Originally published on May 20, 2020
What Are Anxiety Mantras?
Whenever we’re feeling anxious, what’s going on inside our minds is we’re grappling with some form of uncertainty. By grappling, I mean we’re usually trying to fight with, or push away, negative thoughts about ourselves, others, the future, or the world.
The exact nature of that uncertainty varies for all of us. We all have our own triggers, fears, and doubts. However, such uncertainty often manifests as a result of upcoming events in our lives. When we have job interviews, dates, or presentations on the calendar, we anxious folks are far more likely to conjure up negative thoughts and plunge ourselves into downward spirals.
The reason for this is simple: these events, and their outcomes, are important to us. We don’t want to be ridiculed in front of potential colleagues or laughed out the door by a prospective mate. These negative potential outcomes often weigh heavily on our minds, waving their hands as if to grab our attention and make us focus on them.
A problem arises when we give these outcomes and ideas attention, however, and that problem is this: whenever we focus on something negative, we send ourselves into a state of stress.
When stressed, our bodies prepare for action by pumping blood to our extremities and releasing action-promoting hormones like cortisol. This sort of stress response is helpful when we’re faced with real, physical threats, but borderline destructive when it comes to important, albeit harmless, everyday events.
When we find ourselves in these states of stress, what we really need is an anchor — something to pull us back down and ground us, despite the negativity and uncertainty of the situation at hand. There are many tools that can serve as such an anchor, but the one I want to focus on today is that of the mantra.
I’m sure you’ve heard of mantras before. Essentially, they’re repeatable, emotion-provoking words or short phrases. Though most commonly associated with meditation, mantras can also be used in everyday life, outside of such a practice.
If you’ve ever heard someone say que sera sera (translated to what will be will be), then you’re familiar with the idea of a mantra. Many folks use such a phrase to calm themselves down when events outside of their control make them feel frustrated, disappointed, anxious, or something in between. Reminding themselves of this important lesson allows them to get out of their heads and refocus on more important things, like their relationships or the present moment.
Just like que sera sera, a good mantra has the following characteristics: it’s short, made up of one or more words or sounds, and helps evoke positive emotions within you. That’s it. No hard and fast rules here; all we’re really after is a combination that helps ground us during stressful times.
Anxiety Mantras In Practice
I know the word mantra is a bit offputting for some. Often, it comes off as too new-agey or spiritual. But, in reality, there’s nothing woo-woo about these little inspirational nuggets. And, in fact, whether you know it or not, you’re probably already using mantras in your everyday life. Here’s what I mean.
Almost any short sentence can become a mantra when we attach emotion to it and repeat it often enough. Take, for example, when your significant other does that super annoying thing he/she does and leaves his/her dirty dishes in the sink yet again. With steam practically coming out of your ears, you repeatedly mutter to yourself, “he/she does this ALL! THE! TIME!”
Though it’s the action your significant other takes that puts you in such a stressful state, it’s your reaction, and your attachment to that reaction, that keeps you there. What I mean by that is, until you stop muttering your negative mantra to yourself, you’ll stay stuck in that negative state. And we all know that’s no place to be.
The good news is we don’t always have to use mantras in such a fashion. Specifically, we don’t need to use them solely to get ourselves into stressful states; we can also leverage them to get ourselves out of negative mindsets. Take this one for example. Let’s say you promise to yourself that whenever you feel anxious in the near future, you’ll remind yourself to “just breathe.”
There are many positive things about such a mantra, so let’s break them down. For starters, this mantra brings you back to the present moment faster than almost anything else could. Specifically, it provides immediate awareness, showing you that you’ve entered a stressful state.
Moreover, the phrase, in and of itself, is also quite grounding. Indirectly, it suggests, “Everything’s going to be fine if you just take some deep breaths.” That advice, alone, is worth the price of admission here. But, possibly most importantly, it also provides a proven strategy for mitigating your stress on the spot (for more information on that, check out my Medium post on the science behind breathing your way through a panic attack).
