Affirmations are positive statements that can help people challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts. They can be used to affirm things a person values or reminds them of their strengths and abilities. For example, a person struggling with anxiety might use an affirmation like ‘I am capable of handling everything that life throws at me’. Affirmations form our belief system. They are statements we repeat to ourselves to create new, positive beliefs, different from what we might have initially thought about ourselves. While affirmations are not a cure for mental health issues, they can be useful in managing anxiety.
Do affirmations work?
Dr Somnath C P, consultant psychiatrist at Healing Minds Clinic, Kochi says that affirmations may help keep calm in times of stress. However, he warns, it cannot be a sure shot formula for soothing anxiety. He explains, “Each person’s experience with anxiety is unique. So, what works for one person may not work for another person.” Dr Somnath emphasises that avoiding anxiety-inducing situations only reinforces the problem. Gradual exposure to these situations, starting with less stressful ones, can help build confidence over time. Positive affirmations can then complement this process by providing the mental support needed to face these challenges.
Karuna Ahaley, psychologist at YourDOST, an online counselling and emotional wellness coach in Bengaluru says that affirmation works at a much deeper level. It is not just standing in front of a mirror and saying a bunch of things like, I am powerful, or I am a hero. “If you truly do not believe those things, it may not make any sense to say them out loud to yourself.” She suggests some self-soothing techniques to help with anxiety.
o Watching what I think
o Reflecting on what I think
o Writing it down
o Rechecking or reanalysing what I have written down
o Applying the things, I have learnt
Difference between soothing affirmation from positive affirmation
Soothing affirmations and positive affirmations are two related but distinct concepts. Soothing affirmations focus on providing comfort and reassurance in times of distress. Ahaley says, “They can be used to remind the person that they are okay, safe, and cared for. For example, a soothing affirmation might be “I am safe, and I will be okay.””
Positive affirmations, on the other hand, focus on the strengths and abilities of the individual. They can be used to boost confidence and build self-esteem.
Creating effective positive affirmations
It is important to make affirmations specific to the individual’s needs. This means tailoring the affirmations to the specific situation and the specific triggers that cause anxiety. For example, if someone is experiencing anxiety about an examination, the soothing affirmation might be ‘I am well-prepared and will do well in the examination’. “Understand that you are not your anxiety so detaching yourself from your thoughts is important,” Ahaley says.
The science behind affirmations
Our thoughts have a direct impact on our emotional and physical responses. When anxiety grips us, our thoughts often become negative and catastrophic, further fuelling our distress. Positive affirmations act as a counterbalance to these negative thoughts. They help rewire our brain to focus on the positive aspects of the situation and promote a sense of calm.
Dr Colette Hirsch at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, and her team conducted a study in 2016. They discovered that positive self-talk and positive thinking have a direct effect on how we feel. The research revealed that people with anxiety were able to worry less by changing negative thoughts to positive ones using positive affirmations.
In a 2015 research led by Chris Cascio, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin, along with his team, suggested that engaging in self-affirmation triggers the brain’s reward system. This activation, in turn, generates feelings of pleasure and happiness, while simultaneously diminishing sensations of pain and anxiety.
Daily affirmations for anxiety relief
Aditi Tulshyan, certified trauma therapist, XpressIt Mental Health Services, North Delhi, explains that positive affirmations can bolster our self-confidence and enable us to shape the life we aspire for. “Anxiety often arises from the fear of uncertainty. But when we have faith in our ability to navigate the unknown, anxiety can transform into mere nervousness or serve as a guardian, shielding us from harm,” she says.
Tulshyan offers a selection of affirmations designed to elevate our spirit and provide encouragement:
- I am deserving of love, respect and healthy relationships.
- I am open to new opportunities that help me grow and evolve.
- I am grateful for my body and treat it with love and care.
- I am deserving of forgiveness and grace, both from myself and others.
- I have everything I need to make a great day.
- I am worthy enough to follow my dreams and manifest my desires.
- I choose to embrace the mystery of life.
How to use positive affirmations for anxiety:
- Write them down many times while thinking about what they mean.
- Record them and listen to them during the day.
- Write them on sticky notes and put them around your home or desk.
- Pick one and say it to yourself a few times until you feel calmer.
- Say one or more out loud whenever you need to.
It is good to do this in the morning and before bedtime. Some people like to say affirmations in front of a mirror or during their daily meditation. Healing often involves pain, but affirmations can help. For instance, saying, “This pain will pass, it won’t last forever, and I am not alone” weakens the grip of negative thoughts.
Ahaley says that the mind is made up of trillions and trillions of thoughts and thoughts occupy real estate in our brain. When we dwell on negative thoughts, they grow stronger, weeds being watered. The more we say our affirmations, the more confident we will become. They work because they make us focus on positive thoughts and blur out the negative ones. Of course, it is important to acknowledge negative thoughts, but it might help us to disempower them.