Have you ever woken up in a good mood and then had an unpleasant experience with someone early in the day; only to have that experience ruin your good mood for the rest of the day? If you have, you’ve experienced how a negative interaction can lead to a bad mood. And a bad mood lessens our ability to cope for the rest of the day. This effect occurs because of how we talk to ourselves about the event. This is called our Self-Talk. We experience many negative events in our lives. If we don’t pay attention to how we respond to them, they can cause a downward spiral in our lives.
According to Dr. John Gottman, we need 5 positive interactions/comments for every 1 negative one to balance the negative interaction/comment out. If we are telling ourselves negative things about ourselves and our ability to cope with life all day long, we increase our feelings of stress. Eventually we begin to think that we cannot cope with our lives. This leads to depression and anxiety, and worsens both our mental and physical health.
My Struggle With Negative Self-Talk
For example, I’ve found myself becoming more and more depressed, and feeling overwhelmed these last fews months. Everything feels like TOO MUCH to cope with. Once again, I realized that my negative self-talk was behind these feelings. I tend to berate myself for not coping better. For not getting over grief; or for coming back to what I’m grieving over and over. I grew up with a lot of critical comments, so my inner critic is LOUD and persistent. Can you relate?
I’ve learned that I need to listen to my self talk, and interrupt it with truthful statements to myself. When we focus on realistic self-talk, we cope better and our stress levels go down. I’ve found that trying to tell myself positive things leads to more negative self-talk. Sometimes positive messages just lead to judging myself more for not really being in that positive place. So, I would rather tell myself, “This is hard. You’ve done hard things in the past.” Rather than tell myself that “You can do this! It’s a piece of cake.”
Changing Up Your Self-Talk
Here are three tips for changing how you talk to yourself:
- Become Aware of Your Self-Talk
I find that it helps for me to write down what’s bothering me, or to talk to an understanding friend or family member. A therapist can also be a valuable sounding board to help you identify your self-talk. Hearing what you’re thinking out loud can be eye-opening.
If you’re more visual and prefer using images, try an art journal. Sometimes we can get to more deep levels with images when we don’t know how to put our feelings into words.
We all need help from time to time figuring out our feelings, and managing negative internal comments. No shame or guilt allowed. It’s part of being human.
2. Write Down Realistic Comments To Counter Your Negative Ones
Once you start to become aware of your negative comments, you can replace them with more helpful ones. For example, when I’m saying to myself, “I’m not coping well with the death of my first grandbaby.” I can replace it with, “I miss my grandbaby. Losing someone is really hard. It will take time to feel better. I’m right where I need to be in this grieving process. I’m okay.”
If you cannot think of any better things to say to yourself, do some research about what you’re coping with. For example, Living with a chronic illness – dealing with feelings from Medline Plus, discusses common emotions that people feel when they get told they have a chronic health condition.
If you’re still struggling with negative remarks to yourself after your research, seriously consider talking to a therapist.
3. You Are Not Alone With Your Emotions
Human beings experience similar situations and emotions. If you’re feeling angry, or sad, or frustrated there are many others who can understand how you feel. You do not have to go through life alone. Search out support groups for whatever is bothering you, and you most certainly will find some. Be careful to engage in supportive groups only. Avoid ones that are focused on complaining or where members do not respect each other.
I know that many people do not believe in God, but I know that my Father God has kept me company through this pandemic in spite of the worry, fear, and grief that it has brought with it. If you want to learn more about God, I’d love to introduce you to Him.
Lastly, we all need support to manage this complicated world. I need frequent reminders when I get off track, and start beating myself up with my internal words. When that happens to you, gently redirect your thinking to healthier, more realistic thoughts. Together, we can move towards better mental health.
Here are some resources to help you talk more realistically to yourself:
Till next time, Kathy
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