When positive self-talk and empowering affirmations guide our actions, we can redirect our moods and shift our behaviors toward confidence and balance with bipolar.
Words—whether spoken or thought—carry incredible weight. They are capable of healing or harming. The unkind phrases we tell ourselves so often can easily turn into beliefs, shaping an unfair and cruel view of who we are.
If words hold so much sway, why, then, can’t we use them for good?
What if our words and what we tell ourselves hold the key to a better life? Imagine if, instead of riding along with the usual negative stream of consciousness, you said aloud: “I am worthy.” “I have the strength to overcome any challenge.” “I have come this far—I am capable.”
Appropriately termed “affirmations” or “self-talk,” these are positive statements that can help us confront and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts and beliefs. When you repeat them often, and believe in them, you can start to make positive changes, rewriting your story.
Navigating to Bipolar Stability with Self-Talk
We spend most of our waking time talking to ourselves, although we might not always be aware of it. And that internal chatter is much more influential than we often recognize. Our mood is created by the balance of chemicals in our brain—neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and so on.
Yet even our thoughts or self-talk
can alter our brain’s chemical reactions, shaping our emotions and behaviors. What
we say to ourselves has real-world consequences.
In this way, our inner speech functions
much like an internal compass or brain-based GPS. The tone of this self-talk influences
our feelings, judgments, self-esteem, and actions—guiding us to move forward,
change course, or settle into the status quo.
Sylvester’s metaphor is fitting, and
it raises an important question: If we aren’t paying attention to our
self-talk, who is at the wheel? And where, exactly, are we going?
Repeated often enough, this silent
self-address ultimately establishes our default or foundational beliefs about
ourselves, those around us, and the world in general. So, in a sense, engaging
in mindless self-talk is a lot like living on autopilot.
Even so, we can take back the
controls. That voice in our heads, after all, is our own.
The notion of thinking good thoughts is at the center of much psychotherapy, in fact. Reframing our negative thoughts is a powerful way to heal from past trauma. Furthermore, thinking positively to make yourself feel better is not self-deception, says Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, founder of the Center: A Place of Hope, one of the leading facilities for the treatment of depression.
In his book Moving Beyond Depression, Jantz writes that positive self-talk is “not mentally looking at circumstances with eyes that see only what you want to see. Rather, positive-self talk is about recognizing the truth in situations and in yourself…. [It] allows you to discover the obscured optimism, hope, and joy in any given situation.”
Rerouting Bipolar Moods with Self-Affirmation
Lorenzo L. of New York City knows
this firsthand. In his youth, Lorenzo struggled with “massive mood swings” that
much later would be recognized as symptoms of bipolar I disorder. Showing
wisdom beyond his years, Lorenzo lifted himself out of depressive states by
slowing his breathing and using positive affirmations.
With regular meditation, Lorenzo has
learned to quickly identify his state of mind. Once he is fully aware of his
current mood, he directs his self-talk accordingly: “When I’m coming down from
mania or hypomania,” he says, his mantra is, “‘Don’t doubt yourself today. It’s
okay that you don’t feel as joyful or productive today.’”
“When I’m cycling up to mania or hypomania,” he continues, “I say, ‘Try not to get too carried away. Use all of this extra energy for productive and healthy activities.’”
And when he is feeling balanced, he
uses positive, encouraging inner speech to continue his sense of stability: “I
can sustain this mood for more than this moment or day.”
“Self-affirmations,” mental health
counselor Sylvester explains, “are positive statements that put a person in the
driver’s seat of their life and create a path from which to grow.”
And grown he has. Working full-time and studying to become a certified public accountant, the 31-year-old Lorenzo credits his healthful mindset to meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With the help of his psychologist, he has solidified his initial forays into mindfulness and self-affirmation into a practical, tried-and-true strategy that improves his mood and alleviates his symptoms.
Supporting Stability with Self-Regulation & Positive Self-Talk
When the terrain is rocky, and we are
struggling to stick to our wellness plan, positive self-talk can help us persevere
by allowing us to become proactive instead of reactive. In fact, we can harness
our inner monologue to promote what psychologists call “self-regulation,” that
is, our ability to exert conscious control over our emotional and physical
response to external situations.
