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The Healing Power of Affirmations

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

From conception to the time we reach old age, our brain is constantly changing. Its neural networks are growing, reorganizing, creating new pathways, and discarding old ones that are no longer needed. This process, called neuroplasticity, is what allows us to learn, grow, adapt, and evolve. Given the right environment, our brains flourish.


Negative events, however, such as abuse, neglect, and other forms of trauma (including secondary trauma), can also alter the structure of the brain, causing atrophy. Poor health, nutrition, and sleep; substance abuse; and certain mental disorders such as anxiety and depression can also contribute to negative neuroplasticity.


So if you’ve been exposed to any of the aforementioned life events, does that mean you’re destined to have a brain that shrivels up and dies? Absolutely not.


Positive Neuroplasticity


We now know that the bad cards we’re sometimes dealt don’t necessarily have to be a life sentence for your gray matter. The opposite of negative neuroplasticity, of course, is positive neuroplasticity. And we have the power to engage in certain activities, behaviors, and thoughts that can all promote growth in our gray matter. For example, intellectual stimulation, exercise, psychotherapy, creative expression, and mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation can all help with forging new (or strengthening old) pathways in the brain.


Affirmations, or positive statements you repeat to yourself, can also help by healing trauma pathways by essentially “rewiring the brain.” You may think of affirmations as being “woo woo” but they have been shown to increase optimism and reduce stress, as well as help us develop good habits such as healthy eating and exercise. In fact, the aforementioned benefits to affirmations are all important building blocks when it comes to creating resiliency, which can be a buffer against compassion fatigue, burnout, and other challenging life events we will all inevitably face.


The Road Less Traveled


Imagine you are hiking in the woods and come to a fork in the trail. To the left, is a well-trodden path. You can tell it’s been worn down by countless hikers over the years. The ground is firm and solid, and the trees and brush that line the path have been pushed back so as to allow for effortless trekking through the woods. The path to the right however, is so overgrown with vegetation that the sun’s rays struggle to reach the ground below. Perhaps an occasional brave explorer has chosen this path, but not without a machete in hand, as traversing it is quite difficult.


The neural pathways in your brain that are the most used are akin to the well-trodden path. They have been used over and over to the point that traveling them is easy, effortless. The pathways that are not used very often, like the overgrown trail in the woods, are difficult to navigate. And like most of the hikers in the woods, the brain prefers the path with the least resistance. That’s where affirmations come in.


It’s important to point out that positive affirmations are different from positive thinking. The goal is not to live a life of constant rainbows and butterflies and suppress the negative thoughts and emotional pain that often accompanies life’s stressors and challenges. Instead, by repeating certain statements over and over, affirmations aim to strengthen neural pathways that focus on the positive and weaken the ones that create suffering. And if you're at all familiar with my work, you know how much I stress that we can't stop this work from being painful, but we can eliminate the suffering.


Keep in mind that positive affirmations are not meant to be a stand-alone or “one and done” instant cure. Rather, they should be a complement to the other tools in your toolbox, such as psychotherapy, healthy nutrition, exercise, and quality sleep. And don’t forget that practice and repetition are key. You’ll want to choose a set of affirmations to repeat on a daily basis, for about a month, before switching to a different set.


There are many free guided affirmations available on YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify, etc. Bob Baker, of Bob Baker’s Inspiration Project, is one of my personal favorites and offers free affirmations to help with everything from stress management and sleep to energy and creativity. I've also created some specifically for you, the animal welfare warrior, and you can find a guided audio version here.


Want to create your own affirmations? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Write in the present tense

  • Use action words

  • State in the positive (I will) instead of the negative (I will not)

Examples:

  • I will treat myself with the same kindness and compassion that I do for others.

  • My needs are important and it is healthy to ask for help.

  • I acknowledge and validate all of my emotions.

  • It’s okay to feel sad or angry. It’s okay to cry.

  • It’s okay to focus on myself and be happy.

  • I am worthy of self-care and make time to build resiliency.

  • I accept that I have limitations, and I am enough.

  • It’s healthy to set boundaries to protect my energy.

Looking for additional help with compassion fatigue, burnout, or trauma? Join the Animal Welfare Warrior Wellness Club and start building resilience today!

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