I recently read an excellent article in Elemental by Markham Reid that looks at the neuroscience behind this “mantra effect” and the research that shows how simply repeating a single word over and over multiple times can quiet the areas of the brain that impact anxiety and depression. This type of repetitive speech as explored in 2015 study seems to create a resting state for our mind that’s akin to practicing meditation and mindfulness.1 Think of it much like switching off our hyperactive thoughts and giving our brain a chance to just rest!
Reid’s article also looked at the ideas behind the gate control theory, which describes three systems that converge to affect the way in which pain is perceived and relevant to the mantra effect may in the same way also block anxious, negative thoughts.
Mantras in meditation and more.
Many religious and spiritual practices have mantras at their core, including Hinduism and Buddhism, whether as a single-word chant or short phrase. Having a mantra has long found its way into many activities such as mediation and yoga as a means of grounding our thoughts and being present in that activity versus getting distracted by everything going on around us. As explained on Chopra.com, “At the end of the day, the mantra is meant to bring you back to simplicity. We live in such a complex world that it’s easy to get lost in all the details. Mantras can help you circle back to the simplistic approach to life and focus on those things that inspire you and truly make you happy.”
Does all self-talk help?
While not always possible due to social conventions and, well, potentially being somewhat distracting to those around us, self-talk you perform aloud may actually be more beneficial at times than keeping it to yourself! As Reid noted in his article, when we silently talk to ourselves, it’s more difficult to maintain cohesive thinking; our thoughts can become entangled or just undirected toward a purpose or resolution. Talking out loud can “provide clarity and structure” although understandably, it’s not something we want to do limitlessly. Talking to others, whether it’s about a life decision or just bouncing ideas off someone who wants to listen is always something we should pursue if the opportunity is available.
So, what’s your mantra? Mine is "Something amazing is going to happen today!!" When I feel isolated and alone, I also say these words that were spoken to me one night as I prayed for God's grace to help me through a challenging time: "You are not alone, I am with you, love me and love the people in my world.”
The important thing to remember is that a mantra is not about the words you choose, but what those words bring to your life and the joy or quietude they can instill in your day. Try it and let us know what helps you and your brain to feel at peace. Certainly right now, we all could use a healing mantra for our spirit and our wellbeing!
In health and hope,
Dr. Suzanne Gazda
1 Berkovich-Ohana, A., Wilf, M., Kahana, R., Arieli, A., & Malach, R. (2015). Repetitive speech elicits widespread deactivation in the human cortex: the "Mantra" effect? Brain and behavior, 5(7), e00346.https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.346
Dr. Suzanne Gazda, Integrative Neurology