mother and daughter (Photo: CareyHope; Getty Images )

Overstuffed schedules, the competing demands of family and work, the sting of setbacks and disappointments, and the trauma of a troubled economy can gang up to push us near the edge of the ledge. But a surprisingly easy and effective technique can help us avert meltdown. Repeating a positive, personal phrase — a meaningful motto minted from life experience, plucked from a favorite book or movie, or borrowed from a role model — can refocus our priorities, remind us that we're competent and capable, calm us down, and propel us forward. Exhausted runners call these affirmations "marathon mantras" and repeat them during grueling stretches when they're on the verge of quitting. This strategy can work for anyone; Herbert Benson, M.D., director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine in Boston, recommends it for lowering stress in everyday life. Repeating a meaningful phrase, he says, breaks the train of anxious thought. Research suggests that the technique can rewire some anxiety circuits in the brain.

We asked women across the country what words of wisdom they summon to restore perspective when they're about to spiral out of control. Borrow theirs or, better yet, coin your own.