Samantha is a 34-year-old teacher who, like many people, struggles with anxiety and depression. She has a hard time motivating herself to get out of bed in the mornings knowing her day will be full of worry and fear. Her self-talk tells her she is worthless. She is embarrassed about her struggles and hates mostly everything about herself. One day she feels especially low and finds herself thinking about her life and how much she worries. The thoughts persist and before she knows it she is having a hard time breathing. Her chest is tightening and she feels like she has lost control. This is not the first panic attack she has experienced. She is so sick of feeling anxiety is running her life.
Feeling especially frustrated with herself the next day, she decides to get help by seeking therapy. The therapist helps Samantha realize that she can use her own internal dialogue to change how she experiences and thinks about things. As she practices and changes the way she talks to herself in her head, she notices her mood begins to shift. With persistence, Samantha is able to use her self-talk to stop panic attacks and relate to her anxiety differently. Her mood improves as she is kind to herself rather than beat herself up. These shifts empower Samantha. She is finally able to learn how to navigate her emotions rather than be overtaken by them.
During one therapy session, Samantha becomes overwhelmed with anxiety and panic. She reads a handout about self-talk and learns she has the ability to choose what she says to herself in her head. Samantha’s automatic thoughts were telling her, “I can’t do this. I can’t breathe. It’s gonna happen again. You’re so stupid for talking about this.” Rather than allowing her anxiety to choose her thoughts she decides to tell herself, “Breathe. You are going to be okay. It will pass. You can do this. Just breathe.”
To Samantha’s surprise, she found panic and fear dissipated as she took deep breaths and talked herself out of the all-familiar anxiety spiral. Samantha feels empowered, like she can control her thoughts for the first time in a long time. She practices this concept with her normal day to day anxious thoughts and is amazed at how she keeps herself from spiraling. She does all of this by simply reminding herself to relax and changing the way she talks to herself.
As Samantha learns to experience her anxiety differently, she notices she is becoming more motivated and it is easier to get out of bed in the mornings. Her therapist notices and points out Samantha was still placing a lot of blame on herself. She is still making comments like, “I’m so dumb. I always mess things up. No one likes me because I’m depressing.” So Samantha’s therapist challenges her to apply what she knows about self-talk to a new concept of self-compassion.
Next, Samantha practices an exercise called “Changing Your Critical Self-Talk.” She begins to notice the harsh ways she speaks to herself in her head and chooses kind and compassionate words instead. This takes a lot of practice. However, with time, the new way she talks to herself begins to shape the way she thinks about and sees herself. This has a powerful impact on her critical, anxious, and depressive thoughts.
Samantha’s effort to challenge her automatic ways of talking to herself was not easy, yet she finds it worth the effort. Many people struggling with mild to severe anxiety or depression can benefit by changing the way they talk to themselves. Sometimes they can be successful alone and others may need the professional help of a therapist. So if you or someone you know needs further help addressing anxious or depressive thoughts, there are therapists (at Fuller Life Family Therapy and all over the country) waiting to help. See if you can begin to change the things you say to yourself and notice the effect on your mood.
Read more on our blog about the power of compassionate Self-Talk:
- The Benefits of Self-Compassion
- Scary Thoughts
- Create Balance: Living well in the midst of anxiety
- Three simple ways to get yourself unstuck
Supervised by Amy Fuller, PhD, LPC-S