Social researchers, yoga teachers and people who have studied consciousness will tell you how important it is to speak kindly to yourself. In our thoughts and our self-talk, we can be harsh. This is especially true for those of us suffering from depression or anxiety.
How often have you f*cked something up, and then thought to yourself, "God, why did I do that? I should have known. I should have done this. Why didn't I do this? I can't handle this," etc. Yet most of us would never say those same things to someone we cared about for committing the same transgression.
If a friend or family member got laid off from their job, we would lift them up. We would say you're great, and even though it definitely sucks, I know you'll get back on your feet and find an awesome opportunity, You are strong and will persevere, and we will do anything we can to help you. However, if I lost my job, it's more than likely I would sink into depression. Can we practice speaking to ourselves as kindly as we speak to the people we love?
Self-criticism can be a good self-check, as long as it is in balance. When I make mistakes, I want to acknowledge them, make amends, learn and move on. However, there is a big difference between, "I did a sh*tty thing," and "I am a sh*tty person."
One is normal; none of us are perfect. The other is unreasonably negative and needs to go. Here are five ways to practice shifting self-talk from negative, to positive:
1. Have a safe word.
When you find yourself starting to spiral into negative thinking, have a word or phrase you can say as a signal to yourself. Mine is "Pivot!"
When I find myself thinking negatively, I don't want to feed those negative thoughts, so I'll say, "Pivot!" It snaps me out of it and reminds me that we become what we think, and so I'll intentionally try to think about something else.
2. Get outside.
If you can't go outside, look up photos of nature on your phone or computer. Nature is a healer. Studies show that being exposed to nature, even virtually can increase connectedness and decrease anxiety. Smile up at the sun. Get out of your head, focus on the wind on your face or the beautiful green of trees.
3. Eat healthy.
I'm particularly hard on myself when I'm hangry. It's been beneficial to me to eat regular meals, and fill myself up with good food.
I consider it a form of self-love to put good things in my body. Even though it won't change the situation, at least I can feel good about my guacamole and cheese sandwich on whole wheat and melon lunch (don't knock it until you try it).
4. Call someone you trust.
Not everyone can hold space for us when we're being negative, and it's important to discern who can be trusted. When you're feeling sh*tty about yourself, the last thing you need is to reach out to someone who either doesn't have time for you, or simply affirms your fear that, yeah. You suck.
For me, that trusted person is my mom. She can meet me wherever I'm at and always says, "I love you. You're OK. Chin up."
No matter where you are, or what's going on, you can always breathe. Taking deep belly breaths grounds us, slows the heart-rate, gives us something to focus on and gets us out of our heads. I do a four-count inhale, and pause at the top. Then I do a four-count exhale, pausing at the bottom. Like Drew Barrymore in "Ever After" said, "Breathe. Just breathe."
At the end of the day, when it comes to self-talk, follow the rule your preschool teacher taught you:
If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. In the words of Robert T. Kiyosaki; "It's not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life, it's what you whisper to yourself that has the most power."