When it comes to having anxiety, worrying thoughts are par for the course. From breathing exercises to getting enough sleep, there are plenty of coping mechanisms and self-care strategies folks dealing with anxiety can use when they’re feeling anxious or stressed—and for some people, positive affirmations can help as well.
Here’s how the positive affirmations work, plus a few that might help you manage anxious thoughts and move into a more positive state of mind.
Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Many people worry about things such as health, money, or family problems. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.
If your symptoms interfere with daily activities such as work, school, and relationships, it might be time to speak to your doctor or therapist about anxiety, and they’ll be able to discuss a diagnosis and treatment with you.
If you know you have anxiety or you tend to feel anxious or stressed and are looking for another coping mechanism to try, positive affirmations might help.
The word affirmation comes from the Latin affirmare, originally meaning "to make steady, strengthen” and self-affirmations are acts that affirm one’s self-worth, often by having individuals reflect on core values, which may give them a broader view of the self.
Essentially, they’re positive, realistic, concise, self-help statements that reflect our personal values and can move us into a more positive mental state.
When your anxious mind is racing, like when you’re trying to fall asleep at night, or you’re in a stressful situation, like before a job interview, positive affirmations can keep you grounded and shift your focus to positive outcomes. But you can use them anytime (more on that below).
For some people, yes! Affirmations have been shown to improve education, health, and relationship outcomes, decrease stress, increase wellbeing, improve academic performance, and make people more open to behavior change, with benefits that sometimes persist for months and years.
In an effort to curb anxiety, anxious folks will sometimes try to avoid their anxious thoughts, but positive affirmations actually address and validate them before trying to shift the thinking to a more positive mindset. One study found that any form of positive ideation can be used to effectively counter worry.
While some people find positive affirmations a powerful mechanism for coping with stress and anxiety, not everyone feels the same way.
One study showed that among participants with low self-esteem, those who repeated a positive self-statement (“I'm a lovable person”) or who focused on how that statement was true felt worse than those who did not repeat the statement or who focused on how it was both true and not true. Among participants with high self-esteem, those who repeated the statement or focused on how it was true felt better than those who did not, but to a limited degree. Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, but backfire for the very people who “need” them the most.
Like all coping strategies, if positive affirmations make your anxiety worse, they might not be for you! If you’re struggling with anxiety and aren’t finding ways to cope, it might be time to talk to a therapist who specializes in anxiety.
Your affirmations should be specific, brief, and use action and feeling words. Many folks feel that saying them out loud is powerful, as is writing them down and putting them in visible places, like your desk or bathroom mirror. Here are a few other tips for getting the most out of your positive affirmations:
Cultivating awareness around the current way you speak to yourself will help you shift to the positive. State affirmations in the positive, as the brain may be confused with a statement that includes a negative word. For example, an affirmation like “I am not going to fail” is not as effective as “I am going to be successful.”
Toxic positivity is the mistaken belief that only “good” or “happy” emotions are acceptable to experience, and that keeping a positive attitude will solve all or most problems, including mental or physical health issues.
Instead, practice positive self-talk. Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else! Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you.
And it's okay to validate your emotions, especially when they’re negative! For example, instead of saying “I’ll always be calm and unstressed for presentations,” try saying “While I’m stressed about this presentation, I’m going to be successful.”
As wonderful as looking on the bright side twenty-four hours a day might sound at first, it’s actually detrimental to our mental health. While hope and positivity are important, like everything else, there must be a balance.
A positive affirmation is more effective if it’s in the first person present tense and includes an optimistic future, such as “I am strong and capable of handling whatever comes my way.”
A positive affirmation is an optimistic statement we create that resonates for us. Resonating for us is key, which is why you should choose affirmations that are specific and relevant to your life and reflects your values.
We’ll share some positive affirmation examples below to get you started, but they’ll be even more powerful if you create your own or your own versions of the ones below.
You can repeat an affirmation to yourself as often as you’d like — while brushing your teeth, driving to work, or before you fall asleep. The more often you use an affirmation, the more it can help reinforce your value and self-worth and it may even positively affect your behavior.
Repetition is key! Through repetition, the brain lays down neural connections, becoming more efficient. If you spend time practicing, you will be able to shift your thinking and make positive affirmations—and the results they bring—part of your routine..
Like goals, affirmations should be realistic. Saying “I’ll never be anxious again” might be unlikely. On the other hand, saying “I feel anxious and I have the coping mechanisms to handle it right now” is more likely to set you up for success.
When it comes to anxiety, being realistic can really help—your affirmations have to be believable to you or you might struggle to trust yourself.
These might sound simplistic, but when you tailor them to your values and make them part of your routine, you can have the power to change your thinking.
Especially in the midst of difficult situations, positive affirmations are a way of helping overcome negative thoughts that can sometimes take over and make you doubt yourself.
While affirmations can shift you to a positive mindset, they can’t erase an anxiety disorder. Working with a therapist can help you uncover the potential causes of your anxiety, see how they manifest in you, and tailor a treatment plan to your needs, which affirmations can’t do.
If your coping mechanisms need a helping hand, find a therapist who gets you and can get you the mental health support you deserve.
Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.
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