Mind Your Mind: Encourage yourself with cheerleading statements

One thing that helps me during stressful times is coping statements. These statements come in the form of positive self-talk and are sometimes known as daily affirmations. Basically, whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by life, I try to encourage myself by acting like my own cheerleader. What I like most about coping statements is that they help you cope in the moment and you can use them anywhere, anytime.

They are considered an internal resource and are a form of self-soothing. For me, coping statements are reassuring and help me build confidence. When I was first taught coping statements, I found them to be tacky, ‘fake’ and inauthentic. The truth is, I’ll never be the kind of person to say to myself, “You go, girl!” or “This too shall pass.” That’s why I discovered that in order to be effective, coping statements need to use simple language that rings true to you.

They also need to be concise, easy to memorize and realistic. If they don’t reflect some aspect of the truth, they will feel intimidating and unnatural. Especially if you suffer from low self-esteem, it can be discouraging to tell yourself things you don’t even believe. For instance, instead of saying, “I love myself!” you can try something like, “I’m working towards maintaining a healthier relationship with myself.”

One thing that has been hard for me is wrapping my head around the idea that self-critical thoughts and beating myself up for every little mistake are rarely effective. Although for a lot of us it happens to be an automatic habit ­— the truth is that people who hate themselves rarely succeed in a way that people with self-compassion do. In my attempt to treat myself like I would treat a friend, I came up with three main coping statements that I try to rehearse whenever I find myself in a difficult situation.

‘I’m doing the best I can with the resources I have.’

This is by far my favourite coping statement, and for many reasons. First, I like to work with the assumption that everyone is always doing the best they can. Second, I truly believe that people aren’t malicious or intending to hurt others on purpose. I also believe that although I don’t always engage in healthy behaviours or make good choices, I am always trying the best I can. Sometimes, this means that I engage in harmful actions because I simply don’t know any better, or don’t have the necessary skills to cope in a healthier way. Doing the best you can doesn’t mean you also can’t improve or do better. It simply acknowledges that based on your life circumstances, your ability to cope, your biological dispositions and your support system, you are coping in the best way you know how.

‘The pain of the present moment is enough, for anyone.’

This statement can be attributed to psychologist Marsha Linehan, who created a therapy designed for people in intense emotional pain. Linehan states that “adding to a painful present moment all the pain from the past and all the pain from the future is too much. It is too much suffering, for anyone.” I find this concept validating and helpful, because it’s true that sometimes, I create more self-suffering by revising past mistakes or worrying about future situations. To me, this statement gives me permission to experience my present suffering without having to justify myself or provide reasons for feeling the way I do. Another version of this statement can be, “All I have to get through is the next moment.”

‘It’s just one paper, in one subject, in one course, in my whole life.’

This is definitely one of my favourite coping statements and I try to use it as much as I can during the school year. Academic papers are a major stressor for me and when I start to feel overwhelmed, I catastrophize and become consumed with worries. In those instances, I try to remind myself that grades don’t define who I am. I am still worthy even if I fail. My whole life doesn’t depend on this one assignment, and besides, will this even matter in a week? A month? A year? Probably not. These sorts of statement can help you regain perspective and remind you of what’s really important.

In short, I like to work with coping statements because they are a form of self-validation and self-compassion. Coping statements also help me accept my mistakes and forgive myself, which is both liberating and healing. Although at first it felt weird to encourage myself, I am slowly getting used to it. Like any other skill, it requires patience and practice.

The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency, call 911.