Here at mindbodygreen, we’ve written extensively about the power of affirmations to support our intentions and guide how we show up for ourselves. Maybe you, too, have decided to rely on morning affirmations to deal with mounting stress and overwhelm. And, look, we wholeheartedly believe repeating these positive statements can significantly affect how you feel over time, but there are certain instances when affirmations aren’t necessarily the ideal antidote.
According to licensed clinical psychologist Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., affirmations might not be the most helpful when you’re dealing with in-the-moment stress. Instead, she offered a thought replacement technique on a previous episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, which can help ground you whenever you feel nervous energy taking over.
Below, find the details on exactly how to utilize this practice—these are not your average affirmations.
How to use thought replacement to cope.
According to Carmichael, thought replacement is an effective technique to center yourself during moments of unease. For example: Let’s say you’re feeling stressed about your job. In order to pause rumination on everything that could go wrong, she suggests replacing those negative thoughts with a 100% accurate statement moving forward. In this case, the thought replacement might be: “Regardless of my job status, I know I can take care of myself and I can count on me,” Carmichael says. “Repeat that a few times.”
Ready for another? Let’s say you’re feeling very nervous for a presentation. Carmichael suggests replacing your thoughts with the following: “I have prepared very well, like I always do, and I can handle any minor hiccups.” Essentially, you’re telling yourself what’s logical and true rather than focusing on affirmations that may be more aspirational—which have the potential to make you feel even more uneasy.
To really address your nervous thoughts, you first have to understand what they’re about, Carmichael explains. “Affirmations can sometimes be aspirational. A person might say something like, I feel strong and secure in my job, when in fact, maybe they don’t… Just repeating that over and over isn’t helping you to get strong and secure at your job, and it can feel escapist.” Whereas thought replacements, she notes, are “100% true and accurate in this moment.”
That’s why when it comes to creating your own thought replacements, it’s important to make sure they’re undeniably accurate, so your brain cannot refute them whenever nervous energy starts to arise. “Before you settle on a thought replacement, have a deliberate hole-poking session where you try to say, Is there any scenario where this wouldn’t be true? or How can I really refine this? so it feels like an airtight thought replacement,” she adds. “And then you use that airtight thought replacement when you start getting certain negative, maladaptive thoughts.”
If you’d like, consider preparing specific, accurate thought replacements in order to cope with moments of unease. Of course, if the technique isn’t quite working or the distress feels too high, please speak with a professional if you’re able to. But according to Carmichael, it’s a pretty powerful tool: “It might be the best technique [for anxiousness],” she says. “Sometimes even better than good ol’ deep breathing.”
Need even more suggestions for coping with stress? Here are our top tips, from food to supplements to daily habits, that can help lower cortisol.*