal with using healthier coping strategies.  

In a study from 2017, researchers found that even a 30-minute online lesson on the benefits of a growth mindset can help people suffering from depression and anxiety (Schleider, 2017).  The intervention shared information on the brain and neuroplasticity, which is the way our brain continually builds new neural connections based on new experiences. Research findings on how a person’s personality can change was also included. The researchers discovered that those who participated in the intervention mindset did better, additionally, when they followed-up, participants reported fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, suggesting that even this short lesson in growth mindset can have a long-term effect on mental health. (Shleider, 2017). 
Developing a growth mindset takes time. But it is possible. Several ways to begin developing a growth mindset include:

  1. Viewing challenges as opportunities to learn and try different ways of doing things.
  2. See the value in the process. By viewing the process as more important than the outcome, challenges can be embraced, and setbacks can be worked through.
  3. Remember the power of yet. Acknowledge that the skills and knowledge you don’t have right now can be learned and gained. Find ways to bridge the difference. You may not know it yet, but you will.

Growth mindset encourages learning new skills and facing challenges. It also can be a new tool to help with depression and anxiety.