Positive self-talk can help relieve anxiety
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP
21st November, 20160 Comments
The practice of positive self-talk is something that can be learned and which can be extremely useful in managing the mental and physical symptoms of anxiety. Worrying thoughts can make us feel physically anxious (such as having a racing heart, experiencing muscle tension or a dry mouth) and having worrying thoughts can lead to more and more worry.
It might be that you say to yourself "here I go again, I am going to panic", when you are about to do something that fills you with fear. Anxiety can create a vicious circle of negative thinking, whereby mental worry leads to physical feelings of anxiety, which leads to more mental worry which leads to more physical feelings of anxiety.
Positive self-talk is a coping strategy that can potentially transform your way of being in the world and can break this vicious circle whereby negative thoughts lead to more physical symptoms.
How to practice positive self-talk:
1. Discover what you are thinking
This might sound obvious but it is difficult to actually work out exactly what we are thinking when we experience numerous thoughts that flash by very quickly. A diary sheet of your thoughts might be useful to bring more clarity. You can find freely available templates by searching for them on the internet. The process of completing a thought diary can help to bring greater mindful awareness to your stream of thoughts.
2. Challenge the rationality of your thoughts
The more stressed you become, the more likely it is that thinking patterns will become more distorted. So, it could prove helpful to question your thoughts. Might you be exaggerating, for example? Or, might you be thinking in black and white terms? The simple process of writing down your fears and worries can often help to provide some perspective on your thoughts.
3. Rewrite your negative thoughts and make them positive
Your thinking can become less distorted when you replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Perhaps carry around the positive challenges with you on index cards for easy reference or on your phone. Positive self-statements could be similar to the following; "I can tolerate anxiety as I have managed it many times before" or "I coped with that experience and it should be easier next time" or simply, "I know that I am going to be okay".
Thought diaries can be a useful way of uncovering and exploring hidden assumptions behind your thoughts. After all, there is something in your psyche behind each thought. Ask yourself what would be so bad about something happening, or what would that mean?
A therapist can help with the management of a thought diary and will be able to provide feedback on your distorted thinking. An effective way of addressing distorted thinking, is to always seek the evidence for maintaining such thoughts. How would someone else view a particular situation, for instance? This is where a therapist can offer invaluable insight as they can help you to locate your thinking errors. Thinking errors (or what are also known as cognitive distortions) can occur when we start to see everything in all or nothing terms, when we catastrophize, when we personalise things that happen to us or simply when we jump to conclusions. A therapist will also be able to spot when you are living by fixed rules and when you are overusing the words ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘can’t’.
About the author
Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited clinical psychotherapist in London who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, CBT, humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.
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