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Coronavirus Disease 2019

How Finding Your Mantras Can Help You Through the Pandemic

Phrases to repeat to keep you calm, cool, and empowered.

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If you think of a mantra as a repetitive word or sound that is chanted during meditation, you’d be right. But a mantra can be much more than an incantation. It can be any word or phrase you repeat to yourself when you need to catch your breath, reorganize your thoughts, or reassure yourself. Think of it as your motto, your saying, your slogan, or even your rallying cry.

Think you don’t have one? We actually all have one (or many!) because our brain talks to itself. It says reassuring things we may have heard as children. It repeats warnings to keep us on alert. It echoes advice we’ve heard. It sings hymns and hums songs. In fact, the next time you can’t get a melody out of your head, search for the lyrics and you’ll know what’s on your mind—literally!

To find your mantra or mantras, spend just one day listening to what you say to yourself when the morning news is upsetting, when you’re stressed out with work, or the weather is too bad for a walk. Some common examples include:

  • “This too shall pass”
  • “I count my blessings, even now”
  • “Don’t sweat the small stuff”
  • “I choose gratitude
  • “I can only do what I can do”
  • “It could be worse”
  • “Tomorrow will be better”

They all work. My mother used to always sing, “I Will Survive” when she faced cancer and she survived. An ovum donation patient told me, “We got this,” when I asked if they were ready to move forward. My best friend told me, “It is what it is,” when she experienced a loss and hearing herself say it helped her.

We’ve had and harnessed mantras our whole lives, even if only subconsciously, but the pandemic and the immeasurable stress it has put on us all has brought to the light how important it is to reach into our self and find the best ways to cope and carry on.

So, why do these mantras, affirmations, and pep-talks we give ourselves work? Here are six reasons:

1. Our mantras are familiar. Usually, these phrases are so familiar to us, and so often repeated by us, that they remind us of previous problems we weathered and hardships we overcame. The pandemic becomes another chapter in our life’s story, not a stand-alone book.

2. Our mantras give us a timeout. It breaks our focus on the sensationalism of some media stories, the constant pandemic warnings and advice, and the onslaught of texts and emails filled with questionable COVID-19 information. It gives us back our own voice.

3. Our mantras reduce stress. When we sense danger, our adrenaline mobilizes our “fight and flight” system. But suppose the problem does not require action. In fact, suppose the problem is a pandemic that requires us to wear masks and stay away from others. Mantras remind us to shut off the adrenaline flow because we can’t use it and take a slow easy breath. It helps our mind and body relax.

4. Our mantras can reprogram our perspective. It is the glass half full or half empty question. Your mantra can guide your answer.

5. Our mantras can help us feel less overwhelmed. Since our brain is programmed to work in the present, figuring out the future is an impossible task. Changing the past is impossible, too. Mantras usually bring us back to the here and now. And today is a day we can handle.

6. Our mantras can strengthen us. They are pep-talks we give ourselves and remind us that we can be our own best friend, that we can be self-supportive, and self-caring.

But suppose you don’t think you have a mantra. Just think of what you would say to someone you love to make them feel comforted — then say it to yourself.

Our thoughts don’t only come from our feelings and fears. Our feelings and fears also come from our thoughts. So, choose your thoughts carefully. Choose affirmations that make you feel resilient and patient, familiar expressions that reassure you, statements of faith that mean something to you, lyrics or quotes that make you feel strong, and even humorous one-liners that crack you up. They are all mantras that can help us help ourselves, and we need all the help we can get right now.

More from Georgia Witkin Ph.D.
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