When you think about a mantra, you might envision a yoga class with sage burning in the corner and a bearded teacher wearing prayer beads. A mantra is so much more than that, though, and there’s science to prove it. By adopting the habit of reciting a mantra to yourself on a regular basis, you can actually alter the chemical state of your mind, leaving you happier and less stressed out than before.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Science says so. The journal Brain and Behavior published a study in 2015 that showed how brain activity changes when you repeat a mantra—a single word mantra, to boot—to yourself.
By saying something positive and meaningful to yourself over and over again, you slow down the default mode network in your brain, which is what increases harsh self-judgment.
Still skeptical? Think about it this way. Studies found that repeating a mantra to yourself can actually strengthen certain neural pathways. Alex Korb, neuroscientist and author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, told the Wall Street Journal that neurons communicate with each other as if they were friends.
“The more they communicate, the stronger their connection becomes,” Korb said.
When you make the habit of saying inspiring things to yourself, you are strengthening the connection between those neurons. Bring on the physiological changes! Your body produces less cortisol (the mean stress hormone that gives you sweaty palms) and you can endure difficult situations with a greater sense of ease.
Choose a few phrases that resonate with you, like “I am at peace in the world,” “I am loved,” or “I can get through this.” Make sure they’re believable and come from an authentic place. Make it a habit to repeat one or a couple of these mantras to yourself on a regular basis. Soon enough you’ll be mantra-ing your way to stronger mind and a happier day.