Positive self-talk―like telling yourself you’re doing a great job, that you’re strong and important, and other similar words of affirmation―has surprising health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, activity can reduce symptoms of stress, pain and more.
But what if you can’t overcome the embarrassment of doing so? Do we really have to talk out loud to ourselves to feel better?
Here are some suggestions that are worth trying, according to experts:
Give up products
Home retail stores are overflowing with pillows, framed artwork and shirts with encouraging phrases, said Reena Patellicensed school psychologist, certified behavior analyst, and author of “Winnie & Her Worries.”
“You walk into a HomeGoods and see the poster or frame that says ‘be you’ or ‘believe’…you can’t just buy affirmations at a home store or Target and put it on the wall and think everything is gonna be hunky-dory,” she said.
Instead, she stresses that affirmations should be tailored to each specific person and their needs, and rarely will a retail item convey that accurately. “You can’t just say a blanket statement like ‘you’re the best,'” she said.
Add the ‘I’
Affirmations should contain an “I” statement to help build your self-esteem, Patel said. So instead of a phrase like “It’s a wonderful world” or “It’s okay,” try starting with something specific that speaks to you.
Patel recommended identifying something you don’t think you’re good at deep down. Make a list of those negatives, such as “I’m not smart” or “I can’t find a new job that I like.” Then turn it into a positive statement, reserving judgment, Patel said. So it could translate to “I’m smart” or “I’m able to find a job that I love”.
Some people find it embarrassing to say these claims out loud, but Patel said it was essential. “The reason is that you need to hear it too. We can think things in our head, but hearing it is why self-talk is so effective when it comes to reducing many of our mental issues,” she explained.
If you think saying it openly is still too goofy, then…
Choose a private place
It can obviously be awkward to walk around an open space, or even around your house with other family members, chanting your affirmations. If so, Patel recommended finding an “ideal” space free of distractions. For some of his clients, that means in the bathroom, alone in the morning and evening, looking at themselves in the mirror.
If you are comfortable expressing your affirmations in front of your family, consider that it could have a contagious positive effect on others, including children. Try to make it an activity together so everyone feels involved.
Instead, write your personal affirmations
Alison Pollack, a licensed professional counselor and art therapist at the Josselyn Center, a nonprofit mental health care provider, said writing down self-affirmations can work if saying them out loud still sounds too cheesy.
“Essentially, an affirmation is a belief, so you can think it or write it down,” she said. This can be a form of journaling, which studies have shown can reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Use sticky notes
You can also place post-its with your affirmations in obvious places, especially in areas where you might be feeling stressed. Consider your car, fridge, mirror, laundry room, or work computer as potential places to place and read your personal affirmations.
Choose self-affirmations that really mean something to you.
Social media may have tricked us into believing we need to think and say things like, “I’m beautiful,” but Pollack said you should use affirmations that help with particular stressors.
For example, the one she uses with clients with anxiety is “I have choices.”
“When we become anxious, we put our power into something else. [thinking], “I don’t know what this experience will be like,” she said. “To remember that you have a choice here is to take back some of that power.”
Another example might be when you’re dealing with impostor syndrome at work. Try to think about the specific situation ― are you working on a big project? ― and offer positive self-talk that would apply. For example, “I am capable” or “I will excel in this opportunity”.
When in doubt, choose a well-used affirmation
Pollack said there is a tried and true affirmation that has always been helpful to his clients, especially during the pandemic: “This too shall pass.” If you can’t find a specific and meaningful affirmation right now, you can always try repeating it.
“It’s helpful because we’ve been through unprecedented times,” she said, noting that the affirmation is a good reminder that we’ve been through other times of conflict and uncertainty before and that we we passed them.
Whatever you choose, both experts say affirmations should be used multiple times a day. Patel suggested repeating them for up to five minutes in the morning and evening to help you really feel their meaning. But, they can also be used in a moment of stress when it arises. Do what feels right and, most importantly, what works for you.