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How Positive Affirmations and Meditation Can Help During the Coronavirus

We live in a stress-driven age. Throw in unpredictable events, such as the public health crisis we’re dealing with from the coronavirus, and our anxiety is further exacerbated. 

Stress takes a toll on the human mind and body. The American Institute of Stress says that 77 percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. Negative thoughts contribute to anxiety, depression, fear and many other emotional symptoms, as well as having an adverse impact on your immune system.

Instead of letting thoughts bring you down while you’re stuck at home in quarantine, the good news is there are simple things you can do to manage your anxiety during the pandemic. We'll explain how you can incorporate either positive affirmations or meditation into your day to help change your outlook.

What are positive affirmations?

Positive affirmations are phrases that you repeat to yourself, which describe a specific outcome or who you want to be. These words, images, or attitudes are used by your brain to overcome negative thoughts and reprogram your mindset. The phrase comes from the Latin word affirmare, which means to become sturdy or to strengthen.

Positive affirmations aren’t new, says Dr. R. Murali Krishna, who is co-founder and president of the INTEGRIS James L. Hall Center for Mind, Body and Spirit, past president of INTEGRIS Mental Health, and senior member of the Oklahoma State Board of Health. In fact, Dr. Krishna says they’ve been going on since the beginning of mankind. Affirmations existed in spiritual texts and sacred books thousands of years ago.

It’s important to remember positive affirmations or any type of self-talk shouldn’t focus on negatives, denial or not believing something happened. In recent news, the coronavirus is a negative event, but you accept the reality of what’s happening and use affirmations to help you respond and react to your feelings in a more positive way. For instance, you might say, "I believe in my ability to get through tough times," or "I will not stress over things I cannot control."

"When you can focus on the best in yourself, your potential strength can come out and you can better cope and find solutions to life's problems in a healthy manner," Dr. Krishna says. "That’s a skill and a power we’re born with — we just have to believe what science is telling us. To make our lives happier, to better connect with loved ones, to have a stronger sense of gratitude and fulfillment, it all begins with the positive words we say to ourselves."

You can find many positive affirmation statements online or buy books that have hundreds of pre-loaded words to help you. Dr. Krishna recommends taking a 3-by-5 index card or post-it note and writing down a personal statement based on your current need. Make sure you frequently access the written affirmation and think about it several times a day.

"Don’t make it complicated. Don’t use words like 'can’t' and 'won't.' Always stay positive and always stay in the present. Don’t get preoccupied with the past or the future," Dr. Krishna says. "The brain responds only to present moments — it responds very well to what’s happening today and right now."

Your affirmations can use words like "heal" or expressions such as "I’m calm," "I’m confident," or "We will get through this together." There is scientific proof that this affirmation practice actually signals the brain and body to give their best to handle a challenge. 

How your brain reacts to negative thoughts

Our bodies are full of cells — more than 37.2 trillion, or 100 times the number of stars in our galaxy. These cells connect to the nervous system and brain. With this much activity, it’s no surprise that your mind is constantly cycling through your thoughts, consciously and unconsciously. Dr. Krishna says there are scientific studies that show the average person deals with at least 45 negative stress reactions each day.

The inner monologue we have with ourselves is often negative. It’s common to not even realize you're saying negative things to yourself, such as "I’m no good," "I can’t survive this," "The coronavirus is going to ruin my life," or "I’m not up to it." The problem, Dr. Krishna says, is we don’t do enough to rebut those negative thoughts. Our negative conversations inside our brains stimulate various emotions like anger, fear or shame.

"Every thought you’re having right now affects your brain cells through neurons in the connections they’re forming," Dr. Krishna says. "If your thoughts are generating anxious feelings, certain emotions are activated — anxiety, tension, fear, worry. These 'fight-or-flight' reactions from your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal complex pour stress hormones into your body in an excessive way."

This process acts as an emergency-response system in your body, even if there’s no emergency. Your thoughts and visualizations become a reality for the brain. As a simple example, you may experience fear as you watch a scary movie. Actual physiological reactions can be triggered in your body by stress hormones that make your heart rate increase even though you know the movie isn't real.

Chronic stress reactions can even alter your body chemistry. For instance, stress can affect the aging process. Your chromosomes degrade faster, which is why the life expectancy is lower for people with severe, chronic stress. Finding ways to cope with negative interactions between your brain and body can have a positive impact on your health. 

"The backdoor way to balance your brain and body is through your mind. This comes via your thoughts, attitude, intentions, words, actions, behaviors, and how you respond to what life throws at you," Dr. Krishna says. "You construct your affirmations based on what your needs are right now."

To learn more about the science behind positive affirmations, check out this article from For more information on how affirmations can help you cope during the coronavirus pandemic, click here.

Using meditation to relieve anxiety

As we touched on before, your body sends signals to your brain when it senses danger or stress. More specifically, your amygdala alerts your hypothalamus, an area of your brain that communicates with the endocrine system. When activated, your body produces a hormone that leads to increased cortisol levels. Cortisol gives you energy to act on your "fight-or-flight" response.

Meditation can help calm this fight-or-flight response — in which your heart races, your blood pressure increases, and you breathe more rapidly — by helping return your body to its "rest-and-digest" phase, also known as the restorative response. 

There are many types of meditation to help you take control of your attention, thoughts and breathing. Yoga is one of the most popular, as it combines relaxation and deep breathing with a focus on flexibility.

Guided imagery is where you focus on an image or place you find relaxing, such as a memorable vacation spot.

Mindfulness meditation hones in on the present with an emphasis on living in the moment. If you encounter any negative thoughts during this process, you acknowledge them without thinking negatively or ruminating on them.

To be walked through a mindfulness meditation to help you find a calm and peaceful state, try one of these guided meditations from the Chopra Center.

Or else, here is a quick way to incorporate simple meditation into your daily routine. (Make sure to silence your phone and turn off the television so your attention isn’t compromised).

  • Find a quiet setting where you can sit with your eyes closed for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Close your eyes and identify three things you’re grateful for.
  • Relax your body by taking deep breaths as you hold these three things in your mind.
  • Use your belly to inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
  • Exhale forcefully through your mouth to release your stresses away.
  • Soften your face and let your shoulders relax and move away from your ears. 

That's it! You just meditated. If you'd like to watch a video of Sarah McLean from the McLean Meditation Institute that will teach you other ways to practice mindfulness meditation, click here.

Because we don’t plan for natural disasters and public health crises, it’s important to put things in perspective and realize you’re not alone during a time like this. As Dr. Krishna says, it’s OK to experience strong emotions. It’s more about how you respond to them by keeping a positive attitude. Affirmations and meditation are two ways to help you return to a positive and energetic state through the coronavirus crisis.

Remain positive if you or someone you know has COVID-19. While it may seem daunting, positive affirmations can help patients dealing with severe illness. Those thoughts can paralyze you emotionally, but a positive outlook can prepare your body for its best chance of recovery.

"You need to have a healing attitude that is accepting of what’s going on in a scientific way and also bringing your body’s own healing power to its optimal level," Dr. Krishna says. "That means staying positive, hopeful, optimistic, and wishing, hoping and expecting recovery." 

Mindfulness Series with Sarah McLean

In this mindfulness series, meditation expert Sarah McLean teaches us how to practice mindfulness in a chaotic world.

COVID-19 Mental Wellness Resources

Self-care during an emergency will help your long-term healing. Visit our resource center for more information to help manage your mental health through the pandemic.