10 Calming Mantras That Can Ease Depression



Back before there were psychiatrists and therapists, way before the introduction of Prozac and Xanax, people were using mantras to calm their nervous systems and sooth symptoms of depression and malaise. In fact, the earliest mantras were used by Hindus more than 3,000 years ago. Employed by Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, and persons of most faith traditions, mantras defined in the strict sense consist of hymns, chants, syllables, or groups of words that are considered sacred, having psychological and spiritual powers. I use the term loosely to refer to a phrase repeated over and over, or whenever a painful emotion or thought surfaces. During periods of acute depression and anxiety, I have uttered these words as many as 500 times a day. They are especially useful when caught in tormenting ruminations.

Focused repetition of a soothing word or phrase, called autogenic training, helps you to relax and primes your body’s parasympathetic nervous system. A 2008 study at the University of Melbourne in Australia found that autogenic training, along with other relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and imagery, reduced depressive symptoms among some participants.

It’s best to develop your own mantras that will appeal to your emotions, ones that make you feel safe and are able to calm you down. Here are ten that have helped me.

1. This Too Shall Pass

The reminder of impermanence is a powerful antidote to fear—that everything is passing, even those emotions, thoughts, and situations that feel permanent and etched in our brains forever. Joseph Goldstein, co-founder of the Insight Medication Society, once said that “Wisdom is the clear seeing of the impermanent, conditioned nature of all phenomena, knowing that whatever arises has the nature to cease. When we se this impermanence deeply, we no longer cling; and when we no longer cling, we come to the end of suffering.”

2. Just for Today

I can do most things if I know it’s a 24-hour gig. By reminding myself that I only have to give this day my best shot—or maybe even the next 15 minutes—suddenly what I thought was truly impossible. Just as I repeated “one day at a time,” to myself over and over again when I quit drinking, “just for today” prompts me to get back in the moment, and not to sweat too much about a month from now or ten years out. It forces me to concentrate on now, which is the only thing that matters and the only thing I can control.

3. I Will Get Better

One of the most painful symptoms of depression is the despair and hopelessness you feel—the certainty that you will feel this way for the rest of your life. Before she died, my great aunt Gigi, who struggled with depression her entire life, left me with one word of advice: always repeat, “I WILL get better.” “Keep saying it over and over,” she said, “even when you don’t believe it.” She told me that eventually I would believe it, and those four words would bring me hope. She was right.

4. This Is a Moment of Suffering

In her book, Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff, Ph.D. offers a beautiful mantra she developed to help her deal with negative emotions, a reminder to treat herself with self-compassion when discomfort arises: “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.” I simplify it to the first sentence, which also makes me think of American Buddhist Pema Chodron’s instructions to “lean into the sharp points” when we are faced with fear, uncertainty, panic, and pain.

5. May My Life Be Of Benefit To All Beings

I acquired this mantra in meditation teacher Tara Brach, Ph.D.’s book, Radical Acceptance. One of the ways we can respond to pain is by transforming it into compassion. “As we transform suffering into compassion, we realize our interconnectedness with all of life,” she writes. Sometimes I also say “Make me an instrument of your peace,” the first line of the Prayer of St. Francis. Both mantras help me to use compassion to transcend my pain.

6. I Am Breathing In, I am Breathing Out

In his book, You Are Here, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh instructs us to say with each in-breath, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.” And with each out-breath, “Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.” Mindful breathing, he explains, is the bridge that unites the body and the mind. By concentrating on our breath, we generate peacefulness and calm. This abbreviated mantra helps me stay mindful of my breath.

7. Be Not Afraid

The words “fear not” are used over 80 times in scripture, and “be not afraid” or the equivalent, another 30 times. There is no scripture passage that calms me down more than these three words. In fact, when I would begin to panic even as a grade-schooler, I used to sing the lyrics of the song “Be Not Afraid.”

8. Let It Go

It’s hard not to hear Elsa belting out the lyrics to “Let It Go” (from Disney’s “Frozen”) when these three words are assembled, but this phrase offers wisdom for everyone, not just those cursed with a syndrome that makes everything into an icicle. It’s especially helpful for me when I’m caught in obsessive thinking, ruminations that take on a life of their own.

9. There Is No Danger

As those who have experienced panic know, anxiety can often feel like you’re dying—that there is some inherent danger in your situation that could end your life. A great mantra for me, then, to keep my anxiety in check, is “There is no danger.” I picked up this gem in the book Mental Health Through Will Training by psychiatrist Abraham Low. He writes, “You will realize that the idea of danger created by your imagination can easily disrupt any of your functions … If behavior is to be adjusted imagination must interpret events in such a fashion that the sense of security … overbalances the sentence of insecurity.”

10. I Am Enough

Since many of my ruminations stem from feeling unworthy on some level, I remind myself that I am enough. I don’t need kids on the dean’s list nor do I need to be a superstar blogger with millions of Twitter followers to earn my place in this world. I am enough as I am, as a child of God, doing my best while battling a chronic health condition.

Join Project Hope & Beyond, the new depression community.

Illustration: Simone Golob/Getty Images

Published on Sanity Break.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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11 Responses
  1. Sam Gyura

    Oh and I also love your reference to the University of Melbourne, T. Excellent learning place!

  2. Debbie Cockman

    Therese, how do you feel about Ketamine infusions? I’ve tried ECT, TMS and lots and lots of med’s….. plus therapy, of course! All my life, I’ve received relief from med’s and therapy and exercise, eating right, faith, etc. But now…. the past 5-6 years….. been through so much loss and change. I’m in big trouble! Also, been hospitalized twice during that time! Curious about your opinion on Ketamine! Worth trying?? Thx so much. I enjoy your posts!! Debbie

    1. Therese Borchard

      Hi Debbie,
      Here’s a link to a piece I wrote on Ketamine: https://thereseborchard.com/2016/06/14/ketamine-a-miracle-drug-for-depression-or-not/

      It’s complicated but here’s the brief version of what I think. I feel that it offers hope in that I think there will be something in the future that can relieve depression much more quickly and effectively for those of us who have not responded fully to medication or do not respond at all. However, based on the research I’ve read and my friends who have done it, I’m not sure it’s ready for prime time right now. It seems as though in my friends’ cases, it has been very helpful, but only lasts a short time, and that’s where I get concerned, because you would need lots of it frequently to keep in remission. However, like I said, I think the takeaway is that we are close to some solutions that will help those of us who are treatment resistant and hopefully have immediate and lasting relief. Prayers to you. Keep on keeping on.

  3. Pat

    I am constantly plagued with anxiety and unworthiness. The mantras do work. SI does using David Burns CBT techniques. But it takes a lot of concentration to pause, recognize what us happening wit the ruminations, and pull up the skills I have acquired with both therapy and concentrated home work. We must all keep supporting one another

  4. Cari Wright

    I say The Serenity Prayer regularly, to remind myself, like you said to take it a day at a time…or even an hour.

  5. This is great and I think you hit it right on the head…10 steps is such an easy number to remember to do all these things. Everyone should have just a daily reminder to read these and I promise living by these things will make a world of a difference….thank you so much for sharing and feel free to check out our blog: http://yourselftruly.com