I hear voices. They’re different than the voices of a psychotic disorder. A person living with schizophrenia, for example, can physically hear voices as if they were real. There is a sound to them in the brain. There are other ways to hear voices that do not involve psychosis. I happen to have a voice in my head, and it speaks to me loudly and clearly. The voice, in my case, belongs to anxiety, and it never seems to shut up.
The voice of anxiety harps at me incessantly. I don’t experience it as an actual sound, a hallucination, but I definitely “hear” it. Anxiety makes my mind think certain things and tell me those things in no uncertain terms and thus acts as an actual voice.
For someone living with anxiety, the voice—or self-talk—can be overbearing. For me, as I work at my computer writing this column or a blog on my website or my novel, my brain is concentrating on what I’m doing, but there is the voice of anxiety that chatters on simultaneously with my other thoughts. As I tap, tap, tap on my keyboard, anxiety tells me “this is stupid and horrible.” As I sit in a meeting, anxiety shouts at me, “you’re not acting right; you’re too quiet, too talkative, too not good enough.” As I’m watching one of my kids’ sporting events, my anxiety tells me that something is going to go horribly wrong.
And on it goes. No matter what I’m doing, anxiety babbles and rants at me.
This inner mental chatter is very common in anxiety disorders. Because each individual is different, the voice of anxiety sounds a bit different for each person. There are, however, common themes among anxiety’s blather.
Worry and fear can be similar. They are different degrees of the what-ifs that seem to exist as a stream-of-consciousness in people living with anxiety. Anxiety’s obsessive voices won’t let us let go of a thought. It’s challenging to move past an obsessive thought when anxiety keeps talking to you about it, isn’t it? Self-criticism is another common theme among those who live with anxiety. Anxiety likes to bully people, talking to us ad nauseam over every single fault we have.
How to Talk Back to the Anxious Voice in Your Head
You don’t have to be badgered by anxiety’s voices for the rest of your life. To borrow from Pink’s song “Perfect,” it is possible to change those voices in your head–possible, absolutely, quick and easy, not so much. If you’ve ever attempted to put a child to bed, you might have noticed that he or she becomes a little chatterbox right at bedtime. Stories spill out and overflow. It seems that their little voices will never be quiet. Eventually, though, the voices stop talking. So it is with anxiety and its voices. Here are a few tips:
- Ignore anxiety’s words. Sometimes, this actually works. If anxiety is telling you something worrisome, dismiss it and move on to a different thought.
- Find flow. Flow is a state of well-being in which one is fully immersed in what he/she is doing. Anything you enjoy can induce flow. When you’re in flow, you are thinking only of what you’re doing. Anxiety is quiet. Find a hobby you love, an activity, anything you can get lost in. When you’re lost in a positive way like this, anxiety’s voice can’t find you.
- If anxiety tells you something that increases your fear or an obsession, argue with it. Throw evidence to the contrary in its face. For example, every time you get into your car the voice of anxiety tells you you’re going to get into an accident, tell it, yes, accidents happen, but you’ve driven many times without them.
Anxiety likes to have a voice. It means it’s heard (by us) and it has power (over us). Good thing that voice can be silenced.