How Reading Tarot Cards Helps Me Manage My Anxiety (and Learn More About Myself)

published Jun 30, 2022
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The Sunday scaries start rolling in at about 7 p.m., so naturally I leave the couch I’ve sunk into to grab my deck of tarot cards. Shuffling, jumbling, and cutting the cards on the table begins inducing a tranquilizing effect. I lay out one of my favorite spreads to use on uneasy days. I pull out a card to tell me what I can control and what I can’t control. Then, I draw a card to tell me how I can work with what I can control, and another to help me identify what I need to release. 

I’m aware I can’t read my fortune using tarot, but I can use it to contemplate. The practice has helped me equip myself with self-discovery and empowerment. For me, it’s been a medium for personal development. 

Tarot is a habit that helps make me feel more in control — of my thoughts, emotions, hopes, and fears. The art of tarot is what you make of it. I use it as an anxiety-reducing technique and a tool that forces me to guide myself through the situation at hand. It’s helped me to tune in and make an effort to better understand myself, and there is certainly magic in self-awareness and self-compassion. 

Incorporating tarot into my daily routine has taught me how to enjoy my own company, problem-solve, and trust my gut. Before diving into how tarot has helped me manage anxiety and navigate each day with mindfulness, there are a few things you should know about what tarot is and isn’t. 

Credit: volkovslava/

What Tarot Is

Tarot is a form of divination used to reflect and tap into intuition through an illustrative deck of cards. The images are full of palpable, resonant symbols and archetypes that can be universally applied — what shows up in the cards is personal and brings something up that is unique for each person. The age-old practice of tarot survives precisely because it stays relevant with each succeeding generation. 

All you need to know to get started is that tarot is a therapeutic tool to help you self-reflect, connect with your inner self, meditate, and problem-solve. It can be like taking one long look in the mirror. The cards help you lay out the story, but it’s your job to tell it. 

What Tarot Isn’t

Tarot is not a one-size-fits-all cure-all. It’s not for everyone, especially those who find it hard to suspend disbelief. It’s also not an alternative to prescribed medication and therapy with your doctor. Tarot can complement therapy, but it shouldn’t be where you’re getting your therapy.

Be careful not to use tarot readings to confirm pre-existing biases and notions, and call yourself out if you catch that happening. Don’t self-enable unhealthy patterns and use tarot as a crutch for it. 

Avoid becoming fixated on your tarot deck as your sole guide. Tarot shouldn’t be used to decide important life choices, for instance, but it can help you arrive at those decisions. 

The time you spend with your tarot deck is meditative, not psychic. The reading serves as a form of inquiry, not confirmation. This practice won’t change your life all on its own — you’ve got to be willing to take action to do so. 

I made a tiny area of objects that feel sacred to me. The moody painting is by Lyric Morris-Latchaw; the RiRi tarot is a collage by Emily Corwin. The Virginia Slims card deck was my Nanny's. The deck reads you've come a long way, baby, and all the characters are depicted as women.

How Tarot Has Helped My Mental Health 

Trusting My Instincts

Practicing tarot is all about intuition. Every card has its own universal meaning, but the way each person resonates with a card in each reading is unique. In order to form my own interpretations, I have to let go of uncertainty and follow my gut. My attention is drawn into my inner self, allowing me to see beyond the murk of self-doubt. I like to think that each time I give myself a reading, I’m exercising the muscle of my intuitive power. 

Power of Ritual

The simple act of cleansing my personal space, lighting a candle, turning on a chill playlist, and focusing on my intentions is calming. I find the art of ritual comforting because it helps me foster mindfulness and pushes me to be present in the moment. 

I’ve come to think of each personal tarot session as my place of zen, a sanctuary of sorts. When I give myself a tarot reading, I am providing myself with a safe space. It’s almost a holy experience to feel that connection with myself in the moment. Every reading reminds me of how much I have my own back. 

Help Shutting Out Intrusive Thoughts

The practice of tarot is a meditative act. For me, sometimes the sole act of shuffling the cards while I focus on my intentions or questions is enough to soothe my anxiety. The weight of the deck in my hands, the feel of the cards, and the cutting of the cards on my table helps to ground me. I’m able to concentrate on one single thing.

Focusing on each card in a spread silences my intrusive thoughts. I can visualize my situation, then externalize my problems. After every reading I’m reminded that my grievances and struggles aren’t my whole truth, but only a small part of it. 

Planning a Course of Action

The cards not only help me sort out how I feel and think, but they also motivate me to take action. Each reading gives me something to meditate on long after the reading is over. I’m able to transform the fears that paralyze me to the point of unproductivity into solutions. 

The situations I avoid always seem to come back to haunt me in readings, which forces me to ask what’s driving that avoidance lay out a framework for addressing it.

Naming Hopes and Fears

Seeing what scares me and what I dream of laid out visually in front of me makes those things seem less intimidating. In turn, I’m able to name my hopes and fears, understand them, and work towards or through them. A tarot card spread can be like a storyboard for your life. 

New Perspectives

Personal tarot readings open me up to new perspectives. The interplay between different cards pushes me to look at a question or situation from multiple angles. I’m challenged to face deeply rooted and unhelpful ways of thinking and develop new and healthier thought patterns. 

Self-Compassion Through Self-Reflection 

Journaling after each reading helps me gain a deeper sense of self. I’m able to understand why I feel how I feel, how to manage those emotions, and how to recognize those feelings and thoughts before they spiral. In turn, I’m able to identify repetitive toxic thoughts and behaviors, and sometimes even nip those unhealthy habits in the bud. 

Such profound introspection inspires me to be more empathetic towards myself and reach for self-compassion when I need it. It’s a process, but the practice helps me be gentler to myself in the moment. 

Woman is reading Tarot cards on the table in cafe

How to Get Started

The most important thing to remember when getting started is to trust your own intuition. There is no wrong way to interpret cards or a spread. While it’s smart to study the traditional meanings and the guidebook included with your deck, it’s also important to form your own interpretations of each card. 

Keeping a journal to write about your connection and interpretation of each card is helpful, and in my opinion, crucial to reap the benefits of the practice. 

When starting out, don’t try to learn every card at once. When I first began teaching myself, a friend advised me to pull a card in the morning to think about what I need from each day (or what I need to tackle), and to pull out a card at night to understand my experiences from that day. While it’s tempting to jump right into a reading, it’s valuable to build an understanding of and connection with each card before you start asking questions.