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How can we stay mentally healthy in quarantine?
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Seeking out positive affirmations is an important self-care routine

Is seeking positive affirmations as a source of self-care quackery? Hardly. Scientific studies prove positive affirmations can really improve the way you feel about yourself in times of distress.

The Argument

The dread associated with widespread quarantine is valid and quite common for multiple reasons. One wonders if part of this fear is rooted in spending time with ourselves – who we might not know so well. Affirmations are truths we tell ourselves, sometimes unconsciously. Positive affirmations are truths that acknowledge our worth. The power of thinking patterns, negative or positive, is undeniable. Using the time in quarantine to establish a health relationship with oneself seems particularly healthy. Therapist Kristen Suleman suggests that our positive affirmations, perhaps pondered as we wake up or just before bed, should enforce value and not stifle the inevitable emotional ups and downs of life.[1] The fix might seem simple but, the addition of daily positive affirmations is a powerful tool in stress-relief, experts claim. According to a 2013 study, positive affirmations not only reduce physiological stress but also allow for higher performance in problem-solving; a boost of confidence and perception of self-worth seems to have tangible benefits in daily life. The study suggests that especially in academic environments, affirmative self-talk leads to significant improvement.[2] A 2016 study suggests that positive affirmations are particularly beneficial because they allow for the paving of new thought paths. A possible negative outcome does not seem as daunting because cognitively, one is able to understand the bigger picture. In a moment of social isolation, the available time to focus on establishing one’s personal value system seems valuable to us. External threats are no longer as dire because one trusts they are capable of handling the consequences. The study demonstrated that participants who were affirmed prior to allotted tasks had activated vital parts of their brain that the control group had not: They approached their assignment with higher involvement of “self-processing and valuation systems” and were able to process future outcomes based on their own principles. Less stress, more trust in oneself, and thus, significant clarity enhanced their performance and, subsequently, their lives.[3]

Counter arguments

Positive affirmations aren’t fool-proof; while they improve mood for some, their tangible impact is far from profound. According to Joanne V. Wood’s study through the University of Waterloo, the tool functions best (although still rather meekly) for participants who already have high self-esteem. For those with low self-esteem, the practice does not have the desired effect of mood improvement; in fact, it lowers mood altogether.[4] In 2018, journalist Tracey Anne Duncan spoke with professor of psychology Sherry Benton about the negative effects of positive affirmations. Benton explains that for someone who is struggling in life to try to force themselves to believe something positive, the statement can feel otherworldly and totally out of their realm of reality, an even more depressing prospect. She says that more than half of our “internal dialogue” has always been what would be considered “negative” for the purpose of survival. Self-critique is inherent to the human being, and according to Duncan’s reflection on Benton’s research, “the more we judge our thinking, the worse it gets.” Author Gary John Bishop suggests action as the best form of self-help, how big or small you start. Neurologist Ilene Ruhoy claims a combination of the two will do the trick to make significant change in one’s life: Start with a positive affirmation, but one that feels like it is at least remotely believable at this point in time and then find the very first step to bring this affirmation into tangible existence. Seeing an affirmation take shape – that is the key to fulfillment.[5]



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 01:10 UTC

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