A guy walks past you and bumps into you. How do you respond? Do you think “oh, he must be in a hurry” and move on? Or do you think, “Geez! What is that guy’s problem, I can’t believe he just bumped into me… ‘Hey you! Watch where you’re going!” They way we think about an event can dramatically influence how we respond to it. Our thoughts determine our mood and feelings. However, sometimes this thought process happens so quickly we don’t even notice it, it’s almost like a reflex. We may say, “That guy made me so mad!” Well, was it the guy who made you mad? Or are you mad because of the way you interpreted the event? It isn’t even just with Anger either… It applies to sadness, anxiety, depression, etc…
But if it’s causing us distress, why do we continue to blame other events or people for how we feel? Well, one, we may not even notice we’re doing it, but also it’s much easier than looking inside ourselves. BUT – once we do take responsibility and admit that we ultimately control how we feel, it gives you the power to change it. It is at this point you make the choice to live a life less filled with depression, sadness, anxiety, and anger.
Anxiety and Self Talk
Self-talk is one of the key features behind anxiety and how it forms – and it’s caused mainly by two words… “What If.” What if statements can even cause anxiety before you experience difficult events.
What if I panic?
What if I can’t handle it?
What will they think of me if they see how anxious I am?
What if something bad happens?
The good thing is, the first step to stopping negative self-talk is to notice that you’re doing it. However, to see real change, we need to replace this negative self-talk with talk that is positive, nurturing, and supportive. So, instead of the statements above, you could try…
So what? So what if they see me panic?
This is just “scare talk.” I’m just working myself up.
I can handle this.
I can take deep breaths, let go, and relax.
Important notes to keep in mind about self-talk
- Remember – it happen so quickly, and automatically, that it’s hard to notice while you’re doing it. You may even react to the situation without realizing what it is you’ve told yourself to get yourself to that point. Before we can go back and see what we’ve told ourselves, we must take a deep breath, step back, and relax. Once you’ve relaxed, look back and examine, “what went through my head?”
- Negative self-talk doesn’t have to be long sentences. It’s often very short and conscience. For example, look at the words, “Oh No!” You notice something feels different, and say “Oh No.” This just sends your body into a state of panic, increasing heart rate, shallow breathing… and then very quickly you start thinking of things associated with panic. This could be panic attacks you’ve had in the past, fears of panic or being around other people. So when we go back and examine, and notice we’ve said just a couple words. There is often quite a bit of associates attached to those two words you’ll need to examine as well.
- When we talk negatively to ourselves, it can cause avoidance. In turn, the avoidance just reinforces our negative self-talk. If you have developed a fear, or even a phobia of a situation or place, you may continuously tell yourself that it is dangerous, or unpredictable, and develop a fear of being around people, places, animals, etc. The stronger the association gets, you may even start looking at it catastrophically. If you continue the negative self talk which leads to avoidance, you’ll never get out of the unhealthy cycle.
- Think of negative self-talk as a habit you’re trying to kick. People are not naturally born to think negatively about situations or themselves. Just like when you try to stop smoking, cut down on drinking coffee, or stop eating candy… you need to treat this like you’re trying to kick a bad habit. Replace the negative thoughts with positive ones! And, keep in mind… these changes don’t happen overnight. It will take time and energy to first catch yourself doing it, before you can even start replacing it.
If you would like to start tracking YOUR own negative self-talk. Check out this free, download-able, printable Thought-Record Sheet.
Also, if you’d like to learn more about negative self-talk, stay tuned for the next article!
Looking for some positivity? Check out my Happy Thoughts page
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.