We’ve all had feelings of anxiety before, where your heart is racing, your thoughts are swirling, loud, and making it hard to focus. It may have been before a presentation, having a fight with a loved one, or when you felt like you had too many things piling up at once. Although not all feelings of anxiety are considered disordered, there is a distinction between manageable feelings of low-grade anxiety and when symptoms begin to have a serious negative impact on the quality of your life.
The Affects of Negative Self Talk
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are currently the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18% of the population . Anxiety disorders can include a range of classifications including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobias.
While doing self-care activities like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and drinking herbal teas can all help make anxiety symptoms more manageable, if we’re not tuning into our everyday thought patterns, we’ll never be able to move forward with managing anxiety in a healthy way. Negative self-talk is a major contributor to general anxiety and whether you realize it or not we deal with a barrage of nasty jabs and destructive thoughts about ourselves on a daily basis.
These thoughts can be subtle at first, but over time this “inner critic” can take up so much mental space that it’s the loudest voice you hear! This is what is referred to as negative self-talk, and it has the tendency to really do a number on your self-confidence and your ability to keep a positive outlook.
You may recognize some of these thoughts:
- I’m not good enough.
- It’s always my fault.
- I’m ugly.
- I’m too fat/tall/short/young/old.
- I’m stupid.
- He/she’ll never love me.
- I am not lovable.
- I am a bad parent.
- I am a horrible person.
- Nothing good happens to me, I’m so unlucky.
- I’m going to fail for sure.
- There is something wrong with me.
- I never have enough time.
- I don’t deserve …
- I can’t …
Repeating a few of these phrases to yourself now will probably make you feel uncomfortable and for a good reason! Our thoughts have a direct effect on our physical body, and negative thought patterns can trigger our stress response that can disrupt hormones, sleep patterns, hunger cues, and more.
What Can You Do?
Step 1: Shine a Spotlight On Your Inner Critic
Stop periodically throughout the day and take a moment to reflect on your thoughts:
- Have you been beating yourself up?
- Do you recognize some destructive thoughts?
- Are you getting caught in a negative spiral that you can’t shake?
You’ve spotted your inner critic…give him a name!
Take a mental note and repeat this cycle of tuning in periodically throughout the day to see when your inner critic shows up. It may be helpful to set a little reminder on your phone if you have to.
Step 2: Challenge The Critic
After your inner critic shows up there are four main types of challenging questions you should get in the habit of asking yourself:
What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
How can I find out if my thoughts are true?
Take Another Look:
Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
What else could this mean?
If I were positive, how would I perceive this situation?
What is the best thing that could happen?
Is there anything good about this situation?
Will this matter in five years’ time?
Using Goal-directed Thinking:
Is this way of thinking helping me to achieve my goals?
What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
Is there something I can learn from this situation, to help me do it better next time?
Step 3: Change The Conversation
With practice, you’ll be able to stop putting your mental conversation on auto-pilot and begin to see when you’re slipping into negative thought patterns easily. By recognizing the cycle early and being able not to fall into a tailspin of worry, you’ve already begun to change the course of the mental conversation.
If you need to, sometimes connecting with a friend or loved one can also be really helpful in discrediting your inner critic and helping you answer some of the questions in step 2.
Step 4: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
Just like any other new skill, repetition is key. The more you practice steps 1,2, and 3 the more effortless the process becomes. Before you know it, it’s your new default state, and your critic barely makes you flinch. Just like physical exercise, mental exercise requires time and commitment for it to take root and flourish, but it’s worth it!
Step 5: Embrace Your Imperfections
At the end of the day, remember that you are human and that working through the many struggles of our busy world can be difficult. You will feel so much lighter when you can stop holding yourself to unreasonably high standards and release the idea of perfectionism.
This goes for these exercises as well – sometimes it may be harder than others to identify your critic before you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of worry, but that’s ok! Taking a second to recognize that mistakes happen and you’re doing your best is all you need to keep moving in a positive direction, one step at a time.
Here are a few more great ways to help you be positive and live a better life!