From Kooky Ritual To Mindfulness Aid – How Tarot Card Pulling Helps My Anxiety

Photographed by Megan Madden

I look down at my card for the day: the Eight of Swords, reversed.  

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The illustration shows a blindfolded woman with her wrists bound. Eight swords encircle her. It’s not an image that sparks joy, that’s for sure. 

If the card were upright, it would look like a woman facing a death sentence. However, as it’s upside down, it seems to me that she’s balancing steadily despite being surrounded by threats. Something that takes skill, and no doubt some pretty impressive core strength. 

My little book of tarot descriptions says this card signifies "Awakening, Liberation, Open to Change". 

It reads: "Learning from past mistakes is the best strategy to living your best life... You are open to change and have accepted yourself for who you are, flaws and all. This liberates you from any self-judgement and doubt that you have inflicted upon yourself in the past." 

I think about how this applies to me. Have I been making a conscious effort to learn from past mistakes? (Do not text that fuckboi, Stephanie.) Am I looking at myself with a little more love? (Let’s call this one a work-in-progress.) Do I think I’m moving forward? (I’m bloody well trying.)

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I reflect for a few minutes, then return to my day feeling a little more centred.

Daily tarot card pulling has been part of my morning ritual for about two months now. As kooky as it may sound, it’s become something of a mindfulness exercise for me. One that I’ve stuck to with a commitment I’ve never applied to practices like meditation or journalling. (I know. A writer who can’t commit to writing – ridiculous.) 

As someone with anxiety, I’m often looking for mindfulness techniques that can help me maintain a healthy headspace. And while I’ve always been fascinated by the world of divination, I can’t say I ever thought it would be something I’d incorporate into my health routine. But here we are, folks! I’m obsessed – and do you know what? It's really helping.

I came across the concept of daily card pulling at a time when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and having exhausted all my other go-to fixes, I decided to test it out. 

For those who are unfamiliar, card pulling is the act of drawing a random card from a tarot (or oracle) deck and using it as a guided message for the day. 

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Be warned: You won’t always get a positive result. Yesterday, I drew a card that represented "financial ruin", for example. That was fun. What you will always get, however, is food for thought. In my experience, that little nudge has been as helpful as any other mindfulness technique I’ve tried. 

With that said, I’m certainly no expert. So I turned to a few people who could better speak to the results I’ve seen. (It’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor about mental health concerns.)

David H. Rosmarin, PhD, ABPP, director of the Spirituality & Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School described anxiety to me as "the inability to tolerate uncertain situations". 

The effectiveness of mindfulness, he explained, lies in its ability to help people "to be in the moment and to accept what life is, without trying to change it.

"You can kind of see how that would help a person to tolerate uncertainty more," he continued. 

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"Because if you’re just focusing on the moment, and not focusing on the future and not focusing on the past – just being mindful of the present – you have to, in and of itself, accept that you don’t know what’s happening next."

Taking a card from a pile, deriving meaning from it and focusing on the message you’re left with surely does just that, right? 

According to Kali Lohman, psychologist and director at Mindful Psychology, the theory seems to check out.

"While there is no scientific evidence to support the benefits of tarot card pulling, specifically, any practice that helps us to slow down, that brings us into the present moment, and gives us time to reflect on positive ways we can help ourselves or others, is going to potentially have a positive impact," she shared. 

When it comes to the more intangible parts of card pulling, I should point out that I’m not an overly spiritual person. I have leaned into this world when I’ve felt lost or conflicted, but I’m more of an open observer than a devout believer. 

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By this I mean that you do not need to subscribe to any one belief system to get something out of an exercise like this. 

"The word 'spirituality' is no longer seen as a religious philosophy," intuitive psychic reader and teacher, Josy Curcio told me.   

"It’s the reintroduction of self-awareness to achieve contentment and peace. We are all looking for happiness in our life; the reason why we are failing at maintaining joy is because society teaches us to focus on quick fixes," she said. 

"By picking one random card a day and asking one simple question – 'What is my guided message for today?' – there is an instant experience of feeling safe, connected and at ease."

This spiritual element of the practice may not be relevant to everyone, but it’s certainly not insignificant when it comes to mental health journeys as a whole. 

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"The subtext of the tarot aspect of what you’re doing is that there’s a reason why you pulled that card on that day," Dr Rosmarin told me. 

More than just a mantra for the day, you’re walking away with a sense that "this was meant for me to focus on today," he continued.

"It’s not only important and good and psychologically healthy, but actually speaks to a greater purpose and a greater context that they fit into, and I see that being very helpful to your intolerance of uncertainty because hey, that means somebody’s running the show."

The conclusion I’ve come to is this: we all have times when we feel like our hands are tied and we’re surrounded by unsettling obstacles. If approaching things from a different angle can help you achieve a better mindset, why wouldn’t you give it a try?  

Maybe just hide the "financial ruin" card at the bottom of the pile if you're giving daily tarot card pulling a shot. 

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