While it may sound like bologna at times, positive thinking really does play a significant role in dealing with anxiety, and challenging your negative thoughts has the potential to provide your mind with some relief over its anxiety symptoms.
That's why many people use affirmations. Affirmations are type of "new age" positivity technique that is designed to counter negative thinking by repeating positive phrases to yourself, and many people use these affirmations to help them control their anxiety.
Affirmations Can Assist a True Cure
ffirmations may be an anxiety coping technique, but they are not an anxiety cure. You should still seek out long term treatment options to control your anxiety forever. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out more about how to cure your anxiety.
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What Affirmations Are Used For
Affirmations are not considered an anxiety treatment. They may be a part of an anxiety coping strategy, and used in different ways with different types of anxiety disorders, but they're not a treatment. Rather, they're a coping tool that is used to promote a more positive mindset when struggling with an anxious condition.
Think of affirmations as a way to mentally counter negative thoughts. Make sure you've taken my anxiety test first to get a better understanding of what these thoughts are and what they mean. Remember that when you suffer from anxiety, you're often flooded with negative thoughts no matter what type of disorder you have.
- "What if something happens to me?"
- "I will embarrass myself in public."
- "My heartbeat is racing, am I going to die?"
- "Something is wrong."
- "I am very unhappy."
These are common negative thoughts. It's not that they're 100% conscious either. It's unlikely that you literally say to yourself "I will embarrass myself in public," for example, but you may feel that way so strongly that it's as if you're proving to yourself that you believe it.
Negative thinking is anxiety. It's not a matter of whether or not you have the thought consciously. In order to be afraid of things, and in order to feel fear, anxiousness, or stress, your mind has to be focusing on the negative, so the fact that you are experiencing anxiety is an indication that these negative thoughts are occurring.
How Affirmations Are Used to Counter Negative Thoughts
Because these negative thoughts are there, affirmations are designed to provide an alternative way of thinking. Many experts believe that repeating positive phrases to yourself is something your mind needs to hear in order to start thinking more positively.
Affirmations are based on the moment, and you are supposed to repeat them to yourself aloud or write them down in a paper. They are positive and reflective, and generally describe the way you wish you felt. For example:
- "My anxiety does not control me."
- "I am safe and protected."
- "I feel calm and at peace."
- "I have a great life and will continue to have a great life."
- "I know that I will be able to stop my panic attacks."
Affirmations can be based on a thought, behavior, or more general principle. They're recommended for use when you're feeling anxious, but some people find that starting your day with these affirmations no matter how you feel can be beneficial.
Positivity Comes From Positive Thoughts
For those that have never tried affirmations before, they can seem a bit silly at first. And indeed, often they are a bit silly when you're just starting out. The goal of affirmations is not to magically believe them or expect them to cure your anxiety and stress in an instant. The purpose of affirmations is to take time repeating a competing voice to the negative thoughts that you have in your mind each and every day.
Affirmations may have several benefits for allowing you to control your anxiety. These include:
- Positive Distraction Anxiety is always worse when your thoughts run wild, and your coping tools need to be something positive and uplifting. Affirmations give you the opportunity to repeat these types of uplifting phrases to yourself in a way that distracts your mind from your anxiety while also focusing on an uplifting idea.
- Time Creates Believing The brain adapts to things it doesn't understand. When you repeat a positive phrase to yourself that runs counter to what your mind is actually thinking, it causes your brain to be confused and start to change in order to adapt to the belief that you're sharing. Based on the idea of cognitive dissonance, we see this happen a lot with things like language (people that say a word ironically end up saying it normally) and acting (actors can sometimes start to "feel" the same way as the character they play on TV or in a movie), and it seems to affect people with affirmations as well.
- Regular Reminder of Positivity Affirmations also serve as a constant reminder to yourself to be positive and feel positive. Anxiety that is left untreated, and those that are not motivated to continue to work to cure that anxiety are often going to find that they fall behind in treating it. Affirmations are a positive and healthy reminder of how you want to feel and what you're working towards.
Affirmations are considered neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP, which is a belief that these words and positive affirmations change mental chemistry in a way that will create healing and wellness. NLP has a lot of supporters despite not being very popular in science.
But regardless of your own thoughts on NLP, there are reasons to believe that affirmations work for the reasons listed above.
How to Get the Most From Affirmations
Your affirmations should be phrases that have meaning to you. You can look up affirmations online, but ideally a personal affirmation is going to be a far more powerful affirmation than something you found on the Internet.
You'll also need to commit to using these affirmations in written and spoken form for an extensive period of time. Remember, affirmations are unlikely to benefit you right away, because in the beginning you're likely to feel awkward and uncomfortable while using them. Affirmations are something that should grow more effective the more you use them, because that discomfort will fade away and using them will be more natural.
It's also important that you don't see affirmations as a standalone treatment. They should be used to complement some other type of anxiety reduction strategy, not replace one.
I've worked with many people that use affirmations regularly and I advise all of them to start with my free 7 minute anxiety test. This test is a powerful and effective way to look at your current anxiety levels and recommend long term treatment options.
Kinnier, Richard T., et al. Attributions and affirmations for overcoming anxiety and depression. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 82.2 (2009): 153-169.
McQueen, Amy, and William MP Klein. Experimental manipulations of self-affirmation: A systematic review. Self and Identity 5.4 (2006): 289-354.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.