A friend once told me that she would start her day with a simple mantra: “Today is going to be an extraordinary day.” For a while thereafter I would text her daily wishing her an extraordinary day. Fast forward to a year ago when I found out that one of our daughters has an auto-immune disease. Western medicine’s approach to auto-immune issues is often painfully slow. As a parent, it’s hard to hear things like “all we can do is wait for it to get worse.” No matter how great your stress management skills, this type of experience takes a toll on you.
It’s definitely easy to lose perspective when you get consumed by something that you cannot control. Your parental instincts say that you should be able to kiss the booboo and make it all better. I usually deal with obstacles in a methodical way. I research what I don’t understand and seek advice from people who know more than I do. This time I was coming up short.
I worked hard to accept this situation, even to find a silver lining in it. Eventually I did. One thing that helped was remembering the conversation I had with my friend about her daily mantra. But why and how do mantras help people cope?
What are Mantras?
A mantra is a phrase that is repeated by someone, like a meditation. It is sometimes tied to prayers, but doesn’t have to be religious.
How Can Repeating a Mantra Help?
It is believed that the action of repeating the sounds, or sentences, over and over again helps the nervous system regulate. If the phrase has a personal meaning it may also have a stronger psychological impact because it can be used to reinforce a belief, like it did for my friend. In any case, recent fMRI studies show that even silently repeating a word over and over again allows the brain to quiet down, reducing its wandering. Repeating the word or phrase aloud (OM– anyone?) may also calm you by regulating your breathing patterns and engaging your vagus nerve and your diaphragm. Your breathing, vagus nerve and diaphragm all work together to tell your nervous system that there’s no cause for panic. This may be why mantra exercises are sometimes easier for people to do than mindfulness meditation. In a way, mantras are the perfect “active meditation” (think Tai Chi or QiQong).
What I have learned…
No doubt this past year has been a journey of growth for our family. I’m reminded every day that we can handle a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. My daughter has grown stronger through her experience, and the resilience of our family never ceases to amaze me. Today is indeed an extraordinary day. So will be tomorrow, no matter what it brings. And for days that aren’t so bright, my daily mantra should help.
Find your own mantra, or adopt someone else’s and make it your own. It will remind you when you need it the most of how capable you are to find the beauty in the small things, even through the worst of storms.
What’s your mantra? We all have stories of resilience and growth. How do you find strength during hard times? Share your stories in the comments below, your experience can make a difference in someone else’s life!!!