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Self Talk and Mental Health

I'll share some ways you can harness the power of your thoughts

Self talk is fuel for your brain. Like nutrition, what you ingest shapes your wellness. It’s one of the most important tools for battling anxiety and depression. Even someone who doesn’t experience mental health challenges can improve their inner life by intentionally shaping their self talk.

As a therapist, I hear the deepest and darkest thoughts of my clients spoken out loud. Sometimes they are horrific, abusive messages that are a soundtrack for their lives. This inner world of negativity can impact every waking moment and seem uncontrollable.

I want to encourage folks to seek professional help if they are experiencing anything that threatens their safety or that of anyone else. Before I went into private practice, I worked for a 24 hour crisis hotline which was a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and part of the 988 network (dial 988 anytime in the US to be connected). I closely observed the skill and compassion of the crisis counselors. They help people get through seemingly impossible moments and they save many lives. They are there for you if you need support for yourself or someone else. Never hesitate to call.

Self talk is a type of thought. It’s often a judgement. Some examples are telling yourself, “I’m stupid,” when you make a mistake or “Things always work out badly for me,” when something goes wrong. They often pop in your head unconsciously and automatically so that you may think you can’t control them.

If you catch them in the act, you have the ability to change them. Grab those thoughts for a moment.

Letting them pass is a good strategy too, but for our purposes right now, let’s notice them and challenge them. Tell yourself that criticism of yourself isn’t okay. Ask yourself what you’d tell your best friend. Think of an innocent child who you are shaping into their future self. That child is still a part of each of us. Try replacing your self talk intentionally with something constructive like “I made a mistake. I’ll try to correct it” or “Things aren’t going well today, but they’ll get better.”

Banish self talk that’s abusive.

It’s not okay for you to talk to my friend that way. No way. That’s a deal breaker!

In therapy, I use the Cognitive Flow cycle (with origins in Cognitive Behavioral theory) to demonstrate how thoughts, feelings and actions interact.

In every moment, there’s an interplay between these elements. When we tune in to ourselves, through mindful awareness, we can gain a different perspective. You can intervene anywhere in the cycle to shift the experience. Here’s an example of how you might start by noticing each of the elements:

Here’s how you might change the cycle:

More accurately, you might see a progression from feeling upset to calm or content as you change your thoughts and actions. It takes active, intentional practice to change this. You can do it.

The key is to catch those thoughts in the act and intentionally change things up.

Try this self thought exercise: Notice what repeating messages you give yourself when you’re experiencing an intense emotion. Divide a piece of paper into three columns. In the first column, write down the thought, negative or positive. In the second column, take note of the feeling or emotion you feel. In the third column, write an affirmation: A positive, accepting thought that boosts you up. Try writing something you can believe, not something that’s so overly positive you don’t believe it. If you’re self talk is already positive, awesome. Write more of them.

Some examples of affirmations:

  • I’ve got this!

  • I have inner strength

  • I love myself

  • I believe in myself

There are lots of sources of affirmations online or in books if you need help coming up with things. It may seem corny, but writing them on sticky notes and putting them where you see them can help. The physical acts of writing them and saying them out loud make a difference.

Sending you love and light. Amanda


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