12/11/2013 06:08 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2014

Are You Making Yourself Sick?

I have had many conversations over the years with people who believe in the power of the mind and the ability (by fault or default) to create their own reality. Many of these beliefs in our pop culture, however, are incomplete and underdeveloped. For example, when an even remotely negative issue is introduced, proponents of this ideology will often say, "Don't say that!" or, "Take that back right now," or (my favorite from an Armenian friend), "Cancel, cancel, cancel!"

Through the centuries and across generations in every culture, people have been careful to reinforce the positive (knock on wood) and banish the negative. The idea that we make manifest our destinies is an idea that has somehow survived every society. But the way we have gone about it is often wrong.

As a child, when I would tell my Irish mother that I was nervous about a new situation of any kind, she would say what her mother had said to her, "Don't borrow trouble." As an adult, she no doubt understood the context of this adage as, "Whatever will be will be. See what happens. Don't try to predict it." And to someone capable of examining his or her own fears and anxieties, this advice might be useful. But to children or anyone facing an extreme and unknown situation, this statement feels more like a brush-off. As I got older, I saw these axioms and refusals to examine, or even discuss negative situations as more denial than wisdom.

By tamping down issues we perceive to be negative, we are not getting rid of them at all. Instead, we are creating layers of mental soil -- soil in which the thoughts and ideas we refuse to discuss become compost for our psyches. Compost that has the power to transform the seed of any emerging thought into a flourishing field of anxiety and worry. Why? Because by not dealing with our fears openly, we allow them to thrive in the very part of our minds over which we have the least control -- the subconscious and unconscious minds. Rooted there, they will eventually affect the very core of our being. Rooted there, they have the power to make us sick.

Why did my grandmother refuse to discuss the conditions of her Irish upbringing before she was sent to the U.S. as a young teen? Fear and ignorance. Fear of picking up the poverty, rejection and anger and examining them, and ignorance of the knowledge that by doing that, she would stand a chance at removing their power. We do not get rid of our toxic thoughts or their companion emotions be saying, "Take that back," or "Cancel, cancel, cancel." We do not get rid of our toxic thoughts (or those of a friend) by never discussing anything meaningful. By telling someone in the depths of sorrow to "Let it go," we only show that we are resonating with the same fear, not that we are above it. We get rid of toxic thoughts not by dismissing (or conversely, dwelling on them), but by neutralizing them.

One powerful way to neutralize negative thoughts is to counter them with specific affirmations. To do this, first identify the culprits -- the negatives thoughts and feelings that most influence your situation or your life. Next, list them on the left side of a piece of paper. Examine them. Acknowledge them. Next, identify their opposites in the form of affirmations. These affirmations represent our conscious decision to replace the negative with the positive -- to overcome wild and untamed influences in our psyches and bring them under our control. Once you have composed the appropriate affirmations, cross out the negative roots.

As an example, if one of your gravest fears is physical illness, you will list that fear on the left. On the right, to directly counter that embedded fear, you will write an affirmation to neutralize it. That affirmation might be: "I am strong and resilient. I am healthy and I will remain healthy."

Affirmations should be tailored specifically to the negative idea, thought or situation. They should not contain any negative language. For instance, instead of writing/repeating, "I am not sick," write/repeat, "I am healthy." To be most effective, affirmations should be memorized and recited 10 times in the morning upon waking and 10 times at night just before falling asleep, when the mind is most receptive. They should also be recited at any time during the day when you catch your mind spinning into a worry loop.

I have used affirmations for years in the toughest possible scenarios. In time, and with faithful repetition, they work. They should be repeated every day, not just when fear takes hold. Affirmations are intended to prevent it from showing up in the first place. Fears, cast aside, will not disappear. They will grow. Free-floating anxiety that arises with almost any situation will likely not disappear either without identifying the root. You can ask yourself: "Are the situations that produce this anxiety similar or related?" Then empower yourself by writing them down, canceling them out and affirming your positive intentions. In order to alter the direction of our lives and make ourselves well, we must expose our fears, look them in the eyes, and transform them.