Written By: Rachel Tenny, MA, LCMHC
Affirmations and journaling can help shift how we think and feel about ourselves. Here are some helpful tips for using each one to prioritize and improve your mental health.
Your thoughts are powerful. They have the ability to impact so much of your existence, including your physical sensations, behaviors you engage in and choices you make.
How Negative Thinking Rewires Your Brain
Research suggests that individuals with emotional disorders frequently experience repetitive negative thinking (Harvey et al., 2004). Did you know your thoughts can be impacted by your unconscious core beliefs? We all experience thousands and thousands of automatic thoughts a day. Your automatic thoughts are simply the interpretations you use to make sense and create meaning of the world around you. These thoughts may not all be conscious, but the more you think about them, the truer your brain processes them to be.
The neural pathways in your brain begin to develop grooves when you have repeated thoughts and behaviors. Each time you begin to think a thought, it automatically goes down that often-negative pathway. Over the course of your life, you have received messages and created memories that have shaped your deeply rooted core beliefs. Without realizing it, these core beliefs can influence every thought you have, including the way you view yourself and the interpretations you make in every situation you encounter.
When we repeatedly latch onto the same interpretations, they can become very powerful and can easily intensify distressing emotions such as fear and anxiety. Over time, these thoughts feel true, our thinking becomes less flexible, and we become trapped in a cycle of repeating the same unhelpful stories to ourselves without even realizing it.
Using Affirmations & Journaling to Shift Your Thinking
Affirmations and journaling have the power to shift how you think and ultimately how you feel about yourself. These moments of connection with yourself can serve as an alternative, or a pause to interrupt your thoughts and challenge your core beliefs. Starting a new habit or practice can often feel overwhelming, because you may not be sure where to begin.
Tips for Using Affirmations
Here are some of my tips to get started with using affirmations or writing your own.
- Write down some of you most common automatic thoughts. Ask yourself: is it possible these thoughts come from a deeply held core belief about myself or others?
- Create alternative reminders or kind reminders that you would like to believe are true about yourself or others. You can start with “I am _____” statements and fill in the blank with words that connect for you…brave, capable, strong, worthy, loved, enough.
- Ask yourself: What do I need to be reminded of right now? What would I want to hear from someone I care about? What would I say to myself as a child?
- Read through these reminders several times a day (or as much as you want).
- If you write out your own affirmations, you can stick them on a mirror, take them with you in your bag, or even save them in notes.
I have a toddler and affirmations are already part of her daily routine. I printed out ten simple “I am statements” that are hung by our table, and we read through them together before mealtimes. It is fun to hear her repeat them throughout the day randomly.
Tips for Using Journaling
Journaling is also another way to process your thoughts and emotions and prioritize your mental health. Journaling doesn’t have to be fancy. You can buy cute journals and rainbow-colored pens and still struggle to get started!
- Set up a peaceful place that you enjoy being in (e.g., light a candle, have a plant, add a photo of your family/pet/your younger self)
- Set a designated time; I find without making it part of our morning or evening routine, it can often get skipped over. Some people love to write their thoughts first things in the morning and others find it more helpful to unwind by processing at the end of their day
- Set the intention to be open and honest with yourself! You aren’t writing for anyone else and nobody else has to see what you are writing.
Some common barriers I often hear about journaling, are people saying they “don’t like to write” or “never know what to write”. I totally get that! A misconception my clients often share with me is that they don’t think they are good writers. You don’t have to be a “good writer” to benefit from journaling. One way I like to navigate that is by having folks check in with similar questions each day or by following a guided journal that offers prompts.
Here is my 100 Days of Affirmations Journal that is a quick 5 minute a day journal (www.racheltenny.com/products/100-days-of-affirmation-journal) and my blog (www.racheltenny.com/blogs/things-i-hope-you-know-and-never-forget) (where I post 10 new journal prompts each month (all based on a specific mental health theme).
I hope these tips and suggestions help you get started! Use code RENFREW to get 20% off your first order (including 30+ affirmation sets) from the shop www.racheltenny.com/products