Positive self-talk ― such as telling yourself you are doing a great job, that you are strong and important, and other similar words of affirmation ― has some surprising health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, the activity may reduce symptoms of stress, pain and more.
But what happens if you can’t get over the awkwardness of doing it? Do we really have to talk to ourselves out loud to feel better?
Here are some suggestions worth trying, according to experts:
Ditch the products
Retail home good stores are full of pillows, framed artwork and shirts with encouraging phrases, said Reena Patel, a licensed educational psychologist, board-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 from a home store or Target and put it on the wall and think everything is going to be hunky-dory,” she said.
Instead, she emphasizes that affirmations have to be tailored to each specific person and their needs, and rarely will a retail item accurately convey this. “You cannot just say a blanket statement like ‘you’re the best,’” she said.
Add the ‘I’
Affirmations should contain an “I” statement to help you build up your self-esteem, Patel said. So, instead of a phrase like “it’s a wonderful world” or “all is well,” try starting with something specific that speaks to you.
Patel recommended identifying something you don’t think you are good at deep down. Make a list of these negative items, such as “I’m not smart” or “I’m not capable of getting a new job that I love.” Then, flip it into a positive statement, reserving any judgment, Patel said. So, this might translate into “I am smart” or “I am capable of finding a job I love.”
Some people find it awkward to state these affirmations out loud, but Patel said it’s essential. “The reason is you also have to hear it. We can think things in our head but hearing it is why self-talk is so effective when it comes to reducing a lot of our mental challenges,” she explained.
If you feel that saying it out in the open is still too cringeworthy, then...
Choose a private place
It can obviously be awkward to walk around in an open area, or even in your house with other family members, chanting your affirmations. If this is the case, Patel recommended finding an “ideal” space free of distractions. For some of her clients, that means in the bathroom, alone in the morning and evening, looking in the mirror.
If you are comfortable speaking your affirmations in front of your family, consider that it might have a contagious positive effect on others, including kids. Try making an activity out of it together so everyone feels invested.
Write your self-affirmations down instead
Alison Pollack, a licensed professional counselor and art therapist at The Josselyn Center, a nonprofit mental health care provider, said jotting down self-affirmations can work if saying them out loud still feels too cheesy.
“Essentially a self-affirmation is a belief, so you can think it or you can write it,” she said. This can be a form of journaling, which studies show can decrease anxiety symptoms.
Use sticky notes
You can also place Post-it notes with your affirmations in obvious places, especially areas where you might be feeling stressed. Consider your car, refrigerator, mirror, laundry room, or work computer as potential places to place and read your self-affirmations.
Pick self-affirmations that are actually meaningful to you
Social media might have led us to believe that we have to think and say things like “I am beautiful,” but Pollack said you should use affirmations that help with particular stressors.
For example, one that she uses with clients dealing with anxiety is “I have choices.”
“When we get anxious, we are putting our power into something else [thinking], ‘I don’t know what this experience is going to be like,’” she said. “Reminding yourself you have choice here is to take some of that power back.”
Another example might be for when you’re dealing with impostor syndrome at work. Try thinking about the specific situation ― are you working on a big project? ― and coming up with some positive self-talk that would apply. For instance, “I am capable” or “I will excel at this opportunity.”
When in doubt, go for a well-used affirmation
Pollack said there’s one tried-and-true affirmation that’s continually been useful for her clients, especially during the pandemic: “This too shall pass.” If you can’t figure out a specific and meaningful affirmation right now, you can always try repeating that one.
“It’s helpful because we’ve been in such an unprecedented time,” she said, noting that the affirmation is a good reminder that we’ve been through other periods of strife and uncertainty before and have moved beyond them.
Whatever you choose, both experts say affirmations should be used multiple times per day. Patel suggested repeating them for up to five minutes in the morning and night to help yourself truly feel their meaning. But, they can also be used in a moment of stress as it arises. Do what feels right and — most importantly ― what works for you.