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Change Your Self-Talk to Reduce Anxiety

February 19, 2019 George Abitante

If you change your self-talk from negative, stress-inducing words by reframing it to more positive self-talk, you reduce anxiety. Learn how at HealthyPlace.

Last Monday, I realized I needed to change my self-talk too late. I was working on a project that had taken a lot of time and effort. It was a challenge to keep working at it, and as the day progressed, I became increasingly frustrated -- not with the work itself, but with myself. My inner dialogue became more and more negative, producing many thoughts that were discouraging and not helpful. The more I experienced these thoughts, the less focused I was on my work, and this made it really difficult to finish my project quickly. The stress of completing this project ultimately made me feel angry and annoyed with myself despite the fact that the challenges I faced were not my fault, but instead were the natural consequence of taking on a complicated project. What I didn't realize until afterward, however, was just how much I could have changed my self-talk to improve my mental state and productivity. 

When we experience stress, it is natural to respond with frustration and discouragement, and perhaps even more natural for us to direct that frustration at ourselves. Unfortunately, self-directed negativity does not lead to us to greater satisfaction and productivity -- in fact, it often makes work more difficult and less fulfilling. Here are some strategies I've started using to disrupt my negativity, change my self-talk and build myself up when facing stressful, challenging tasks. 

How to Change Self-Talk to a More Positive Interaction

  • Change your perspective to change your self-talk. This is the strategy I've found most helpful, and it's a little unintuitive. Usually, when we engage in negative self-talk, it's in part due to us becoming immersed in our own frustrations and focusing on ourselves exclusively. We can disrupt this sort of thinking by considering alternative perspectives, and I've found the best way to do that is to talk to yourself in someone else's voice. For me, considering my Mom's perspective is a great way to change my self-talk. When my inner narrative is producing phrases like, "You're never going to finish this work; you're too incompetent," I ask myself whether it's something my Mom would say to me. I then try to generate a phrase that she would say, in this case, something like, "This is a tough project, just keep at it." By thinking from someone else's perspective, it becomes a lot easier to disrupt negative thinking and get back on track. 
  • Change your focus. When you've been working on a single, stressful task for a long time, it can be difficult to bring up positive thoughts about work you've completed successfully. So when you've been honed in on one project that is really bringing down your confidence and happiness, switch gears and think about other work you've done that was successful. Changing your self-talk to things like, "I actually did really well on the last project that I found this difficult," can help buffer you against the stress of your current project and will help cultivate motivation to complete it. 
  • Change your response. It can be really difficult to change negative self-talk into positive self-talk, and this is in part because negative thoughts feel so accurate. When we invest belief in the negative thoughts we have, it gets a lot harder to shift into positive thinking. So when a negative thought does arise, instead of believing it, try acknowledging that it's just a thought, and doesn't have any legitimate bearing on what will happen. When we just let negative thoughts slide off us, it becomes considerably easier to bring in positive self-talk ("Talk Back to Negative Self-Talk and Make It Go Away"). 

The self-talk we use has significant implications for how we deal with stress, and cultivating positive self-talk strategies is an important step towards reducing anxiety.

What other tips do you use to change your self-talk to more positive self-talk? Share below.

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2019, February 19). Change Your Self-Talk to Reduce Anxiety , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, June 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2019/2/change-your-self-talk-to-reduce-anxiety



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

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