Mental health improves with 20 seconds of daily affirmations, study finds: ‘Self-care strategy’

Repeat this line: You feel happy, calm and fulfilled.

It may not be as easy as that — but daily affirmations have been linked to improved mental health, according to a study from the University of California Berkeley.

The study included 135 college students. One group was prompted to practice daily self-compassion by saying affirming things to themselves for 20 seconds per day for a month.

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“This practice involved placing your hands over your heart and belly while thinking kind thoughts to yourself,” study co-author Eli Susman, a psychology researcher at the University of California Berkeley, told Fox News Digital.

“It’s essentially a practice of being a caring friend to yourself when reflecting on moments that evoke being hard on yourself.”

Woman holding heart

Daily affirmations have been linked to improved mental health, according to a study from the University of California Berkeley. (iStock)

The researchers found that the daily affirmation practice was associated with greater self-compassion, emotional well-being and reduced stress in college students compared to a control group. 

The more often they did the practice, the greater the benefits. 

The findings were published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy.

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The students were given the following instructions, according to Susman.

“You’re invited to allow your eyes to close … Bringing to mind a recent mistake, or a failure or something about yourself that has been bothering you lately, or has made you feel unworthy, unloved, or not enough … and notice what arises in your body as you bring this to mind … sending kindness and warmth to yourself by bringing one hand to your belly and the other to your chest with the energy of giving yourself a hug … allow yourself to embrace what arises in your body … and you’re invited to ask yourself, ‘How can I be a friend to myself in this moment?’ … and when you’re ready you may open your eyes.”

Man at beach

The researchers found that the daily affirmation practice was associated with greater self-compassion, emotional well-being and reduced stress. (iStock)

“Micropractices are like tiny training sessions that are based on the most potent parts of well-being practices, such as meditation,” Susman said. 

“They’re designed to be easy to access and don’t require a lot of time or effort to use.”

Benefits of self-affirming thoughts

Zachary Ginder, a psychological consultant and doctor of clinical psychology at Pine Siskin Consulting, LLC in Riverside, California, reinforced the positive impact that affirmations can have in behavior change and mental wellness — particularly for young adults.

“It’s essentially a practice of being a caring friend to yourself when reflecting on moments that evoke being hard on yourself.”

“Imagine a young adult who has a constant narrative of negative beliefs running through their head about their level of worth to society, their competency, ability or any number of other self-limiting negative thoughts,” Ginder, who was not involved in the study, said in a conversation with Fox News Digital.

“Research suggests that when practiced daily to the point of habit formation, self-compassionate touch paired with positive, self-affirming talk or reflection can improve self-compassion and reduce stress and other mental health challenges,” he said.

Woman meditating

“Micropractices are like tiny training sessions that are based on the most potent parts of well-being practices, such as meditation,” a researcher said. (iStock)

Part of the appeal of these techniques is that they are easy to learn and implement, can be practiced in a very short amount of time, and there is no cost involved, Ginder noted.

These affirmations will be different for each person.

“Finding the right practice and self-talk language to use may take some trial and error,” Ginder said. “The bottom line is that when you find a healthy self-care practice that you can maintain long term, make a commitment and stick with it.”

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“Habits geared toward cultivating greater self-awareness, the ability to recognize feelings or emotion in the moment, and tools that actively help to regulate them are an essential part of successfully navigating life and relationships,” he added.

Study’s limitations 

The study was limited in that the researchers didn’t assign how often people practiced. Also, the study focused only on college students in the U.S. 

“The effects were practice-dependent — those who did not practice often did not improve,” Susman told Fox News Digital.

woman holding chest

“When practiced daily, this could be a quick self-care strategy for helping you to be kinder to yourself, less stressed and more emotionally healthy,” a researcher said. (iStock)

More research with different populations is needed to confirm the findings and determine whether they apply to other groups, he noted.

“When practiced daily, this could be a quick self-care strategy for helping you to be kinder to yourself, less stressed and more emotionally healthy,” said Susman.

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He recommended choosing a cue that will make the practice a regular habit, such as after drinking a morning cup of coffee or whenever people are feeling stressed.

The researchers also emphasized, however, that these “micropractices” shouldn’t be used as a substitute for mental health care for those who need it.

man drinking coffee in a kitchen

Choose a cue that will make the practice a regular habit, such as after drinking your morning coffee, recommended one researcher.  (iStock)

“Just like brushing your teeth is not a replacement for seeing the dentist, micropractices should not be a replacement for therapy or more intensive mental health care,” Susman said.

Ginder agreed, noting that this is not a “unicorn” solution to breaking negative self-talk or other mental well-being challenges. 

“It should be considered a tool to be added to an individual’s existing self-care toolbox,” he told Fox News Digital. 

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“As always, if you notice a decline in mental health or ability to function, it is important to seek help from a licensed clinician.”

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