Affirmations for AnxietyJul 31, 2023
Firstly I want to talk about when affirmations work and when they don’t. We can’t simply repeat words & sentences to ourselves and expect our whole life to change. It’s really not that simple and it's not just about positive thinking or positive thoughts especially when we are in a more negative mindset. We are too intelligent for that. Affirmations work on the basis that you believe deep down what you are saying, or you at least are starting to believe. We can’t tell ourselves that we are amazing, powerful, incredible beings when we are in the midst of anxiety, stress or burnout. Our brains just won’t believe it!
As I have explained in this blog, one of the reasons we need affirmations is because our brains tend to look out for the negative things in our lives and miss the positive. So affirmations can help us see the more positive things that are available to all of us. No one’s life is ALL bad. There are always things we can appreciate, things we can be grateful for, we can even find things that we are going well for us, things we can be proud of. However, if we have been focusing on all the ways we have been going wrong, all of our failures and mistakes, it’s hard to see any of the beautiful things about our lives. So it’s a step by step process. I love the saying: “Where attention goes, energy flows.” Meaning, whatever we focus on gets bigger for us. So we have to want to choose to focus on a different set of thoughts. Thoughts that actually empower us rather than drag us down.
Life brings challenges. No one escapes trauma. No one is going to have a totally smooth ride. So this work, this rewiring of the brain, this affirmation practice, in my opinion is imperative for absolutely everyone. It’s something I believe we should be teaching to future generations and should be a part of a school curriculum! As I have said, there are nuances to this practice because truly we cannot just repeat things and expect our anxiety to go away. In this blog I will explain how to create a powerful affirmation practice that will help ease anxiety and allow you to start to step into a more empowering version of you.
Start softly and slowly
Positive affirmations can also simply be neutral affirmations that replace negative thoughts. When I woke up, the day after I realised my marriage was very suddenly on the rocks, I meditated. Yes my brain was full of thoughts, anxiety, panic and fear but I still did my meditation practice. (Click here for my blog on Vedic meditation and why thoughts during meditation is ok!). After my practice, I repeated my affirmations as I have done now for the past 5 years. There was no way I could tell myself my usual affirmations of “I am an inspiration” “I am powerful” “I am smashing it!” Instead I went back to basics. I repeated to myself “I am safe” “I am loved” “I am breathing” “It’s ok to not be ok” “It’s ok to feel all of this right now” “These feelings will pass” “I can focus on each inhale and each exhale.” These affirmations gave me some anxiety relief, allowed me to move through my anxious thoughts, step into the present moment and create a slightly more positive mindset.
To learn more about anxiety disorder, what it is, myths surrounding anxiety and how to ease anxiety, please click here.
Affirmations work to change the beliefs we hold about ourselves. Beliefs are insanely powerful. Our subconscious mind accounts for 97% of our thoughts, feelings, actions and behvaiours. Our beliefs underpin all of this. When we start to work on our self-worth we start to bring these beliefs into the conscious mind so we can start to become aware of how they effect us and then we learn how to change them and challenge them. Some common limiting beliefs:
I am not enough
I am a failure
I am useless at X
I am no good at sports
I am going to be abandoned
I am not lovable
Other people can do it but I can’t
People won’t listen to me
People think I am annoying
I am not worthy
I am too much
People tend to dislike me
To explain more about how powerful beliefs are I want to tell you about a few placebo drug trials. Drug trials have shown us a huge amount of Scientific research into the power of beliefs. Drugs always get tested against a placebo. A placebo is a drug that contains absolutely nothing. The point of a placebo is to show that the drug is better than simply taking a pill. If you take a pill which contains nothing and yet you get a positive response - what is it that causes that? One thing - the belief that the pill is going to work. Placebos prove the mind-body connection - that our beliefs can have affect on our physical health and well being.There are thousands & thousands of examples but here are just a few.
Professor Iriving Kirsch found that the expectations of the pill working counted for 75% of the pill’s effectiveness. The critical factor was not the pill itself, but believing that the pill would work. Beliefs effect mood, and your mood effects the neurotransmitters in brains that give us the feel good chemicals such as serotonin & dopamine.
The Cochrane review did a study on a skin wart medicine. The Cochrane review is one of the highest levels of any data that is collected. The drug turned out to be pretty good - it worked for 75% of people. However, for the placebo group, the drug was 48% effective.
In the 1950s Leonard Cobb, a cardiologist did an experiment where he performed 2 surgical procedures. The first one was the full procedure where he had to tie off an artery near the heart. In the second procedure he performed something called Sham surgery, which is basically the placebo, and he made an incision but then simply stitched the person back up. Incredibly the placebo worked much better & was much more effective.
During a chemo drug trial 1 group of people were given chemo & 1 were given a placebo. Neither the patients or the people giving the drugs had any idea who was having real chemo and who wasn't. In the chemo group, everyone lost all of their hair. In the placebo group, 40% of people lost their hair.
There is a vast amount of data with placebos - and it clearly shows that beliefs are incredibly important. Our beliefs are incredibly powerful. The mind-body connection is incredibly powerful. We need to start to understand how we can influence it.
