Friday, June 28, 2013

Curing Anxiety, Part 3: Positive Self-Talk

(Ideas adapted from Attacking Anxiety and Depression, byLucinda Bassett of the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety, Inc.)

Answer this question: If my depression/anxiety weren’t holding me back, I would ____________?

It’s not the depression or anxiety that is really keeping you from doing the things you want to do.  No.  The number one reason people don’t achieve their goals or follow their dreams is because they are caught in a vicious cycle of “negative thinking”.

Negative thinking plays a major role in your poor mental health.  No matter how well you take care of yourself, no matter how many counseling sessions you attend, no matter how many drugs you take, if you think negatively on a regular basis, you will have a really difficult time recovering.

Because of their depressive nature, negative thoughts will eventually wear you down.  If you don’t challenge your thoughts, they will become rules.  And if you let your negativity rule your life, you will be miserable.  It’s exhausting, it’s draining, and it’s not how you have to live.  Your negative thoughts are NOT the truth!

Negative thinking is a bad habit.  Think of it as an addictive behavior.

In order to break any habit, you have to be committed.

First, you have to admit that you are a negative thinker.  Then you will have to make the decision to stop the negative thinking.  Do you really want to change the way you think in order to get better?  Do you really want to stop listening to the negative thoughts?  Then you have to put in the time and effort.  And it WILL take lots of time and lots of effort.

But it’s worth it.

The average person has up to 300 negative thoughts a day.  If you’ll trust my math, that’s about one negative thought every 3 minutes (if you sleep 8 hours a night).  How can anyone expect to be cured of anxiety and depression when you are constantly being bombarded by negative thoughts every few minutes? 

I always thought I was a positive person.  I didn’t think that I struggled with negativity.  I was, however, a person who seemed positive on the outside, but who really struggled with tormenting thoughts on the inside.  I would beat myself up on a regular basis because I listened to and believe all of those negative, harmful thoughts that popped into my head.

I started taking note of all the negative thoughts that crept into my brain throughout the day:
I’m not good enough
I’m fat
I’ll never get better
All I do is sleep
My stomach hurts
I can’t breathe right
I probably have cancer
I’m a failure
I’m a bad wife
I’m ungrateful
I ate too much
I look terrible in this shirt
I’m such a bad friend
This doesn’t taste right - I must have made it wrong.
I should read more
I’m so lazy
I should clean more
I should have said something different
I don’t deserve anything
My hair is so gross
I’m so ugly

And the list goes on and on…

Every time I had a negative thought, I wrote it down.  This list was made in the first half hour of the day.  I was shocked at how many negative thoughts I had.  Now, I not only believed I could make it to 300, I thought I might reach 1000!  (Was that another negative thought?)

In order to become a more positive thinker, and thus enhance my quality of life, I must begin by giving myself positive, uplifting internal messages instead.

If you also want to fully recover from anxiety, you have to replace the negative thoughts with positive thoughts.

Talk to yourself compassionately and gently, like you would talk to a dear friend or a young child.

Act like your own best friend.

I’m not good enough.  You are good enough for God.
I’m fat.  You are beautiful the way you are.
I’ll never get better.  You will get better - it just takes time and patience.
All I do is sleep.  You sleep the right amount.  There is nothing wrong with taking naps.

Get the picture?

Try not to make a big deal out of perceived “failures”, instead make a big deal out of accomplishments.

This doesn’t taste right; I must have made it wrong.  That is awesome that you tried a new recipe!
I should have said something different.  It was good of you to try to help out in that situation.

A lot of the time, people who struggle with anxiety and depression think in black and white terms.  This or that.  All or nothing.  It’s either the end of the world or the best thing in the world.  Sound familiar?

When you are trying to break the habit of negative thinking, don’t go from one extreme to the other.  Don’t start out going from negative thoughts to unrealistic thoughts (even if they are positive) because you won’t buy it.  Start out being real with yourself.  Replace the negative thoughts with thoughts that make you feel confident, in control, happy, comforted, peaceful, or relaxed.

Here’s an example.
If you are starting to beat yourself up, DON’T tell yourself:
I’m perfect, don’t worry about it.
I’m the most beautiful person in the world.
I’m totally in control of this situation.
I don’t have any problems.

Instead, try these statements:
It’s OK. I’m OK.
I’m allowed to feel this way.
I’ve been this way before and got through it.
It will pass.
Everyone has anxiety.

You can’t control your feelings or the negative thoughts that pop into your head.  So be patient with yourself and give yourself a break sometimes.  It’s important to realize, however, that you can control your self-talk and how you respond to those negative thoughts.

**Also, you can’t control other people’s negativity.  You might find, if you change into a more positive person, it will rub off on others.  Unfortunately, some people won’t change - and that’s not your fault.  If you are having a difficult time being around some people and staying positive, you might have to give them up for a while (or maybe for good, depending on the relationship).

You can also help yourself by posting positive phrases around the house where you can see them often.  The notes are little reminders of the commitment you’ve made to getting better.  You will be surprised at how beneficial those positive reminders can be.  When you get used to seeing them, you will still benefit from seeing them because your subconscious will remember the positive feelings associated with the messages.  You don’t even have to read the note and you will become more positive.  That’s pretty cool!

Some examples:
How can I get through this and still take care of myself?
Remember: Just because you have a bad morning, doesn’t mean you have to have a bad day…
Be kind to yourself
Thoughts do NOT dictate actions
If you get stuck, think of more solutions.  Don’t quit!
I don’t have to earn the right to eat food.
You are beautiful, you are Loved ~God
I am body, mind, AND soul.
Feelings are NOT facts.
Bottom line is: if you want to recover from anxiety, you have to change your self-talk.  Turn those negative thoughts into positive thoughts.  Be kind to yourself.  And with time, you will be able to do ANYTHING you want to do.

Have a nourishing weekend!

If you missed the previous posts in this series, click below:
Part 1
Part 2


  1. Absolutely all the above is TRUE! Guard our thoughts and replace the insecure thoughts with secure thoughts. Sometimes it helps to have just a couple of secure thoughts to throw at our brain, especially when it "rapid fires."
    Like: "this too, shall pass." or "I'll just be average in this situation" (in other words, giving up my perfectionistic attitude at the so what if my hair is not perfect. Who is going to judge me in my own home? and so what if someone judges me outside my home on my hair? It's their problem if they want to engage in judging. I'd rather focus on seeing beautiful things in nature. and I'll forgive them if they say judging words.)

    A few Scripture quotes also is great to draw on when those thoughts "rapid fire". The more I say them, the more they stick in my brain for quick withdrawal at any moment. Finally, they become so embedded, they are like second nature, and I will have formed a new habit. I will probably even dream my new Scripture quotes that I hang onto.

    I will become that person in John's gospel:
    "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full." I will be able to live a full life by guarding my thoughts. Thanks be to God!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Mary. "This too shall pass" is one of my favorite phrases!