Think back to the last time you were anxious.
Do you remember the conversation you were having with yourself before the anxiety hit?
Probably not. Most likely, you can only remember how you felt. The fear. The panic. The worry.
And that’s normal. We can get so overwhelmed by the feelings that anxiety brings on that we don’t pay any attention to what we’re saying to ourselves in the moment.
In an earlier post, we talked about the importance of tackling anxiety from every angle. And how we talk to ourselves is a big factor in that equation.
In this post, I want to help you identify your negative self-talk patterns and offer a proven way to help you flip that internal script around and lower your anxiety as a result. When you’re done reading, download your self-talk cheat sheet to beat anxiety and write your own personalized script.
Dealing with Anxiety: What were you thinking?
One of the biggest challenges for a lot of my clients is identifying the negative thoughts that race through their minds when they’re anxious.
Many of them are so used to their own self-abusive chatter—“What’s wrong with you?” “How are you going to screw this one up?”—that they’re not even aware of it or how it’s fueling their anxiety, making it next to impossible to manage.
Ask yourself this: In most situations, but especially stressful ones, do you tend to turn on yourself? Do you find yourself saying things like, “Ugh, What’s my problem?” or start making a mental list of all the ways that you could fail?
That, my friends, is negative self-talk.
It’s the damaging thoughts to ourselves about ourselves. And these anti-pep talks feed anxiety.
But there are proven practices for overcoming these thought patterns, most notably, those derived from cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology
The primary principle of these practices is that our thoughts lead to our feelings. And those feelings lead to our behaviors.
Try this … close your eyes and say to yourself “I am stupid and ugly.”
How do you feel physically? Do you feel tightness in your chest? Or sick to your stomach? Do you feel small? Drained?
How about emotionally?
Do you feel a little beat up? Hopeless? Depressed?
What actions would you take if you were faced with a stressful situation right now? Would how you feel make you more likely to retreat or react defensively?
Now, close your eyes, and this time tell yourself, “I am beautiful on the inside and outside.”
Now how do you feel? Does your body feel lighter and more energized? Are you happier and less anxious? How would you handle that stressful situation now?
Thoughts drive feelings and actions … and anxiety
With the exception of some basic reflexes, our thoughts precede our feelings and actions, and influence both.
The thoughts we have are based on how we’re taught perceive our world. In any given situation, what we’re thinking about what’s happening is determined by the conclusions we’ve drawn from our experiences over the years.
These conclusions have been drawn mostly in our subconscious mind, so many times we’re not even aware of them. As a matter of fact, throughout the day our brain is acting on hundreds of unconscious thoughts before our conscious mind even catches on.
For example, an abused or neglected child will have significantly different thoughts about family life from a child raised with love and respect.
And his negative thoughts about his family—that he’s not loved or valued—will likely lead to feelings of anxiety or depression when he thinks about starting a family of his own.
But the person raised in a loving home will probably feel connected and appreciated when thoughts about family come up.
Constructive Self-talk Decreases Anxiety
So how do you fight back against your own negative thoughts when they’re often so deeply ingrained? Well, here’s the good news: Negative self-talk is just a habit. All thinking patterns are, really. And all habits can be broken.
You can start training your mind to overcome these thoughts by identifying each one and transforming it into a constructive, uplifting statement. This constructive self-talk becomes your new habit, replacing that old, broken record of your damaging inner dialog.
Now, keep in mind we’re using the word “constructive” here, and not “positive.” It can be hard to truly buy into “positivity” when you’re feeling down. This should be an authentic experience that rings true to you. You can’t fool yourself, after all.
Constructive self-talk isn’t about being constantly cheerful and ignoring reality. It just means that you actively choose to quiet that inner critic and replace it with empowering thoughts that are more based in reality.
So, how does it work? It’s all about neuroplasticity.
Each time you have a repeated experience, like your daily drive to work, you deepen the neural grooves in your brain that help you remember it. Eventually, you don’t even think about the ride anymore, you just automatically know how to get there.
Let’s say one day you start taking a new route. Now you’re creating new neural pathways to embed those directions in your brain. And the more those neurons fire and communicate, the stronger that neural pathway becomes. Pretty soon, driving that route is second nature.
Breaking negative thought patterns works the same way. If, instead of telling yourself you’re going to bomb before a presentation, you remind yourself that you’re qualified to speak on the topic and providing value to your audience, you’ll soon be more inclined to approach the podium with more confidence.
This neuroplasticity allows for the reprogramming of our brains to naturally gravitate to more compassionate self-talk over time.
And research shows constructive self-talk can boost your confidence and greatly reduce your stress levels and anxiety.
And the benefits don’t end there. Change your negative thought patterns and you’ll also see:
- A longer, healthier life
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Less colds
- Increased psychological and physical well-being
- Improved cardiovascular health
It takes three to four weeks of daily practice to form a new habit to get your brain to make the switch over to more constructive thought patterns. I want to help you take the first step.
The cheat sheet I’ve shared here takes you through the exact process that has helped hundreds of my clients turn their negative thoughts on their head to create loving and constructive self-talk and overcoming their anxiety once and for all.
Once you’ve created your personalized script, habit-ize it baby! Ingrain that sucker. Keep it with you throughout the day. Put a copy in your wallet. Write it on a post-it and stick it on your mirror. Record it on your phone.
Then read it at least three times a day. Listen to it on your way to work. Let it be your support when you’re faced with a stressful situation.
The more you repeat it, the more you’ll deepen those shiny new neural grooves in your brain. Until one day your brain is teaming with constructive statements, and there’s no room left for anxiety—which will lead to a big boost in confidence.
About the author:
Caitlin Margaret is a Holistic Life Coach, empowering men and women around the world to naturally heal their anxiety, turn their professional dreams into reality, and design vibrant and meaningful lives