Influencing beliefs with affirmations
Through coaching and therapy I have managed to work through my main limiting belief of “I am not enough”. A belief I had held for years and years and years without realising it. This belief was influencing every single aspect of my life. My relationships, my work, my lifestyle, my inner world. It put me in a victimhood mentality where I thought I deserved all the difficult things in my life - I was the one to blame.
Therapy and coaching helped me realise that I had so much evidence in my life to support the fact that I was enough, that I was doing a good job, that I wasn’t to blame, that there was a different story for me to believe if I chose to. I spent time with people I trust in my life to help me and reflect back to me that I was indeed a wonderful friend, a kind daughter, a great colleague. It took time but this, along with my soft and slow affirmation practice started to help me create some new and empowering beliefs about myself.
As Rick Hanson says (Rick Hanson wrote a book called "Buddha’s Brain" which was a huge first step in my self-worth journey.)
“if you’re feeling anxious, look for authentic opportunities to feel supported, protected, resourced, tough-minded, relaxed, or calm. If life feels disappointing or blah, look for the genuine facts that naturally support experiences of gladness, gratitude, pleasure, accomplishment, or effectiveness. If you feel lonely or inadequate, look for the real occasions when you are included, seen, appreciated, liked, or loved – and open to feeling appropriately cared about and valued; also look for chances to feel caring for yourself, since love is love whether it is flowing in or flowing out.
Our beneficial experiences are usually mild – a 1 or 2 on the 0-10 scale of intensity – but they are real. Any single time you let these experiences really land inside, you won’t change your life. But much as a cup of water is filled drop by drop, you’ll be changing your brain synapse by synapse for the better – and your life for the better as well.”
Feeling the affirmations in the body
When I first started repeating affirmations I thought I was going crazy! It seemed so strange to me - repeating things in my head or out loud that I have never said before! I couldn’t understand how this would work. Here are a couple of tips to start to allow yourself to feel affirmations in the body rather than just repeating them in your head.
Firstly know that this is a process - when you are in your head all the time you become disconnected to your body. Your body is such a key part of the process of creating change - any time we have a thought we send a chemical reaction into the body. The mind and body are so intertwined as we know from the drug trials I have mentioned above. Slowly we can reconnect our minds and bodies in a way that allows us to create some powerful changes.
Secondly, before you repeat your affirmations, do something that allows you to get out of your head and into your body. Go for a walk outside, move your body, practice yoga, get creative, draw, paint, dance! A simple breathing practice for anxiety - breathe in for 4 and breathe out for 6. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system which brings us out of a state of fight and flight and into rest and digest.
Thirdly when you repeat your affirmations, breathe them in, hand on heart and see if you can feel any sensations that come up in the body. Notice them, without judgement, simply pause and pay attention to anything you feel.
Finally affirmations need to be a part of your daily routine whether you feel good or whether you feel anxious. Overtime, the affirmations, if felt in the body and if this practice is paired with you starting to look at the evidence of where you can be grateful, compassionate, kind, more loving towards yourself, will reduce anxiety and improve your mental health.
Affirmations for anxiety
“I am compassionate towards others, I can be compassionate towards myself.”
“Anxiety is simply a sensation.”
“I have the power to breathe and calm my body.”
“Anxiety is something that can move through me.”
“I will get through this.”
“The feelings of anxiety can leave my body.”
“I have overcome these feelings before.”
“I am safe.”
“I am focusing on my breath.”
“I am focusing on the sensations not the thoughts.”
“I am restoring calm and peace with each breath that I take.”
“This feeling is temporary.”
“I can seek help, I can create change.”
“This moment will pass."
“My anxiety is uncomfortable but not dangerous.”
“My feelings do not control me.”
“My thoughts and feelings are not facts.”
“I will learn to forgive myself.”
“I can handle whatever comes.”
Further help changing deep limiting beliefs?
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“When I had my first call with Sophie, I was at a really low point in my life. I was living in fear and just shrinking into myself further & further, terrified to make a decision about my relationship, wasn't opening up to my friends and just didn't have any trust in myself. 6 months later and I have been able to have vulnerable conversations with my friends & family, moved back to London to a job I thought I wouldn't enjoy from previous experience but I am bringing a different energy to it and I am enjoying it whilst I make steps to change my career, I made the difficult decision to separate from my boyfriend with the massive support from Sophie and the group but also because doing the work in the course made me realise how much I was living in fear and keeping myself small and staying together because it was safe and certain. although it's still sad because we are friends and I miss him, I am feeling lighter & free and starting to expand into the person that was lost quite a few years ago. I'm doing more of the things I love and have more confidence and trust in my own decisions. I've also learnt that this self-work is continuous and still find things challenging but each time I struggle I come back to this work to get me back on track. I have now named my inner dialogue 'Sheila' (no offence to the Sheila's out there, ;) I love my Sheila also) but I swear this tip alone has helped me so much!!! Naming my inner critic/ self doubt monster / ego just helps me to short circuit those negative or intrusive thoughts and I'm able to come back to what's true and centre in almost an instant. I've shared this with all of my friends and they love it & use it now too. Sophie, I cannot thank you enough for the support you have given to me and for creating an extremely thorough, engaging and life changing course.”
-Group Coaching Student