We can increase our self-regulation by consciously distancing our thoughts from our experiences. One way to do this is to switch our self-talk from first person (“I,” “me,” “my”) to third person (our name). Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that doing so in times of stress allows for a sense of perspective, with the net benefits of decreased anxiety, improved performance, and both increased and faster emotional recovery.
So, if we are feeling anxious about
an upcoming event or want to gain a bit of emotional separation from an
experience in order to change our response, we should consider replacing “I”
with our name when speaking or thinking our affirmations.
Linking Self-Image with Self-Affirmation for Resilience
In times of overwhelm, it can be
helpful to remind ourselves of who we are, of what defines us as individuals. From
there, we can make better decisions.
When Cheryl W. M. faces negative thoughts, she tells herself, “I don’t sweat the small stuff.”
By linking her desired mindset to her self-image in this way, she makes it easier to follow through with her goal of not letting minor inconveniences or difficulties become roadblocks.
Cheryl explains that her affirmation
“helps to keep me centered and positive.”
Science supports Cheryl’s sense of an improved state of mind. In fact, research published in PLOS One in 2013 showed that self-affirmations improved the problem-solving skills of study participants who were underperforming and chronically stressed.
This suggests that self-affirmations can protect us against the negative effects of stress, such as impaired creativity and problem-solving.
Confirming the importance of linking
affirmations to our identity, counselor Sylvester says that empowering affirmations
work best when they begin with “I am,” such as “I am true to myself,” “I am
capable,” or “I am smart.” Set in the present tense, they “affirm that things
are happening in the present, versus in the future.”
This is when first-person self-talk
can prove beneficial, eliminating the emotional distance between our identity
and what we want to affirm.
Kim S., 54, seems to understand the
power of using self-talk in this way. Every time she looks in the bathroom
mirror, she tells herself that she loves herself; then she says, “I am
surrounded by love. I am strong today. I can make it right now, just for right
In addition to using “I am”
statements that focus on the current moment, Kim also imagines being surrounded
by white, healing light and beautiful hearts. “And if I have to,” she
continues, “I repeat this five times per day.”
Using Distancing Self-Talk for Bipolar Depression & Anxiety
When we are dealing with bipolar depression, it might feel inauthentic or untrue to say to ourselves, “I am happy” or “I am capable.” Depression feels heavy and can often rob us of our belief that we can get out of bed, continue with our routines, and return to happiness. At these times, we must remember that our brain is mistaken.
Clinical psychologist and author of Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice, Robert W. Firestone, PhD, identifies the “critical inner voice”—the stream of negative, self-defeating, and highly critical self-talk—as the “enemy within.” He writes that this enemy can be overcome only by recognizing it and actively working against it.
By distancing ourselves from the
“enemy within” and associating our true identity with our positive, emotionally
charged affirmations, we can move toward a more balanced and uplifting state of
That sense of control can feel
especially empowering when our moods seem to dictate our days.
Since our internal monologue is ultimately what determines our beliefs
and actions, we would all benefit from paying a little more attention to what
we’re saying—and chart a course armed with a wealth of affirming words.
Lorenzo, the mindful New Yorker, says, “I know it’s difficult. If you’re struggling, there are ways to adapt your lifestyle and cope with difficult emotions. Such as, for me, affirmations and positive self-talk.”
“It’s a journey,” he says, “for sure.”
Self-Talk Alternatives to Support Bipolar Stability
There are many ways to increase your
sense of personal power and inject some positivity and affirmations into your
daily routine. Here are a few to get you cruising!
To start off on the right side of the bed, Eric R., of California, says, “I use the song ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2 as my wake-up alarm. It sets the tone for the day by pointing my thoughts in a good and hopeful direction as soon as I awake.”
To instill your new habit, link your self-affirmation to
part of an already-existing routine, like brushing your teeth. That way, as you
stand before the bathroom mirror, you can say to yourself, “I am strong.” Then
repeat the practice before bed.
Embrace your creativity and turn your favorite
affirmation into a piece of art. Paint, collage, draw, or design it however you
wish, then display the final product in a place you see every day.
Connecticut-based clinical psychologist Kristina Hallett, PhD, advocates recording your affirmations in your own voice (ideally when in a positive or neutral mental state) and tailoring the words to what feels true. Later, during trying times, you can listen to your own voice of wisdom and move forward with calm encouragement from the one who knows you best.
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