In recent years, there’s been an explosion in conversations around manifestation. On TikTok, #manifestation has more than 36 billion views, although the concepts of manifestation and the law of attraction have origins in Buddhism and Hindu scriptures.
While there are diverse interpretations and methods, at its core, manifestation is about “speaking or thinking things into existence.” For example, if someone is seeking improved health outcomes, they might affirm nightly, “I am so grateful for the effectiveness of my medication,” with the hope of channeling positive energy toward their symptom relief. Rooted in the law of attraction, this philosophy posits that our thoughts and intentions can directly influence the experiences we draw into our lives.
But as manifestation practices grow in popularity, it becomes pertinent to question their applicability in more challenging scenarios, like chronic illness. Can affirming a medicine’s efficacy truly aid in healing? Or does this venture into the realm of toxic positivity, masking the complex reality faced by those with chronic conditions.
Here, we explore the science behind manifestation and if it should be used to support your health.
How Manifestation May Work
While studies on manifestation specifically are limited, research does show that your expectations tend to translate into reality (aka self-fulfilling prophecies).
Tennis players who visualized improving their performance and winning a match against their opponents were more successful than those who didn’t visualize their goals in a 2017 study published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology.
Meanwhile, researchers have found that positive thinking and optimism can increase lifespan, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress and pain, give you greater resistance to illnesses, and reduce the risk of death from various diseases, per the Mayo Clinic.
Of course, there are also very real limitations of manifestation. It can’t dissolve systemic barriers for those who live with poverty, discrimination, and marginalization — and it can’t make an illness that you have no control over go away.
Still, if manifestation can help you think positively through affirmations (for instance, “I make healthy choices and nurture my body”), it could benefit you in the areas of life you can control.
Positive and optimistic people often live healthier lifestyles than more negative folks. They exercise more, eat healthier, and tend to not smoke or drink in excess, per the Mayo Clinic.
The Drawbacks of Manifestation for Chronic Illness
Of course, you may find it frustrating and discouraging if you’re practicing manifestation daily but don’t see any differences in your health condition.
“Manifestation and the law of attraction can be double-edged swords for individuals with chronic diseases,” says Hannah Mayderry, MEd, a licensed mental health counselor in Jacksonville, FL. “On one hand, positive thinking and identifying what you want in life can be beneficial in coping with a chronic illness. It can lead to better stress management and a more proactive approach to life in general.”
However, Mayderry adds that it’s key to acknowledge the limitations and avoid toxic positivity that may come as a result of manifestation.
Toxic positivity comes into play when you feel pressured to suppress or deny your negative emotions or experiences to constantly project positivity. “This can be detrimental because it invalidates genuine feelings and prevents healthy emotional processing,” says Nick Bach, PsyD, a psychologist in Louisville, KY.
Without striking a balance between acknowledging and addressing negative emotions while also cultivating a positive outlook, you may fall into a trap of blaming yourself for a chronic disease that’s out of your control.
“When individuals solely rely on manifestation, there’s a risk that they might attribute the progression of the disease or setbacks to their lack of positive thinking or inability to manifest health,” says Mayderry. “This can lead to harmful self-blame.”
A licensed mental health professional can help you determine if and how it may be beneficial to include manifestation in your holistic approach to health, which should also include self-care, coping strategies, and appropriate health care support like medications.
Manifestation should not replace evidence-based medications or interventions your doctor recommends.
Tips for Practicing Manifestation
If you’d like to try manifestation, approach it with a balanced perspective. Practice self-compassion, realize that not everything is in your control, and understand the limitations of positive thinking (especially when it comes to chronic diseases).
To get started, follow these steps from Easton Gaines, PsyD, a holistic, clinical psychologist in New York, NY.
- Embrace acceptance: Accept the reality of your chronic disease and embrace the idea of working alongside your health care provider to enhance your overall well-being. Remember, manifestation is not a replacement for medical treatment.
- Set realistic intentions: Instead of striving for unrealistic outcomes or complete healing, focus on setting intentions that prioritize well-being, coping strategies, and an improved quality of life. For instance, “I move my body in some way every day and stay hydrated” is much more realistic than “I no longer have pain.” It allows you to maintain a sense of hope and purpose while managing expectations.
- Cultivate gratitude: Integrate gratitude practices into your manifestation routine. Expressing gratitude for the positive aspects of your life, even in the face of chronic illness, can shift your perspective and enhance emotional well-being. Gratitude can be a powerful tool in finding moments of joy and appreciation.
- Prioritize self-care: Make it a central part of your manifestation approach. Focus on healthy eating, regular exercise, adequate rest, and stress management techniques. Manifestation can serve as a motivational tool to support your self-care practices and maintain a positive mindset.
- Seek support: Connect with others who share similar experiences through support groups or online communities. Sharing your journey, exchanging insights, and receiving support can help alleviate feelings of frustration and isolation. Surrounding yourself with a supportive network can provide encouragement and a sense of belonging.
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Blankert T, et al. Imagining Success: Multiple Achievement Goals and the Effectiveness of Imagery. Basic and Applied Social Psychology. January 2, 2017. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/01973533.2016.1255947.
Interview with Hannah Mayderry, MEd, a licensed mental health counselor in Jacksonville, Fla.
Interview with Nick Bach, PsyD, a psychologist in Louisville, KY.
Interview with Easton Gaines, PsyD, a holistic, clinical psychologist in New York, NY.
Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress. Stress Management. Mayo Clinic. February 3, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950.