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Affirmations refer to any positive statement you make about yourself or your abilities:

  • I can do this.
  • I’ll have a great day today.
  • Things are tough right now, but I’m improving all the time.

Many people find that repeating these encouraging phrases helps them stay strong when facing challenges, find motivation to work toward change, and cope with pain or distress.

On the most literal level, affirmations are nothing more than words. They can’t magically improve a difficult situation or treat physical or mental health conditions. Still, words do have power, all the same, and positive self-talk can offer plenty of benefits.

Many people use affirmations to boost self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and even help relieve feelings of depression.

Affirmations seem to have benefit for many people, but how, exactly, does affirming yourself help relieve depression? What gives these simple statements their power?

They can prompt brain changes

Experts believe affirmations work by helping create changes in the brain. Affirmations focused on positive experiences or core values can activate the brain’s reward systems, research suggests. This may, in turn, make it easier to adopt a more positive outlook toward the future.

This works because of another important brain characteristic: neuroplasticity.

Your brain has some flexibility, and it continues to change and adapt in response to your life experiences. Affirmations are one way to use this trait to your advantage since the brain can’t always distinguish between actual experiences and imagined experiences.

They help you change and reframe negative beliefs

Roberta Alves, a licensed mental health counselor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, explains that people living with depression tend to experience a regular loop of negative thoughts.

“Affirmations are a great tool to help shift the balance because they help you replace negative thought patterns with healthier, more positive thoughts,” adds Alves.

By addressing the negative thought cycle at the root of depression, she goes on to say, it’s often possible to reduce depression symptoms.

It’s worth noting that countering and replacing negative thoughts with more positive and productive thought patterns is an important aspect of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which Alves and other experts recommend as an effective approach for depression treatment.

Your affirmations can be effective without being complex. Many affirming statements are fairly simple and straightforward.

Alves offers a few examples:

  • I value and respect myself.
  • I have many gifts and talents.

Depression involves a variety of negative thoughts and emotions, so you may want to start by identifying the type of affirmation that would benefit you most. Does depression affect your self-esteem? Does it result in feelings of anger? Or loneliness?

Depression often involves diminished self-esteem and feelings of emotional numbness or emptiness. You might feel listless and blank, even when thinking of your usual interests and hobbies, and have trouble enjoying anything at all.

This can fuel doubt in your own abilities — including your ability to heal and regain a more hopeful outlook — and drain your motivation to keep trying.

These affirmations can help you challenge feelings of emptiness and decreased self-esteem or motivation:

  • I have the confidence to achieve my goals and create the life I want for myself.
  • I’m grateful for the abilities and values that make me who I am and help me succeed.
  • I take another step toward positive change every day.
  • Making time each day for my favorite activities brings me joy and gives me strength for tomorrow.

Persistent sadness, especially sadness that seems to lack a specific cause, is one of the most common symptoms of depression. Many people with depression also experience loneliness, often as a result of self-isolation. Loneliness can intensify sadness, hopelessness, and other key symptoms.

You might avoid others because you:

  • believe you aren’t good company
  • doubt they truly care
  • lack the energy for social interaction

Yet pulling away from your important relationships makes it harder to get important emotional support that could help improve your mood and well-being.

Affirming yourself, on the other hand, can help you challenge the mindset that leads you to isolate and encourage you to reach out instead:

  • I am worthy of love from myself and others.
  • I draw support from loved ones in times of sadness and despair.
  • My loved ones care for me and support me, even when I feel alone.
  • The sadness I feel belongs to depression. It will pass, in time.

Not everyone recognizes anger and irritability as depression symptoms, but these emotions are actually pretty common.

You might:

  • feel cranky or snappish
  • lose your temper or become frustrated easily
  • have trouble preventing or controlling angry outbursts

Depression can also involve intense feelings of guilt. If you lash out angrily at others, you might feel guilty for hurting their feelings and pushing them away.

You might feel guilt for isolating yourself, struggling to keep up with your responsibilities, and even for experiencing depression in the first place.

Affirmations can help you challenge these unwanted emotions:

  • I treat myself with the kindness and compassion I deserve.
  • I do my best every day, and that’s all anyone can do.
  • My feelings of anger are lifting, leaving me relaxed and at peace.
  • I accept painful emotions, let them go, and embrace my inner calm.

Depression shows up in different ways, and the affirmations above may not capture your unique symptoms or experiences.

Plus, Alves notes that positive affirmations may work more effectively when you personalize them. An affirmation that reflects more specifically on what you value about yourself may help more than simply saying, “I value myself.”

These strategies can help you craft affirmations that work for you.

Start by listing specific negative thoughts

Alves suggests taking a week to keep track of negative thought patterns by jotting them down on a notepad or your phone. After a week, your list will offer some insight into specific themes in patterns of negative thinking. You can then create affirmations to reframe or counter those thoughts directly.

Aim for affirmations you can believe

Keeping your affirmations realistic can help increase their chances of success.

If you affirm things that aren’t entirely true for you, such as “I love everything about myself,” or “I am happy every day,” your affirmations might leave you feeling worse instead of better.

Repeating something you don’t believe may inspire self-doubt, skepticism, and even disappointment in yourself when the affirmation fails to transform into reality.

Err on the side of neutrality

If you’ve already started looking up affirmations, you’ve probably noticed some positive blanket statements, like “I accept myself wholeheartedly,” or “I am a wonderful person.”

Research suggests, however, that more neutral affirmations tend to have more benefits, especially for increasing self-esteem.

A better approach? Keep your affirmations focused on specific traits or values instead of infusing them with generic positivity:

  • I am kind and patient.
  • I make the most of every day.

Focus on the here and now

Keep your affirmations in present tense: I am, not I will.

Envisioning your affirmations as reality can help increase your chances of success. Treat them as statements about who you are right now, not who you want to become.

Affirmations should also focus on you — you can only control your own actions, after all.

When it comes to affirmations, consistency is key. Making them part of your daily routine can help you see real results.

“A daily routine connects your affirmations to things you do on a regular basis. This helps positive affirmations become an automatic response, like getting into your car and putting on your seatbelt without thinking,” Alves explains.

She recommends repeating affirmations several times a day, by incorporating them into your regular activities.

For example, you might repeat affirmations:

  • when you wake up in the morning
  • while showering or brushing your teeth
  • during your commute to and from work
  • while exercising
  • during a relaxation or meditation routine
  • in bed before going to sleep

Say your affirmation 10 times or so. Repeat them slowly, with meaning and belief, instead of rushing through them.

Let’s say you’re using this affirmation: “Depression is only part of my experience. I am more than my depression.” As you repeat it, you might visualize the other aspects of yourself that make this statement true.

If you prefer the written word, writing down your affirmations in a journal can be another great way to practice. Use bright ink, markers, or your favorite colored pencils to turn your affirmations into art.

Affirming yourself on a regular basis may help counter the patterns of negative thinking common with depression and help improve your mood and overall well-being.

Just remember, affirmations alone typically can’t treat or resolve mental health conditions. Most people need a little more support to overcome depression symptoms.

If you experience persistent sadness, hopelessness, thoughts of suicide, or any changes in your mood or energy that last for 2 weeks or more, a therapist can offer compassionate guidance and support.

Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.