Some of My Favorite Anxiety Mantras
There are countless mantras you could come up with for yourself. Again, the specific words or sounds you string together are not all that important — the only important thing is that the mantra you leverage helps flood your mind and body with positive emotion. Heck, even that emotion can be whatever you like — calmness, joy, confidence — you name it.
I’ll let you decide what your own mantra will be, but to give you some inspiration, here are some of my favorites. For starters, I like to use one that I borrowed from the top success and business strategist in the world — Tony Robbins.
Robbins is so great at dissecting anxiety and showing us how we can use it to our advantage. When he talks about fear, he often uses a specific mantra, which is also the one that I’ve adopted for myself. That mantra is, “If you get in your head, you’re dead.” I love this mantra because it helps me quickly ground myself after I’ve realized that my thought train has flown off the track.
Sometimes, when we overthink things for too long, we start to forget what’s real and what’s not, what’s true and what’s an illusion. This mantra helps bring me back to rationality, reminding me that if I’m deep within my own thoughts, I’m probably on the wrong track, fighting a mentally-constructed demon.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, when we think about negative things, we put our minds and bodies in states of stress and prepare them for battles with physical threats, even when there are no such threats in front of us. Using this mantra helps us recenter during these times of self-inflicted stress; it reminds us that it is our thinking that created our fear in the first place. And, more importantly, it reminds us that if we want to escape said fear, we must get out of our heads.
Another mantra I love is, “Breath. Focus. Outcome.” Yes, it’s one I made myself, but that’s not the point here. The point is simply to give you more tools to put in your arsenal — ones you can use when you find yourself dancing with fear.
Though it’s short and simple, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That’s because this mantra is both unique and easy to recall at a moment’s notice. Heck, that’s actually what makes it kind of great.
Remember that toy or blanket you used to reach for as a toddler when you felt scared? Well, think of anxiety mantras as the adult version of those favorite toys. Even though such keepsakes were, at the most rudimentary level, just woven threads or pieces of plastic, they represented so much more than that to us; they reminded us of home and happiness and brought us a sense of comfort and security. Luckily for us, mantras can do pretty much the same thing, and maybe even a little more, too.
Specifically, the “Breath. Focus. Outcome” mantra provides us with several steps we can take to further mitigate our anxiety in real-time. I mean, just look at it. Each word in the mantra is a step:
Step one: check your breathing and make sure it’s full and slow. If it’s not, make it that way. Step two: figure out where your focus is right now. If it’s on something negative, then you know why you’re anxious. Change it. Step three: focus on what you want out of the situation in front of you. Do you want to feel safe? Calm? Content? Do you have a specific goal you want to achieve? Great. Whatever it is you desire, just put your focus on that, then start back at step one.
Now that we’ve covered a few different examples, I want to give you back the reins and allow you to experiment with some mantras of your own. Yes, there are countless ones you could employ yourself, but you probably won’t find all of them effective. Not to worry.
Since we all have different triggers for anxiety, we all need different strategies for getting ourselves out of stress and back to sanity. As such, don’t be afraid to try out several different mantras and pick the one(s) you like the most.
For, at the end of the day, the only goal here is to rediscover that calmness and groundedness you know and love outside of anxiety. Whatever mantra you use to get there, awesome. Now carry it with you everywhere you go, and leverage it every time you’re feeling stressed out. Then come back and thank me. Okay, that last part’s optional 🤪.
Thanks for reading! Curious to learn more?
Then grab a copy of my book, Get Out of Your Head: A Toolkit for Living with and Overcoming Anxiety.* It covers many of the topics I discuss in my blog posts, as well as a few new, key frameworks for managing fear. Check it out if you’re looking to level-up your anxiety-alleviating skills.
Or, if you’re not yet ready to jump into the book, head on over to some of my previous articles on managing anxiety:
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