If your dearest friend was going through something challenging, I suspect you would say something kind to them to lift them up and let them know that you were with them, supporting them through this tough time. Yet, what about when you experience hardship or a tough day? Do you speak to yourself in the same kind and supportive way? Or do you let your inner negative roommate start to rent out space in your head? Ruminating over the ‘coulda’ and ‘shoulda’, picking apart everything….. We’ve all been there, right? But what about if you were to speak to yourself the way that you would speak to your best friend? What if you said things to yourself like…..
“I believe in myself and trust my own wisdom.”
“I am confident and capable at what I do.”
Yes, it can feel awkward. But close your eyes and just give it a go…..(even if you are having a great day).
These are just two examples of positive self-affirmations – positive phrases or statements to challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts. Self-affirmation theory is the idea that people are deeply motivated to maintain self-integrity, or a perception of self as “morally and adaptively adequate” (Cohen and Sherman, 2014). Self-affirmation is an act designed to affirm one’s self-integrity, typically by reflecting on sources of self-worth such as important personal values, personal qualities, or social relationships (reviewed in Cohen and Sherman, 2014). Research suggests that something as simple as journaling about important personal values can boost positive mood following a negative experience, like rejection (Hales et al., 2016).
For example, writing about important personal values can reduce negative thoughts and boost positive mood following social rejection (Hales et al., 2016), buffer against negative stereotypes, and improve academic performance (Brady et al., 2016). How might this be? Neurobiologically, self-affirmations facilitate resilience by activating our brain’s reward network (Tabibnia, 2020). They just make us feel good…at the cellular level!
This practice of affirmations also works to promote healthy sleep patterns. After all, our brains don’t stop the negative storytelling when we are trying to go to sleep. Anything that we can do to make a peaceful and intentional shift from our day (workday, etc.) tonight has the possibility to make a significant effect on our mood, mindset, and our sleep. As humans, we tend to carry our day (i.e., our burdens, our stresses, our thoughts) into the night, particularly now when many are working from home and there is even less separation between work and downtime.
Creating an intentional routine around preparing for bed and maintaining good sleep hygiene (i.e., going to bed and waking at around the same time every day) are fairly accessible ways to positively impact our health. These steps can help to create an environment that encourages a restful evening and mindset. An intentional routine might include a warm bath or shower, dimming the lights, winding down screen time in the hours before bed, and journaling about the 'wins' of the day. By ending the day thinking about the good things that happened earlier in the day, we set a positive mindset as we prepare for bed.
You might also journal about what you are grateful for today. Researchers have shown the gratitude practices before bed is related to better sleep quality and sleep duration (Wood et al., 2009), suggesting that our thought patterns, particularly those right before bed, can significantly affect our sleep. One additional idea is to practice bedtime affirmations (or sometimes called sleep affirmations) before bed. When you create a bedtime affirmation practice, you make peace and calm a priority, which is thought to change your pre-sleep cognitions (i.e., your thoughts and stories), and by extension, make peaceful sleep more of a reality. After all, our minds don't stop when we sleep. If we set a positive thought pattern before sleep, we set ourselves up for success.
Keep in mind, this doesn't mean that negative thoughts magically disappear. Using bedtime affirmations changes the focus of our thinking so that we focus on the positive instead of the negative. Think of your mind as a muscle and we want to strengthen the positive thought patterns that serve us, day or night.
Here are a few favorite bedtime affirmations:
1. I am grateful.
- Why? The research presented above (Wood et al 2009).
2. I release today.
- Why? We give ourselves permission to leave the burdens/stresses of the day behind in order to start fresh and renewed tomorrow. The less we carry, the lighter we become, and the easier it is for sleep to carry me.
3. I choose calm and peace.
- Why? This gives us permission to choose peace over anxiety.
4. I am not my thoughts.
- Why? Our thoughts are not indicative of who we are....yet, they often take over, don't they? This reminds us that we are not our thoughts and that we have the power to observe and not latch on.
Cohen, G.L., Sherman, D.K., 2014. The psychology of change: self-affirmation and social-psychological intervention. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 65, 333–371.
Hales, A.H., Wesselmann, E.D., Williams, K.D., 2016. Prayer, self-affirmation, and distraction improve recovery from short-term ostracism. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 64, 8–20.
Tabibnia G (2020). An affective neuroscience model of boosting resilience in adults. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 115, 321-350.
Wood AM, Joseph S, Lloyd J, Atkins S. Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. J Psychosom Res. 2009 Jan;66(1):43-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.09.002. Epub 2008 Nov 22. PMID: 19073292.
If you liked this blog, check out our other blogs like: "3 Poses for a Quick Reset", and "Resources to Nurture your Spirituality," "How to Soothe Tension & Release Stress During the Holidays," "Way Out of our Comfort Zone", " Taming Your Mind in the Face of Fear" and "7 Silver Linings to Soothe You."