HOW TO STOP NEGATIVE SELF-TALK
We all have an inner critic. And at times this inner critic can even be helpful and keep us on track when we’ve lost sight of our goals and the things that we should (or should not) be doing—like when our inner critic reminds us that we have a deadline coming up that we should be preparing for instead of watching Netflix, or when we’re procrastinating about doing something that really needs to get done.
This inner critic can actually be helpful sometimes, in order to hold ourselves accountable, however, this inner critic can at times be more harmful than helpful, specifically when we begin to ruminate and fixate on negatively driven thought patterns. This is also known as negative self-talk, and it can be detrimental to both our mental and physical wellness.
Life is inherently filled with obstacles and fluctuating waves of up’s and down’s, but there are some obstacles that we have control over, and these are our thoughts, our beliefs and how we care for and love ourselves. Life has enough obstacles, hardships, hindrances, and setbacks as it is, and we owe it to ourselves to be patient and empathetic with ourselves during these difficult times.
There are many ways to reduce the negative self-talk in your life. Different strategies work better or worse for different people, so take your time to try a few of the strategies listed below to see which ones are the most effective for you, OR you can do them in order and use this list as a routine practice for when you engage in negative self-talk.
When you notice yourself begin to spiral down the rabbit hole of your negative self-talk, acknowledge them. You must acknowledge your negative thoughts before you can confront them.
Tiny Habits = Big Results
Don’t try to change everything at once, because this will only lead to disappointment, burnout and quitting. Instead of trying to identify and reframe every single anxious thought you have in a day and then becoming disappointed in yourself when you fail, give yourself the goal to identify 2-3 anxious thoughts a day. The next week make it 3-4, and so on.
Giving yourself the opportunity to celebrate your small wins will empower your ability to make these positive changes long-term, and will build the motivation and willpower you’ll need to continue persevering.
Below is a step-by-step guide to helping you identify, address and overcome maladaptive anxiety, once and for all.
1. Identify It
First things first, when you notice yourself beginning to spiral down the rabbit hole of anxiety, acknowledge it. You must acknowledge your anxious thoughts before you can confront them.
Take a look at your body “tells”. These are the signs and symptoms your body experiences during moments of anxiety. Do you get sweaty palms? Racing thoughts? Have the inability to concentrate? Fatigue? Irritability? Do you have changes in diet? Lack of exercise? Inability to practice self-care? Headaches? Upset stomach?
There are many different signs and symptoms of anxiety, and many of them are quite subjective, meaning they can be very different for each individual. Therefore, it’s extremely important to identify what your body “tells” of anxiety are, before you can actively address it.
2. Breathe In, Breathe Out
The next thing you want to do is breathe. One of the main reasons that people experience uncontrollable anxiety is because of stress and fear. When you’re stressed, your blood pressure increases and your brain goes into fight or fight mode, which is why people tend to act irrationally when they’re stressed.
When you breathe intentionally and focus on your breath, it reassures your central nervous system that you are safe. Our limbic system takes part in playing some pretty tricky games with our brains, and activates our fight or flight when we undergo stressful stimuli, and so when we breathe deeply, it reminds our brain that we are safe, and thus our levels of stress and fear will be reduced, which may also allow us to return back to a more rational state of thinking and address the anxiety more head on.
My most favorite deep breathing technique is 4-7-8 Breathing. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds and repeat.
It is recommended that you only complete 4 cycles when first starting this exercise. After you have actively practiced this exercise for a month, you can then increase to 8 cycles.
3. Acknowledge The WHY
Next, take some time to identify the WHY. Anxiety has a way of continuing to manifest until we have taken some time to consciously work through it. Anxiety can be scary and painful to confront at times, but oftentimes all we need is to give our anxious thoughts a few minutes of attention to be alleviated.
Why are you feeling this way? What triggered these thoughts? Are you acting out of fear? Why are these thoughts creeping in? Are you experiencing self-doubt? These are all key questions to uncovering the unconscious reason(s) behind where these anxious thoughts are coming from.
Take a moment to consider where these thoughts are coming from and then confront them. If you’re acting out of fear, let that fear direct positive change and redirection, if you’re experiencing self-doubt, look deep into where that feeling is manifesting itself from. Consider the root causes of these thoughts so you can address them and work towards silencing them.
4. Say It Out Loud
More times than not, anxiety stems from a place of irrationality. Therefore, saying what you’ve identified to be the cause of your anxious thought(s) out loud, is oftentimes enough for you to acknowledge that the anxious thought(s) is/are unrealistic, unlikely to manifest and irrational.
5. Reframe The Anxious Thought
The next step is reframing. Start by replacing the anxious thought, with a positive thought. I.e. if your anxious thought is “I’ll never get out of debt”, you can reframe this thought into a positive one by identifying how you want to feel instead. I.e. “I am constantly making the daily efforts to pay off my debts”.
By reframing the anxious thought, you’ll enable yourself to identify your hopes, dreams, goals and aspirations more easily, which will in turn (little by little), make it easier to replace the anxious thought, with a positive thought.
6. Make An Action Plan
Following reframing the anxious thought, the next step is to create a plan of action. Without creating an action plan, anxiety will continue to have power over you. But by creating an action plan, you intervene with anxiety head on.
Think back to the positive thought you identified in the previous step. If your positive thought is “I am constantly making the daily efforts to pay off my debts”, perhaps your goal is to become debt free and become financially stable.
First, you have to create a specific goal. Remember SMART goals from High School? If not, you can refresh your memory HERE. It’s so important to create a goal that is VERY specific, otherwise you’ll never know if/when you accomplished your goal. For example your goal wouldn’t be to become financially free, because that’s super vague. Your goal would instead be to make 90K a year (for example).
Following creating a SMART goal, you then want to focus on accountability. How will you know when you’re falling behind at obtaining your goal? What will you do to get back on track if you notice yourself slipping up and falling back into negative patterns?
As it’s important to create a SMART goal for yourself, it’s also just as important to hold yourself accountable to obtaining those results. The more specific you get with identifying when/how/where you’re falling behind or slipping up, the easier it will be to intervene early enough to redirect yourself because spiralling back down into self sabotaging habits.
Stop Expecting Perfection
Negative self-talk doesn’t just magically go away as soon as you start acknowledging it and taking the steps towards eliminating it. If you are experiencing self-doubt, feelings of failure, or worthlessness, remind yourself that it’s okay to get knocked down. Flaws, imperfections and failures are all part of life, and once you embrace them, and move forward in spite of them, you will become stronger and fiercer because of it.
Make A Conscious Choice To Silence The Thoughts
At first, it will be difficult. You will have good days ad bad days, and the negative thoughts will try to creep back in, in the ways that they always have. It will be tempting to let them have their way, but choose to confront them and remind them that they do not have a home in the fortress of your mind. If you’re filled with self-doubt, surround yourself with positivity and remind yourself of the progress that you’ve made every day.
You can do it, I know you can.
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